Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stenhouse, John
STENHOUSE, JOHN (1809–1880), chemist, was the eldest son of William Stenhouse, calico-printer, Barrhead, Glasgow, and Elizabeth Currie. He was born at Glasgow on 21 Oct. 1809, and was educated at Glasgow grammar school and university, where he devoted himself to chemistry under Dr. Thomas Thomson [q. v.] He continued his studies at Anderson's College under Professor Graham, and at Giessen from 1837 to 1839 under Liebig with Mr. Lyon (now Lord) Playfair and Robert Angus Smith [q. v.] In 1839 he returned to Glasgow, where, by the failure of the Commercial Exchange, he lost the fortune left him by his father. In 1850 Aberdeen University made him LL.D. In 1851 he went to London as lecturer on chemistry at St. Bartholomew's, but resigned his post in 1857, owing to an attack of paralysis. He then proceeded to Nice, where he resided with his mother till her death in 1860. Returning to London, he fitted up a laboratory and started scientific investigation with great energy. In 1865 he succeeded Dr. A. W. Hofmann as non-resident assayer to the royal mint. That post he held till 1870, when it was abolished by the chancellor of the exchequer, Robert Lowe (afterwards Viscount Sherbrooke) [q. v.] In November 1871 a royal medal was awarded him by the Royal Society for his chemical researches. He was one of the founders of the Chemical Society in 1841, was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1848, and became a fellow of the Institute of Chemistry in 1877. During the last four years of his life Stenhouse suffered acutely from rheumatism in the eyelids, which compelled him to live in a darkened room. He died on 31 Dec. 1880, and was buried in the High church new cemetery, Glasgow.
Stenhouse, either alone or in conjunction with Mr. C. E. Groves, wrote more than a hundred papers on chemical subjects for the Royal Society, the Chemical Society, ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ and Liebig's ‘Annalen’ (cf. Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers). Organic chemistry and the lichens occupied a large share of his attention. He was the discoverer of betorcinol, a homologue of orcinol. He was the author of many ingenious and useful inventions in dyeing (patents 13 Oct. 1855 and 12 June 1856), waterproofing (patents 8 Jan. 1861 and 21 Jan. 1862), sugar manufacture, and tanning; but he will always be known for his application of the absorbent properties of wood charcoal to disinfecting and deodorising purposes in the form of charcoal air-filters and charcoal respirators, which have proved of great value (patents 19 July 1860 and 21 May 1867). Among other patents which he took out was one for the manufacture of glue (7 May 1857) and another for the manufacture or preparation of materials for sizing or dressing yarns and textile fabrics (29 April 1868).
[Chemical Society's Journal, 1881, pp. 185–188; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. xxxi. pp. xix–xxi; Index to Specifications for Patents, 1854–80.]