Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townsend, Joseph

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TOWNSEND, JOSEPH (1739–1816), geologist, born 4 April 1739, was fourth son of Chauncy Townsend (d. 1770), a merchant in Austin Friars, London, by his wife Bridget (d. 1762), daughter of James Phipps, governor of Cape Coast Castle. He was educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1762 and M.A. in 1765. He was elected a fellow, and subsequently studied medicine in Edinburgh. He took orders, and for a time showed sympathy with the Calvinistic methodists, occasionally preaching in Lady Huntingdon's chapel at Bath [see Hastings, Selina]. In 1769 he travelled in Ireland, and in the following year in France, Holland, and Flanders. After that he went to Spain, publishing an account of his journey, and to Switzerland, taking the opportunities afforded by his travels to make the acquaintance of distinguished men of science on the continent. Also, as he states, he frequently visited Cornwall in the winter season to study mineralogy. After acting as chaplain to the Duke of Atholl he became rector of Pewsey, Wiltshire, where he died on 9 Nov. 1816. He was twice married: first, on 27 Sept. 1773, to Joyce, daughter of Thomas Nankivell of Truro. She died on 8 Nov. 1785, and on 26 March 1790 he was married to Lydia Hammond, widow of Sir John Clerke. She died in 1812. By his first wife Townsend left four sons—Thomas, Charles, James, and Henry—and two daughters—Charlotte and Sophia.

Townsend was the author of the following works: 1. ‘Every True Christian a New Creature,’ 1765. 2. ‘Free Thoughts on Despotic and Free Governments,’ 1781. 3. ‘The Physician's Vade Mecum,’ 1781; 10th edit. 1807. 4. ‘A Dissertation on the Poor Laws,’ 1785. 5. ‘Observations on various Plans for the Relief of the Poor,’ 1788. 6. ‘Journey through Spain,’ 1791; 3rd ed. 1814; French translation, Paris, 1800. 7. ‘A Guide to Health,’ 1795–6; 3rd ed. 1801. 8. ‘Sermons on various Subjects,’ 1805. 9. ‘The Character of Moses established,’ 2 vols., 1812–15; reissued 1824. This work shows him to have had a good knowledge of mineralogy and geology, and some of his criticisms of Hutton's uniformitarian views are acute, but he was so firmly persuaded of the literal accuracy of the Mosaic record as to expose himself also to attack [see Hutton, James, (1715–1795)]. His works, however, show that he was a thoughtful, well-read man, of considerable literary power. A work by him on ‘Etymological Researches’ appeared after his death in 1824. A correspondent in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1816, ii. 606) states that he possessed a fine collection of minerals and fossils at the time of his death.

[Gent. Mag. 1815 ii. 304, 1816 ii. 477; Burke's Landed Gentry; Mitchell's Notes on Early Geologists of Bath.]

T. G. B.