MC:F26 Papers of Charles Daubeny (Fellow 1815-67)
Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny FRS (1795–1867; D. 1810-15, F. 1815-1867) was a prominent chemist and botanist, noted for his work as an advocate of science. He was born at Stratton, Gloucestershire, on 11 February 1795, to the Reverend James and Helena Daubeny. He attended Winchester College (1808-10), where he won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. He was awarded a BA in 1814, later winning the chancellor’s prize for the Latin essay in 1815. He was inspired by the chemistry and mineralogy lectures of John Kidd, and by the geology lectures of William Buckland. In 1815 Magdalen offered him a lay fellowship, exempting him from taking holy orders. From 1815–1818 he studied medicine at Edinburgh, where he attended the geology lectures of Professor Robert Jameson, FRS FRSE (1774–1854), who greatly influenced Daubeny’s later scientific interests.
Daubeny graduated a BM of Oxford in 1818, gaining his MD in 1821. In 1819 he produced a well-received report on the volcanic region of the Auvergne based on his travels through France. In 1820 Daubeny was elected as Magdalen’s Praelector of Natural Philosophy. He practised medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary at this time, but seems to have preferred academia. On 10 Oct 1822 Kidd secured Daubeny’s election to the prestigious Aldrichian Chair of Chemistry (which he maintained until 1855). He began studying the chemical composition of mineral waters, leading him to further geological research. This culuminated in the publication of ‘A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanoes’ in 1826; this was a detailed discussion of Davy’s chemical theory of volcanic action, and provides the basis of Daubeny’s reputation as a chemist.
On 8 Feb 1834 Daubeny was appointed to the Sherardian Chair of Botany (held in addition to the Aldrichian chair) which he kept until his death. He also moved to the Physic Garden where he lived for the rest of his life. He transformed the garden and opened it to the public. In 1840 Daubeny was appointed to the Sibthorpian Chair of Rural Economy, gaining a stipend of £200, which he also held until his death.
It was in this role that he produced his most notable botanical work. He investigated the reasons why the continuous growth of crops on the same ground brought about a diminution of yield (which necessitated crop rotation) by means of a series of controlled plot experiments, delivering his results at the 1845 Bakerian Lecture.
Daubeny was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1827, and was a member of its dining club from 1841–64. He was a founder of the Chemical Society in 1841, and its president in 1853, and was a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a foreign associate of the Academy of Science of Munich. He was one of the first members of the British Association, and participated in its inaugural meeting in 1831.
Perhaps Daubeny’s defining characteristic was his lifelong zeal for reforming the Oxford University curriculum. In 1848 Daubeny, Robert Walker, and Henry Acland pressed for the establishment of an honour school in natural science, and Daubeny defined the detailed framework of the statute of 1850. By 1860 the University Museum in Parks Road was built, partly due to Daubeny’s efforts. A letter of Daubeny’s to ‘The Times’ (24 February 1864) helped to bring about a further liberalization of the university regulations regarding Natural Sciences, helping to make it a more credible degree.
He died on 13 Dec 1867, at the age of 73, having spent his last years setting his estate in order. He was laid to rest in Magdalen College Chapel according to his own wishes.
Daubeny’s personal library is now housed as a discrete collection in the Daubeny building. The catalogue can be searched online, though books must be fetched on behalf of the reader by library staff.
- ‘In philosophia, quae moralis dicitur, tractanda, quaenam sit praecipue Aristotelicae disciplinae virtus? Dissertatio Latina Cancellarii praemio dignata.’ 8vo. Oxon. 1815
- ‘Letters to Professor Jameson on the Volcanos of Auvergne.’ 8vo. n. p. 1825
- ‘A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanos; with Remarks on their Origin, their Chemical Phenomena, and the Character of their Products, as determined by the condition of the earth during the period of their formation.” 8vo. London, 1826.
- ‘An Introduction to Atomic Theory, comprising a sketch of the opinions entertained by the most distinguished ancient and modern philosophers with respect to the constitution of matter.’ 8vo. Oxford, 1831.
- ‘An Inaugural Lecture on the Study of Botany.’ 8vo. Oxford, 1834.
- ‘Sketch on the Geology of North America; the substance of a Memoir read before the Ashmolean Society’ 8vo. Oxford, 1839.
- ‘On the use of the Spanish Phosphorite as a Manure.’ 8vo. London, 1846.
- ‘Can Physical Science obtain a home in an English University? An enquiry suggested by some remarks contained in a late number of the Quarterly Review.’ 8vo. Oxford, 1853.
- ‘On the influence of the lower vegetable organisms in the production of epidemic disease’. 8vo. Edinburgh, 1855.
- ‘A biographical sketch of Dr. Routh’ Oxford, circa 1855
- ‘Remarks on the Final Causes of Sexuality in Plants, with particular reference to Mr. Darwin’s work on The Origin of Species.’ 8vo. Oxford, 1860.
J. R. Bloxam “A Register of the Presidents, Fellows, Demies, Instructors in Grammar and in Music, Chaplains, Clerks, Choristers, and Other Members of Saint Mary Magdalen College in the University of Oxford”, 8 vols. (Oxford, 1853–85). Volume VII, pages 181-199
W. D. Macray, “A Register of the Members of St. Mary Magdalen College, Oxford from the Foundation of the College: New Series”, 8 vols. (Oxford, 1894–1915). Volume V, pages 158-161.
The papers have been arranged in to the following series:
MC:F26/MS1 PERSONAL NOTES
MC:F26/MS2 EXPERIMENTAL NOTES
MC:F26/MS3 NOTES FOR DAUBENY’S LECTURES
MC:F26/MS4 DAUBENY’S NOTES OF OTHER PEOPLE’S LECTURES
MC:F26/X1 PRINTED PAMPHLETS WRITTEN BY DAUBENY
MC:F26/C1 CORRESPONDENCE DONATED BY J.P. BULLEY
MC:F26/C2 OTHER CORRESPONDENCE
The following items in the collection are known to have been bequeathed by Daubeny: MS1/8,9,10, MS2/1,2,3 and MS4/2. The rest of the papers were most likely acquired by the college upon Daubeny’s death. MC:F26/C2/1–2 were found among Daubeny’s books and transferred to the archives in July 2008 as Accession No. 08/197.
Catalogued in October 2010 by Sean Rippington.