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Davy, John (1790-1868)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0116 John Davy Collection
Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain
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Full title: Davy, John (1790-1868)
Date(s): 1785-1868
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1.54 metres
Name of creator(s): Davy, John, 1790-1868. Physiologist. Anatomist. Natural historian. Army doctor.


Administrative/Biographical history:

John Davy was born the son of Robert Davy, a woodcarver and Grace Millet in Penzance, Cornwall. He attended preparatory schools in Penzance as a child and later assisted his brother, Humphry Davy, in the laboratory of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) in 1808. In 1810 John studied medicine at Edinburgh University gaining his degree in 1814. He experimented on the muriatic theories of his brother in order to help prove them. He entered the British Army Medical Department as a surgeon. He became the Inspector General of Hospitals and it was in this capacity that he travelled over much of the British Empire during his foreign service thus producing several notebooks on his observations of various countries. In 1821 he published An Account of the Interior of Ceylon. In 1830 he married Margaret Fletcher. In 1836 he wrote the Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy and he edited the collected works of his brother, producing nine volumes in 1839-1840. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1834 and published over 100 papers on observations such as the structure of the heart and circulatory system of amphibians; these are listed in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers. He lived in the West Indies for a time and returned to the Lake District in the United Kingdom for the remainder of his life. In 1862-1863 he published his Diseases of the Army. Upon his death in 1868, he bequeathed a piece of plate to the Royal Society which had been presented to Sir Humphry Davy by the mine owners for the invention of the safety lamp. His brother had wanted the plate to provide a medal for scientific research.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of John Davy include notebooks and papers relating to his travels and observations whilst on foreign military service, detailing information such as the propagation of orange and lemon trees, the temperature and rainfall of the areas, buildings, antiquities, irrigation, landscapes, volcanoes, medical observations and general descriptions of places visited: (JD1/5) notebook on Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago and London; (JD1/6) notebook on Sicily, Lipard Islands, Italy, France and England; (JD1/7) notebook on West Indies; (JD15-JD22) notebooks of Ceylon 1815-1819; (JD23) notebook of Ceylon, Colombo, Africa, St Helena, Cape St Vincent, Ancona, Corfu, Malta 1819-1834; (JD24) journey from Colombo to Adams Peak 1817; (JD26) travels to Paris and coast of Corfu 1825; (JD27-JD29)travels in Corfu 1825; (JD30) Islands round coast of Corfu 1825; (JD31) travels through St Maura, Ithaca and Italy 1825; (JD32) visit to the Dardanelles 1825; (JD33) extracts re Greece and Asia Minor 1826; (JD34) notebook about Cerigo 1827; (JD35-JD42) Malta medical notes and observations 1827-1833; (JD44) Malta memorabilia; (JD45) Malta medical and meteorological notes 1821-1838; (JD46) notes about Sicily; (JD47-JD48) description of new volcano in Mediterranean 1831; (JD49) notes on inquiry connected with hospitals in Turkey 1840-1841; (JD50) notebook about Turkey 1841; (JD51) notebook about Turkey and travels in Europe 1841; (JD52) medical notes and notes on Murrayfield; (JD53) voyage to West Indies 1844; (JD54-JD68) notebooks about West Indies; (JD73) journey from London to the Lake District 1855; (JD74) tours to France and San Remo 1866. Notebooks and papers relating to scientific notes, experiments and lectures: (JD1/1) notebook on Dr Higgins' chemistry course; (JD1/2) notebook 1802-1843 on natural history, astronomy, history and mathematics relating to various topics such as vegetation, lions, elephants, bats, birds, the history of Agesilaus, Hannibal, Attila the Hun, addition, subtraction, the planets, earth, zodiac signs, and eclipses; (JD2/8) scientific notes; (JD3) notebook on animal chemistry lectures 1811-1813; (JD4-JD5) course of chemical lectures 1814-1815; (JD43) notes on reagents of animal textures and lime 1831-1832; (JD6) experiments on small animals 1864-1867; (JD8) notebook on scientific and philosophical notes; (JD9) animal chemistry and digitalis experiments; (JD10) chemical and medical experiments 1811; (JD11) chemical and medical notes 1811; (JD13) observations of the human body; (JD14) analysis of minerals and notes of medical phenomena; (JD25) chemical, medical and geological notes 1817-1829. Drawings and sketches indicating landscapes, scenes, volcanic rocks, ploughs and other topics; (JD1/3) book of pencil drawings; (JD1/4) book of sketches and notes 1831-1842; (JD7) sketch book 1790-1868. Papers relating to publications such as drafts, copies and reprints, which relate to John Davy's articles in journals for example the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, the Journal of Public Health and Philosophical Transactions; (JD2/1-3) files of reprints 1823-1866; (JD2/4) drafts of papers; (JD12) notebook of fair copies of papers; (JD75) draft of The Angler from Home or Fishing Excursions and Piscatory Colloquies in Kenry, Isle of Lewis and Sutherlandshire; (JD76) draft of Salmon and Sea Trout, Isle of Lewis 1857-1857. (JD2/5-7) Correspondence relating to various issues such as defending his brother's (Sir Humphry Davy) honour; (JD69-JD72) notebooks of angling observations 1850-1866; (JD77) Report on the diseases etc of the Garrison of Malta for the year ending 20 December 1828.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content field.

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of Collections or Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI).

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of Collections, RI.

Finding aids:

Catalogue at the RI.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other notebooks and papers are located at Keel University Library (reference: Raymond Richards Collection/MiscHistDoc/28/4,6); the Wellcome Library for History and Understanding of Medicine (reference: MSS 7696-7701); the University of Toronto Library. There is also some correspondence at St Andrews University Library.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: catalogue at the RI. Description compiled by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
January 2001.

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