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RONALDS, Sir Francis (1788-1873)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0108 SC MSS 001
Held at: Institution of Engineering and Technology
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Full title: RONALDS, Sir Francis (1788-1873)
Date(s): 1818-1871
Level of description: Collection (Fonds)
Extent: 9 boxes
Name of creator(s): Ronalds | Sir | Francis | 1788-1873 | Knight | Electrical engineer and meterologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born, London 1788; Sir Francis Ronalds was the son of a London merchant. His father died when he was nineteen and he became responsible for the family business although Ronalds was more interested in carrying out chemical experiments which he conducted at home. 1814 he met the Swiss natural philosopher Jean-Andre De Luc who was engaged on experiments with dry piles of gilt paper and laminated zinc; Ronalds constructed a dry column of 1,000 pairs of elements to which he added a ratchet and pawl arrangement by which the pile produced rotation of a pointer round a dial. 1816 he demonstrated his electric telegraph; he offered it to the Government but it was rejected by the Admiralty. Ronalds published a booklet describing the telegraph, 1823; a single-wire telegraph operated by frictional electricity, it was practical but never tried out on a commercial scale; travelled to Europe and the Near East, 1816-1823. On a sketching tour of Sicily with Sir Frederick Henniker he realised the need for mechanical sketching instruments. Ronalds devoted himself to designing perspective instruments, 1824-1828; he took out a patent for 'Apparatus for tracing from Nature', 1825; published 'Mechanical Persepctive', 1828. Ronalds was asked to exhibit at the Polytechnic Institution in London; these exhibits indicate the scope of Ronalds' inventions: a new fore-bed carriage, a semi-transparent sundial showing mean time, perspective instruments and a fire alarm. Appointed first Honorary Director and Superintendent of the British Association's Meteorological Observatory at Kew, 1843; he improved the apparatus and methods of measurement relating to atmospheric electricity and also devised a system of applying photography to self-registration of meteorological and magnetic observations. Similar apparatus were installed in observatories at Toronto, Madrid and Oxford. In 1852 left Kew and spent a number of years abroad mainly in France and Italy, compiling a bibliography of electricity and magnetism and collecting books and pamphlets on these subjects; knighted, 1870. This honour came at the end of a protracted campaign by his friends to secure some credit for Ronalds for his pioneering work in relation to the development of the electric telegraph. Died, 1873, Battle, Sussex.


Scope and content/abstract:

Material created by Ronalds' during his time abroad, and as Honorary Director of the British Association's Observatory at Kew, with various notes on electricity, 1818-1871. It comprises material relating to Ronalds' travels abroad including journals, notebooks, sketchbooks, bills of expenses, and correspondence relating to two journeys to Italy, Egypt, the Holy Land and the Greek Islands; Material relating to 'Sketches at Carnac' and atmospheric electricity including pencil sketches and notes on atmospheric electricity taken from published sources; Correspondence while Honorary Director at the British Association's Observatory at Kew, including letters to Ronalds from various correspondents, mainly dealing with aspects of meteorology and magnetism, and the affairs of the Observatory at Kew, with technical discussion of self-registration by photography, bifilar magnets, atmospheric electricity; Notes, reports and copy correspondence relating to Ronalds' time at the Kew Observatory including a foolscap notebook with several loose insertions relating to a system devised by Ronalds for propelling or towing vessels in water by means of a stationary fulcrum; Papers relating to telescopes, fires, meteorology and Report on Kew for 1849-1850, including notes and diagrams relating to the design of a stand for a telescope, material relating to the design of a self-acting fire alarm, barometric and temperature readings, material relating to expenses and experiments at Kew for report on the observatory 1849-1850 presented to the British Association at their meeting in 1850, papers relating to a proposed 'Turner's Manual' which Ronalds began writing 1838-1839; Papers relating to perspective, the electric telegraph, galvanism and electromagnetism, electric columns, atmospheric electricity, aquatic propulsion and drawing and surveying; Notes and sketches on items relating to various subjects, including a small catalogue of books on meteorology, electricity etc, and a bundle of unused photographic paper and some tracings from Ronalds' self registering instruments; Printed material relating to Ronalds' perspective tracing instruments; Extracts from diaries and newspaper cuttings; Portrait album of well-known European scientists.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is in ten series. Series 1: Ronalds' travels abroad 1818-1824; Series 2: Ronalds' work for 'Sketches at Carnac' and atmospheric electricity 1834-1836; Series 3: correspondence while Honorary Director of the British Association's Observatory at Kew 1843-1851; Series 4: notes, reports, copy correspondence relating to the running of Kew Observatory 1843-1849; Series 5: papers relating to telescopes, fire alarms, meteorology, Report on the Kew Observatory 1833-1850; Series 6: papers relating to perspective drawing, electric telegraph, galvanism, electromagnetism, atmospheric electricity, electric columns, electric clock, aquatic propulsion 1815-1840. Series 7: notes and sketches 1814-1859; Series 8: printed material relating to perspective tracing instruments 1827-1850; Series 9: volumes of correspondence, extracts from diaries, newspaper cuttings 1816-1871; Series 10: Ronalds portrait album.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Refer to IET Archivist.

Finding aids:

Online item level catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Collection deposited by Ronalds Library Trust, 1875.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Ronalds' collection of rare books relating to electricity, magnetism, and telegraphy, and a portrait of Ronalds by Hugh Carter. The IET Library holds a biography by J Sime entitled 'Sir Francis Ronalds, F.R.S. and his work in connection with electric telegraphy', published in 1893.

Archive material related to Ronalds also held at UCL Special Collections, and Hammersmith and Fulham Archives and Local History Centre. National Portrait Gallery holds Ronalds' portrait.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
NCA rules for construction of personal, place and corporate names (1997) and ISAD (G), second edition.

Date(s) of descriptions:
13 March 2008 Modified 19 September 2008

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