Brande, William Thomas

views updated

Brande, William Thomas

(b. London, England, 11 January 1788; d. London, 11 February 1866)


Brande’s father was proprietor of the Brande Pharmacy in Arlington Street, London (Friedrich Accum, one of the pioneers of coal-gas lighting, became his assistant in 1793). The Brandes were apothecaries to George III, and operated shops in both London and Hannover. His family moved to Chiswick when he was about fourteen, and Brande became acquainted with Charles Hatchett, who was keenly interested in chemistry and mineralogy. Hatchett allowed him to help in his laboratory and encouraged him to study the classification of rocks and ores. The mineralogical series with which Brande later illustrated his lectures at the Royal Institution originated in specimens given to him by Hatchett.

Brande was a pupil at the Anatomical School in Windmill Street and began to study chemistry at St. George’s Hospital (ca. 1804). At about this time he seems to have been befriended by Sir Everard Home, who, as one of the trustees of the Hunterian collection at the Royal College of Surgeons, later entrusted Brande with the analysis of calculi selected from the collection. Brande submitted the report, with observations by Home, to the Royal Society (Philosophical Transactions, 98 [1808], 223–243) and was elected a fellow in 1809.

It appears that quite early in life Brande became acquainted with Davy and attended his lectures at the Royal Institution. In 1808 he himself began lecturing on chemistry and pharmacy at London medical schools. In 1812 he became superintendent of chemical operations at Apothecaries’ Hall, and the following year succeeded Davy as professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution, in which post he remained until 1852. When Faraday returned from Europe in 1815, he began to assist Brande in the laboratory and, from 1824, as a lecturer. Thus the two men were associated for many years, both in teaching and chemical investigations and in editing the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and the Arts, published at the Royal Institution, to which they both made many contributions. In 1823 Brande was consulted by the government with a view to obtaining a more coherent metal for dies; his report, which led to improvements and economy at the Mint, led also to his appointment as superintendent of the dies department and, later, as chief officer of the coinage department.

Brande was an indefatigable lecturer and prolific writer, and published many papers on his investigations, but it is difficult to point to any that led to significant progress in chemistry. He was awarded the Copley Medal in 1813 for papers in which he showed, contrary to the prevailing belief, that alcohol was present in fermented liquors as such and not produced as a result of distillation; he also ascertained the alcohol content of many wines. In 1819 Brande examined a substance thought to be benzoic acid, but almost certainly naphthalene, then unknown, and carried out experiments which indicated that it contained no oxygen. He suggested that it was a binary compound of carbon and hydrogen, but carried out no analysis to confirm this or to determine the proportions. In the same year, in a paper read to the Royal Society on the inflammable gases from coal and oil, he inferred that there existed “no definite compound of carbon and hydrogen except that called olefiant gas” (Philosophical Transactions, 110 [1820], 11–28), although Dalton and William Henry had clearly distinguished methane and olefiant gas some fifteen years before.


Brande wrote textbooks based on his courses of lectures on geology, chemistry, and pharmacy: Outlines of Geology (London, 1817, 1829); A Manual of Chemistry: Containing the Principal Facts of the Science Arranged in the Order in Which They Are Discussed and Illustrated in the Lectures at the Royal Institution (London, 1819; 6th ed., 1848; American ed., New York[?], 1829); A Manual of Pharmacy (London, 1825, 1833). He also wrote Chemistry (London, 1863), with A. S. Taylor, terming it “especially adapted for students.” Among his other reference works should be noted A Dictionary of Materia Medica and Practical Pharmacy, Including a Translation of the Formulae of the London Pharmacopoeia (London, 1839), said to have been invaluable to medical students of his day. His catholic interests are evidenced by his editorship of A Dictionary of Science, Literature and Art (London, 1842, 1852, 1853; New York, 1847; rev. ed., 3 vols., 1865–1867, 1875). Most of his papers are listed in The Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, l (1867), 564–566. Those omitted are of little importance, and most are in the Quarterly Journal, in the period 1816–1830.

No adequate biography exists; the best biographical sketch is the obituary notice in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 16 (1868), ii–viii.

E. L. Scott