Gladstone, John Hall

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Gladstone, John Hall

(b. London, England, 7 March 1827; d. London, 6 October 1902)


Financially independent for the latter part of his life, Gladstone devoted much time to research as well as to philanthropic and religious work; in science he is best-known for his application of optical phenomena to chemical problems.

His father, John Gladstone, a junior partner in the firm of Cook and Gladstone, wholesale drapers, married a cousin, Alison Hall, whose father also owned a drapery business. John Hall was the eldest of their three sons. The boys were all educated at home under tutors and showed an early interest in natural science. At seventeen Gladstone wished to enter the Christian ministry but was dissuaded and entered University College, London, where he attended Thomas Graham’s lectures and worked in his laboratory. He gained a gold medal for original research and in 1847 went to work under Justus Liebig at Giessen, from which he graduated Ph.D. He returned to London in 1848 and in 1850 became lecturer in chemistry at St. Thomas’ Hospital, where he stayed for two years. In 1853 Gladstone was elected fellow of the Royal Society, and from 1874 to 1877 he was Fullerian professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution. He was a founder member of the Physical Society and its first president (1874–1876), and president of the Chemical Society from 1877 to 1879. Gladstone was married twice: in 1852 to May Tilt—she and their only son died in 1864—and in 1869 to Margaret King (niece of Lord Kelvin), who died in 1870, leaving a daughter.

In an early paper (1853) Gladstone arranged all the known elements in the order of their “atomic weights” (actually, equivalents), thus anticipating John Newlands and others in pointing out certain peculiarities and drawing attention to some surprising relationships existing between the atomic weights of related elements, including some relationships observed earlier by Johann Döbereiner. He did not mention Döbereiner, but acknowledged the work of Leopold Gmelin who, in 1843, had drawn attention to and enlarged upon Döbereiner’s observations. (Gladstone’s contribution to the evolution of the periodic table is assessed by J. W. van Spronsen in The Periodic System of Chemical Elements [Amsterdam–London–New York, 1969], pp. 76–78 and passim.)

In 1855 he carried out the first quantitative investigation of equilibria in homogeneous systems, particularly using solutions of various ferric salts and thiocyanates, choosing these reactions because of the red color of the ferric thiocyanate thus formed. (Gladstone’s results were later examined mathematically by E. J. Mills, on the basis of the law of mass action-see Philosophical Magazine, 47 [1874], 24 1–247.) Since the reaction never went to completion in any one direction, the inadequacy of prevailing ideas on chemical affinity was demonstrated.

Gladstone’s important pioneering work on refractivity, in collaboration with T. P. Dale, began in 1858 with the measurement of the decrease in the refractive indexes of a number of liquids with increase in temperature. Observations of this in connection with accompanying changes of density subsequently led them to the formulation of what they called the specific refractive energy (now called specific refractive index , where n is the refractive index and d is the density), which they found to be approximately constant for a given liquid. Hans Landolt termed the product of this and the atomic weight of an element the refraction equivalent, and Gladstone subsequently measured it for a number of elements, finding it to be additive in compounds. (Refractivity is both additive and constitutive and has subsequently been of importance in organic analysis, particularly to resolve structure.)

In a series of researches with Alfred Tribe the copper-zinc couple was introduced and used in a number of organic preparations. His work on essential oils in his refractivity experiments led Gladstone to analyze them, and he discovered a number of terpenes.

Gladstone was deeply involved in a number of religious movements (particularly the Y. M.C.A.) and in educational reform.


I. Original Works. About 200 papers by Gladstone (of which approximately one-third are collaborative) are listed in the Royal Society, Catalogue of Scientific Papers, II (London, 1868). 909–911; VII (London, 1877), 783–784; X (London, 1894), 2–3; XV (Cambridge, 1916), 327–328. The lists are not entirely reliable and contain a few duplications. The papers mentioned in the text are “On the Relations Between the Atomic Weights of Analogous Elements,” in Philosophical Magazine, 5 (1853), 313–320 (not listed in the above); “On Circumstances Modifying the Action of Chemical Affinity,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 145 (1855).179–223—sce also “Some Experiments Illustrative of the Reciprocal Decomposition of Salts,” in Journal of the Chemical Society, 9 (1857). 144–156, and “Additional Notes on Reciprocal Decomposition Among Salts in Solution,” ibid., 15 (1862), 302–311; “On the Influence of Temperature on the Refraction of Light,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 148 (1858), 887–894; “Researches on the Refraction, Dispersion and Sensitiveness of Liquids,” ibid., 153 (1863), 317–343; “Researches on Refraction-equivalents,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 16 (1868). 439–444; “On the Refraction-equivalents of the Elements,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 160 (1870), 9–32; “On Essential Oils,” in Journal of the Chemical Society, 17 1864). 1–21; 25 (1872), 1–12; 49 (1886), 609–623; and “Researches on the Action of the Copper-Zinc Couple on Organic Bodies,” ibid., 26 (1873), 445–452, 618–683, 961–970; 27 (1874), 208–212, 406–410, 410–415, 615–619; 28 (1875), 508–514; 35 (1879), 107–110; 47 (1885), 448–456, written with A. Tribe. Gladstone published a biography of Faraday, whom he knew well, Michael Faraday (London, 1872; 2nd ed., 1873); and, from articles which had appeared in Nature, The Chemistry of the Secondary Batteries of Planté and Faure (London, 1883), written with A. Tribe.

Gladstone also wrote a pamphlet on spelling reform, several pamphlets on religious matters, and some hymns.

II. Secondary Literature. A biography is W. A. Tilden, “John Hall Gladstone,” in Journal of the Chemical Society, 87 (1905), 591–597. Obituary notices are T. E. T., in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 75 (1905), 188–192; and W. C. R. A., in Nature, 66 (1902), 609–610.

E. L. Scott