Martí Franqu

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(b. Altafulla, Tarragona, Spain, 14 June 1750; d. Tarragona, 19 August 1832)

biology, geology, meteorology, chemistry.

Martí Franqués belonged to a rich and noble Catalan family. He started his studies at the University of Cervera but left because of his disgust with the Scholastic atmosphere. He continued his education himself, first learning French, and later English, German, and Italian. Initially, as a member of the Sociedad de Amigos del País, he took an interest in promoting the development of the cotton-spinning, weaving, and chinaware industries in the region of Tarragona.

Martí Franqués later became interested in scientific matters, but he was a retiring person and almost never announced his discoveries. In 1785 he started analyses of air that concluded in establishing, on 12 May 1790, that the oxygen content of the atmosphere is between 21 and 22 percent. He devised an instrument to control the air pressure and temperature in his atmospheric analyses which was a forerunner of Walter Hempel’s burette. In 1791 he became absorbed in the sexual reproduction of plants, and as a result of his experiments, he understood and defended Linnaeus against Spallanzani. In all these studies he demonstrated that he was aware of the latest developments of the leading scientists of that period, notably Priestley and Cavendish. He knew and admired the work of Lavoisier, but that did not prevent him from recognizing the priority of Cavendish in the synthesis of water.

The Peninsular War (1808–1814) curtailed Martí Franqués’ experiments. The bombardment of Tarragona destroyed part of his laboratory, and he himself was taken prisoner by the French. After the war he continued his reproduction experiments, but they were much less important than the ones he had done previously.

Among his disciples and friends were the botanists Mariano Lagasca y Segura, Mariano de la Paz Graells, and the physicist Juan Agell.


A notice by Torres Amat appeared in Diario de Barcelona, 25–26 May 1833. The best monograph is in Catalan by Antoni Quintana i Mari, “Antoni de Martí i Franqués (1750–1832),” in Memòries de l’Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts de Barcelona, 24 (1935), 1–309; the first 58 pages contain Martí’s preserved scientific works. A critical analysis of them was made by E. Moles in his entrance speech for the Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales de Madrid (28 March 1934).

J. Vernet