Charnock, Thomas (1526-1581)

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Charnock, Thomas (1526-1581)

English alchemist born in the Isle of Thanet, Kent. As a young man Charnock traveled all over England in search of alchemistic knowledge, but eventually he fixed his residence at Oxford, and there he made the acquaintance of a noted scientist. The scientist was impressed with the youth's cleverness and appointed him his confidant and assistant. After working in this capacity for a number of years, Charnock found himself the sole legatee of his patron's paraphernalia and likewise of the various secrets written in his notebooks.

Armed with this knowledge, he proceeded to devote himself more eagerly than ever to the quest of gold production, but in 1555, just as he imagined himself on the verge of triumph, there was a sudden explosion in his laboratory.

In 1557, when he again thought that success was imminent, the press-gang arrived at his house to recruit him by force into the English army to fight the French. The alchemist was bitterly chagrined on being kidnaped in this way; he set about to destroy all his equipments so no one would lay claim to his secrets.

He subsequently proceeded to France as a soldier and took part in the disastrous campaign that culminated in the English being defeated at Calais by the Duc de Guise.

How Charnock fared during the expedition is not known, but he returned to England safely, and in 1562 he married Agnes Norton. Thereafter, he settled at Stockland, in the county of Somerset, and continued to pursue scientific researches. Neither the military nor the church disturbed his pursuits from that point forward.

The antiquarian and historian Anthony Wood, in his Athen Oxoniensis, credited Charnock with a considerable amount of writing, and it is possible that several items enumerated are in reality from some other pen than the alchemist's. However, there are certain books he undoubtedly wrote, notably Aenigma ad Alchimiam (1572) and Breviary of Natural Philosophy (1557). Breviary was subsequently reprinted in the Theatrum Chemicum of Elias Ashmole.