Henry Roscoe (chemist)

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Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe
Henry Enfield Roscoe.jpg
Born(1833-01-07)7 January 1833
Died18 December 1915(1915-12-18) (aged 82)
AwardsRoyal Medal (1873)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1912)

Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe FRS (7 January 1833 – 18 December 1915) was a British chemist. He is particularly noted for early work on vanadium and for photochemical studies.

Life and work[edit]

Kirchhoff, Bunsen, and Roscoe (1862)

Henry Enfield Roscoe was born in London, the son of Henry Roscoe (1800–1836) and Maria Roscoe (née Fletcher)(1798-1885), and grandson of William Roscoe (1753–1831).[1] Stanley Jevons was a cousin.

Roscoe studied at the Liverpool Institute for Boys and University College London. He then went to Heidelberg to work under Robert Bunsen, who became a lifelong friend. He also befriended William Dittmar.[2] In 1857, Roscoe returned to England with Dittmar and was appointed to the chair of chemistry at Owens College, Manchester, with Dittmar as his assistant. Roscoe remained at the college until 1886 by which time the Victoria University had been established.[3] From 1885 to 1895 he was MP for Manchester South. He served on several royal commissions appointed to consider educational questions, in which he was keenly interested, and from 1896 to 1902 was vice-chancellor of the University of London. He was knighted in 1884.

Roscoe's scientific work includes a memorable series of researches carried out with Bunsen between 1855 and 1862, in which they laid the foundations of comparative photochemistry. In 1864 they carried out what is reputed to be the first flashlight photography, using magnesium as a light source.[4] In 1867, Roscoe began an elaborate investigation of vanadium and its compounds, and devised a process for preparing it pure in the metallic state, at the same time showing that the substance which had previously passed for the pure metal was contaminated with oxygen. In so doing he corrected Berzelius's value for the atomic mass. Roscoe was awarded the 1868 Bakerian Lecture for this work. He also carried out researches on niobium, tungsten, uranium, perchloric acid, and the solubility of ammonia.

He was the uncle of Beatrix Potter. The mineral Roscoelite was named after him, due to its vanadium content and Roscoe's work on that element.

Roscoe received an honorary doctorate (LL.D) from the University of Glasgow in June 1901.[5] In November 1909 he was sworn in the Privy Council.[6] He was awarded the Franklin Institute's Elliott Cresson Medal in 1912.


Roscoe's publications include, besides several elementary books on chemistry that had a wide circulation and were translated into many foreign languages, Lectures on Spectrum Analysis (1869); a Treatise on Chemistry (the first edition of which appeared in 1877–1892); A New View of Dalton's Atomic Theory, with Dr Arthur Harden (1896); and an Autobiography (1906). The Treatise on Chemistry, written in collaboration with Carl Schorlemmer (1834–1892), who was appointed his private assistant at Manchester in 1859, official assistant in the laboratory in 1861, and professor of organic chemistry in 1874, was long regarded as a standard work. Roscoe's Lessons in Elementary Chemistry (1866) passed through many editions in the UK and abroad.

Selected works[edit]

  • Roscoe, Henry (1876). Chemistry. New York: Appleton.
  • Roscoe, Henry (1878). Spectrum Analysis. London: Macmillan.
  • Henry Roscoe (1882) Kurzes Lehrbuch der Chemie Braunschweig : Vieweg
  • Roscoe, Henry (1895). John Dalton and the Rise of Modern Chemistry. New York: Macmillan.
  • Roscoe, Henry (1906). The Life and Experiences of Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe. London: Macmillan.


A blue plaque erected Quay Street, Manchester

The Roscoe Building at the University of Manchester was named after Professor Roscoe: it is a large general-purpose teaching facility used for various levels of teaching in Brunswick Street.[7]


  1. ^ See the two-volume biography: Roscoe, Henry (1833). The Life of William Roscoe. 1. London: T. Cadell. and Roscoe, Henry (1833). The Life of William Roscoe. 2. London: T. Cadell.
  2. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830901185.html
  3. ^ Charlton, H. B. (1951) Portrait of a University: chap. IV College to University: the Roscoe-Ward Epoch. Manchester: University Press
  4. ^ "Henry Roscoe (1833–1915): flashlight photography". Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester). 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  5. ^ "Glasgow University jubilee". The Times (36481). London. 14 June 1901. p. 10.
  6. ^ "No. 28311". The London Gazette. 23 November 1909. p. 8661.
  7. ^ The University of Manchester: Campus Map. man.ac.uk.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Manchester South
Succeeded by
Marquess of Lorne
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Julian Goldsmid
Vice-Chancellor of University of London
Succeeded by
Dr Archibald Robertson