John George Children

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John George Children

John George Children.jpg
Portrait, 1826
Born(1777-05-18)18 May 1777
Ferox Hall, Tonbridge, Kent
Died1 January 1852(1852-01-01) (aged 74)
Alma materQueens' College, Cambridge
Spouse(s)Hester Anna Holwell
Caroline Wise
AwardsRoyal Institution Medal (1828)
Scientific career
FieldsChemist, mineralogist and zoologist
InstitutionsBritish Museum

John George Children FRS FRSE FLS PRES (18 May 1777 – 1 January 1852 in Halstead, Kent) was a British chemist, mineralogist and zoologist. He invented a method to extract silver from ore without the need for mercury. He was a friend of Sir Humphry Davy, who helped him secure a controversial appointment to a post in the British Museum. Children was also the founding president of the Royal Entomological Society.

Personal life[edit]

John George was born on 18 May 1777 at Ferox Hall, Tonbridge, Kent.[1] His father George Children, FRS (1742–1818),[2] a banker, belonged to a family that lived at the home, "Childrens", near Nether Street in Hildenborough and his mother Susanna, who was the daughter of Rev. Thomas Marshall Jordan of West Farleigh died six days after he was born.[3]

Children studied at Tonbridge School, Eton College and Queens' College, Cambridge.[4] In 1798 he married Hester Anna Holwell, granddaughter of John Zephaniah Holwell in 1798. After her death in 1800, he began to travel widely. He remarried in 1809 to Caroline Wise, and married a third time in 1819 to Mrs Towers, a widow.[citation needed]

He died at Halstead Place in Kent.[1]

Scientific career[edit]

He was a friend of Sir Humphry Davy and together they conducted several experiments. In 1808 he visited Spain where he met Joseph Blanco White. In 1813 he constructed a large galvanic cell and conducted experiments using them. These were published in Philosophical Transactions in 1815 and for this he received the Royal Institution medal in 1828. In 1824 he discovered a method of extracting silver without the need for mercury which was purchased by several American mining companies. He married Caroline, daughter of George Furlong Wise of Woolston, in 1809 but she died the next year. In 1819 he married Mrs. Towers (died 1839).[3]

In 1822 he was working as a librarian in the Department of Antiquities at the British Museum when he was appointed assistant keeper of the Natural History Department in succession to William Elford Leach. The appointment, influenced by Sir Humphry Davy, was controversial as he was less qualified than another applicant, William John Swainson.[citation needed] Children found himself poorly qualified in zoology and depended greatly on John Edward Gray who worked as a day-worker. Gray's own application to the post that Children held had been passed over due to rivalries with influential members of the Linnean Society. Some visitors to the British Museum like Edward Blyth found him uncooperative.[5] After the division of the Department into three sections in 1837 he became keeper of the Department of Zoology, retiring in 1840 and succeeded by his assistant John Edward Gray. After his retirement he took an interest in astronomy.[3][6]

The large silverstripe butterfly Childrena childreni was named after him by Gray.

Children was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1807, and served as the society's secretary in 1826, and from 1830 to 1837. In 1833, he was founding president of what became the Royal Entomological Society of London. His name is commemorated in the names of several species, most described by Gray or his brother, including the Australian Children's python, Antaresia childreni,[7] the Australian stick insect Tropidoderus childrenii, the North American lady beetle Exochomus childreni as well as a mineral called childrenite. John James Audubon named a warbler after him, but the specimen turned out to be a juvenile yellow warbler.[citation needed]


His only daughter (from his first wife Hester Anna) was Anna Atkins, a botanist, who is best known for her book of cyanotype photograms of algae, the first book of exclusively photographic images ever made. She wrote a memoir on the life of her father which included several unpublished poems.[8]


  1. ^ a b Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. p. 188. ISBN 090219884X. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  2. ^ The Austen Collection. Tonbridge: St Peter and St Paul Church. 2000.
  3. ^ a b c Bettany, George Thomas (1887). "Children, John George". In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 249–250.
  4. ^ "Children, John George (CHLN795JG)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ Brandon-Jones, Christine (1996). "Charles Darwin and the repugnant curators". Annals of Science. 53 (5): 501–510. doi:10.1080/00033799600200351.
  6. ^ Gunther, AE (1978). "John George Children, F. R. S. (1777–1852) of the British Museum. Mineralogist and reluctant keeper of zoology". Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Historical Series. 6: 75–108.
  7. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Children", p. 53).
  8. ^ Atkins, Anna (1853). Memoir of J. G. Children, Esq. Westminster: John Bowyer Nichols.