Cornish Heroes


Cornish Heroes


Sir Humphrey Davy


Ah yes, that flamboyant character in “Are You Being Served”


Well, not quite, but certainly a bit of a dandy in his time.




As well as being a renowned scientist, Davy was also known for his ostentatious dress sense.


A kind of 18th century Lawrence Llewellyn–Bowen?




What was he famous for then?


Born in 1778, the son of and impoverished Cornish woodcarver, Humphrey is probably best remembered for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth elements and the discovery of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine.



Sorry, you’ve lost me.


And the Davy Lamp.


Now you’re talking…remind me again.


He surrounded the lamp’s flame with wire gauze to dissipate the heat and in doing so inhibited the ignition of methane often found in tin mines. Davy also taught himself a wide range of other subjects: theology and philosophy, poetics, seven languages and several sciences and became the darling of the London social scene counting such luminaries as Samuel Taylor Coleridge as friends.


Rose through the ranks you might say?


Such was his appeal that swooning women attended his lectures much to the chagrin of the establishment who thought women were best left uneducated. The press were prejudiced against his provincial background writing such jibes as, …“the clothes of a gentleman do not sit easily upon him…he smells of the shop completely”


And in later life?


Davy married an older, wealthier woman; retired to his laboratory and travelled around Europe.


And in the end?


Davy died in 1829. His inhalation of various chemicals over the years and his predilection for laughing gas as a recreational drug finally took their toll


Is there a pilgrimage for aspiring Cornish scientists?


Buried at Plain Palace Cemetery in Geneva but in Cornwall there is an imposing statue of the man in the middle of Penzance town centre.