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British Industrial History

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William Vernon-Harcourt

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William Venables Vernon Harcourt (1789-1871) was founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

1789 He was born at Sudbury, Derbyshire, a younger son of Hon. Edward Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York and his wife Lady Anne Leveson-Gower, who was a daughter of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford and his second wife Lady Louisa Egerton. Her maternal grandparents were Scroop Egerton, 1st Duke of Bridgewater and his second wife Rachel Russell. Rachel was a daughter of Wriothesley Russell, 2nd Duke of Bedford and the rich heiress Elizabeth Howland, daughter of John Howland of Streatham.

Having served for five years in the Royal Navy in the West Indies, in 1807 he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, intending to take holy orders.

At Oxford Vernon developed an interest in geology, attending Buckland's lectures and making the acquaintance of the Conybeare brothers, John Josias and William Daniel; his commitment to chemistry was strengthened by attending the lectures of John Kidd. After leaving Oxford he received private instruction from two celebrated chemists, William Wollaston and Humphry Davy.

1814 He was ordained; his first living was at Bishopthorpe, Yorkshire

1824 He became canon of York and rector of Wheldrake in Yorkshire, and in 1837 rector of Bolton Percy. The Yorkshire School for the Blind and the Castle Howard reformatory both owe their existence to his energies. At the same time he was a practising and respected field geologist.

1824 He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society

1824 He married Mary, daughter of Col. William Gooch

Having developed a great interest in science while at the university, he took an active part in the foundation of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, of which he was the first president.

1831 The title, aims and constitution for the British Association for the Advancement of Science were drawn up by him and presented at its first meeting, held in York in September 1831.

1831 Adopted Harcourt as the family surname after Archbishop Vernon inherited the Harcourt estates at the death of the third and last earl, William Harcourt (1743–1830)

1832 He became the general secretary of the association from 1832 to 1837

1839 Assumed the presidency at the meeting held in Birmingham in response to an emergency. In his address he claimed for science the freedom of enquiry, but at the same time rashly pressed the claims of Henry Cavendish against those of James Watt as the discoverer of the composition of water. His spare time until quite late in life was occupied with scientific experiments. He collaborated with Sir George Gabriel Stokes for example.

1861 He inherited the Harcourt estates in Oxfordshire from his brother and moved to Nuneham House, where he later died.

His second son, William, was a successful politician.

1871 April. Died

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