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Sir Humphry Davy

Inventor of the eponymous miners safety lamp. He is commemorated with a statue in Market Jew Street in Penzance. Born 17 December 1778, the son of a woodcarver in Penzance. His interest in scientific things was fostered by his acquaintanceship with Robert Duncan, a Penzance saddler who made electrical and mechanical models. He went to school first in Penzance, then to Truro Grammar School when he was 15. At 16 he became apprenticed to Dr John Borlase, a Penzance surgeon. Here his work involved mixing potions in the laboratory. Then a chance meeting with a Bristol scientist, Dr Beddoes, led to his being offered a job as assistant in the newly opened Pneumatic Institution in Bristol.

Within four years he had established himself as a scientist through his experiments with gasses. Though he did nearly kill himself by sniffing a newly discovered gas, and had to return to Penzance to recuperate. He wrote books, gave lectures and became president of the Royal Society for seven years. He was knighted in1812, and it was in 1812 that he was asked to devise a safety lamp after an explosion had killed 89 miners in a coal mine in Feeling Colliery near Sunderland.

His solution to the problem was elegant, simple and practical. Wire gauze covered the flame, air passes through the gauze to feed the flame with oxygen, but the explosive gasses were held back. Although he patented his invention, he let anybody use it.

Apart from his interest in gasses, he was also the founder of the Zoological Society, with its zoo in Regents park.


He died in Switzerland aged 51 in May 1829





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