George Edward Davis, 1850 - 1907

by Brian Stevenson
last updated June, 2018

George Davis was an amateur microscopist to who took his hobby to an extreme level. He was a founding member of the Manchester Microscopical Society (and one of its first Presidents), Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, founder and Editor of The Northern Microscopist magazine, and author of an important book, Practical Microscopy. Microscope slides that were prepared by Davis are occasionally encountered, and they are generally skillfully prepared. Copies of his books can still be acquired, indications of their popularity. Free pdfs of the 1882, 1889, and 1895 editions of Practical Microscopy are available for download through various web sites.

Davis’ main profession was chemistry, particularly industrial chemical processes. He is considered to be the “Father of Chemical Engineering”, on the basis of his lectures and 1901 book, “A Handbook of Chemical Engineering”.


Figure 1. A microscope slide of the fungus Arthroderma, by George Davis.

 


Figure 2. George Davis, adapted from the frontispiece of the 1890 Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society.

 

George E. Davis was born on July 27, 1850, in Eton, Buckinghamshire, the eldest child of George and Lucy Davis. The father was described in the 1871 census as being a “bookseller’s assistant”. Young George was apprenticed to a bookbinder when he was 14. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that “after two years he abandoned this trade to pursue his interest in chemistry”. The 1871 census described G.E. Davis’ occupation as “Science teacher and bookbinder”, implying that he completed his apprenticeship, worked as a professional bookbinder for two years, and then quit that job to take up chemistry.

Davis studied chemistry at Slough Mechanics Institute, Staffordshire, and the Royal School of Mines, London. Several jobs and moves followed, including Manchester, Lichfield, and Liverpool. In 1878, he became a government inspector of alkali manufacturers, enforcing one of the first laws for protection of the environment from chemical emissions.

George married Laura Miller on December 10, 1878, in Eton. They had four children, two girls and two boys. The eldest, Ethel, died in 1886, when only 7 years old.

Davis helped found the Manchester Microscopical Society in 1880. He joined the Royal Microscopical Society that same year.

A mixture of his interests in chemistry and microscopy, Davis published Sizing and Mildew in Cotton Goods in 1880, coauthored with C. Dreyfus and P. Holland.

He also helped found the Society of Chemical Industry in 1881, and was its first Secretary.

The Northern Microscopist began publication in 1881 (Figures 3 and 4). The Royal Microscopical Society wrote of the new magazine, “We are pleased to see the first number of a new Microscopical Journal under this title, edited by Mr. George E. Davis, a Fellow of the Society. It is hoped that its establishment ‘will be a bond of union between workers in the North, and that it will bring to the fore many men whose researches have scarcely been heard of, on account of their distance from the great microscopical centres’; and amongst its aims is the keeping of a record of the proceedings of the chief Microscopical Societies in the North, and so furnishing each individual member with at least as much permanent information as he would obtain if the Society to which he belonged published its own transactions - possibly more”.

The first edition of Practical Microscopy was published in 1882 (Figure 5). This, and subsequent editions, are of particular interest to microscope enthusiasts because of their numerous images of period microscopes and accessories (Figures 6 and 7).

Davis was elected President of the Manchester Microscopical Society in 1884.

Also in 1884, Davis left his government inspector job, and began working as a private consultant to chemical industries. He also opened a bleach factory with his brother, Alfred, but it did not persist for long. Perhaps a consequence of his consulting work, Davis frequently moved. The membership rolls of the MMS list a new address every year or two.

In 1887, he presented a series of twelve lectures at the Manchester School of Technology (now part of the University of Manchester). Davis outlined the occupations of the chemical engineer, forming the basis of his 1901 Handbook of Chemical Engineering. Davis also began publishing The Chemical Trade Journal in 1887.

A second edition of Practical Microscopy was published in 1889. It was updated with numerous new images of microscopes, including foreign models that were omitted from the first edition (Figure 7). The third edition, published in 1895, shows the same illustrations as the 1889 edition, without any additions.

Davis remained a member of the MMS until 1904. He is not listed in membership rolls after that year.

He died on April 20, 1907, at his home in West Dulwich, Surrey


Figure 3. Title page of the first issue of “The Northern Microscopist”, 1881.

 


Figure 4. Notices by Davis from the first issue of “The Northern Microscopist”: instructions to contact Davis with subscription and submission queries, an offer to exchange microscope slides, and an advertisement for sale of a J.B. Dancer microscope objective lens. In the latter, Davis seems to have a specific herbarium in mind.

 


Figure 5. Title page of the 1882, first edition of “Practical Microscopy”.

 

Figure 6. Following: Images of microscopes from Davis’ 1882, first edition of “Practical Microscopy”:









Figure 6. Images of microscopes from Davis’ 1882, first edition of “Practical Microscopy”.

 

Figure 7. Following: New images of microscopes from Davis’ 1889, second edition of “Practical Microscopy”:











Figure 7. New images of microscopes from Davis’ 1889, second edition of “Practical Microscopy”. In addition, many of the pictures from the 1882 edition were included again in 1889.

 


Figure 8. Title page of the first issue of “The Chemical Journal”, 1887.

 


Figure 9. Title page of the first edition of “A Handbook of Chemical Engineering”, 1901.

 

Resources

Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 30 and 128, Plate 12-N and 12-0

The Chemical Trade Journal (1887) Vol. 1

Davis, George E., C. Dreyfus, and P. Holland (1880) Sizing and Mildew in Cotton Goods, Palmer and Howe, Manchester

Davis, George E. (1882) Practical Microscopy, David Bogue, London

Davis, George E. (1884) The President’s Address, Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society, pages 60-72

Davis, George E. (1884) Penetration in objectives, Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society, pages 16-19

Davis, George E. (1884) The ginger-beer plant, Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society, pages 39-44

Davis, George E. (1889) Practical Microscopy, Second edition, W.H. Allen, London

Davis, George E. (1895) Practical Microscopy, Third edition, W.H. Allen, London

Davis, George E. (1901) A Handbook of Chemical Engineering, Davis Brothers, Manchester

England census, marriage, and other records, accessed through ancestry.com

Flavell-While, Claudia (2012). Chemical engineers who changed the world: meet the Daddy, The Chemical Engineer, march issue, pages 52-54.

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1881) The Northern Microscopist, Series 2, Vol. 1, page 124

The Northern Microscopist (1881) Vol. 1, pages 23-24

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Davis, George Edward (1850-1907), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37345

Probate of the will of George Davis (1907) “Davis George Edward of 151 Croxted-road West Dulwich Surrey died 20 April 1907 Probate London 13 June to George Keville Davis engineer and Alice Jane Davis spinster Effects £9307 12s 5d”, accessed through ancestry.com

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1884) Members: “Davis Geo. E., FRMS, FCS, FIC, Belmont, Thorncliffe, nr. Sheffield

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1885) Members: “Davis Geo. E., FRMS, FCS, FIC, Belmont, Thorncliffe, nr. Sheffield

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1886) Members: “Davis Geo. E., FRMS, FCS, FIC, South Cliffe House, Higher Broughton

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1888) Members: “Davis Geo. E., FRMS, FCS, FIC, 5, John Dalton-street

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1889) Members: “Davis Geo. E., FIC, FCS, FRMS, Blackfriars Bridge

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1890) Portrait of George E. David, frontispiece

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1890) Members: “Davis George E., FIC, FCS, FRMS, Kersal House, Manchester

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1904) Members: “Davis, Geo. E., F.I.C., F.C.S., FRMS, Knutsford (Cheshire)

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1907) “The Council grieves to record the deaths during the past year of Messrs. George E. Davis and William I. Hannan, to whose untiring labours in the past the present prosperity of the Society is in no small degree due”, page 8