Frederick Robertson Martin, 1842 - 1883

by Brian Stevenson
last updated February, 2012

F.R. Martin was a semi-professional microscope slide maker, active from approximately 1864 until the time he died, in 1883. Martin spent most of his life in or near Bristol, England. He was a pharmaceutical chemist by trade, and the earliest of Martin’s slides appear to have been chemical crystals. Brian Bracegirdle commented on that aspect of Martin’s work, in his Microscopical Mounts and Mounters. Martin’s later preparations included a wide variety of insect, botanical and other subjects (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides produced by Frederick R. Martin.


Frederick Robertson Martin was born in Bristol during the summer of 1842, the eldest child of John and Harriet Martin. Frederick’s father was a chemist/pharmacist. The family appears to have been relatively well off, as the 1851 and 1861 censuses each list the Martin household as including two live-in servants.

Although the 1861 census did not list an occupation for 18 year-old Frederick, he most likely worked as a chemist with his father. The father and son established a formal partnership as pharmaceutical chemists around this time. Frederick was also becoming interested in microscopy. In 1864, a note in The Intellectual Observer stated:

Beautiful Polariscope Object - F.R. Martin informs us that if the beautifully crystallizable compound called ‘Santonine’ (which is obtained from Artemisia contra), is dissolved in chloroform, and a little of the solution placed on a slide, and very gradually evaporated over a spirit-lamp, it will be observed, on making starting points for crystals with a fine needle, to form into beautiful satinlike rosettes, making a magnificent object for the polariscope, similar to the well-known Salicine slides.

Santonine was not a new chemical at the time, although it was apparently new to some microscopists. Santonine was used into the 20th century as a pharmaceutical, and so would have been quite familiar to a pharmacist such as Martin. He wrote a short piece on santonine for Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, in 1867:

Santonine - To prepare slides of rosette crystals, place about ten grains of santonine in a small test tube, and pour upon it one dram of chloroform, and dissolve by a gentle heat: then drop upon glass slips a small portion of the solution, which will rapidly evaporate, depositing fine rosette crystals of the salt. Canada balsam or Deane's gelatine medium will answer well for mounting them.—F. R. Martin, Redland, Bristol.”

The 1869 Monthly Microscopical Journal listed donations to the Royal Microscopical Society, including “24 Slides of various Salts” from “F.R. Martin, Esq.”. I have not found any evidence of Martin being a member of the RMS. He was, however, active in the Bristol Microscopical Society (e.g., Figure 2).

Figure 2. Some reports of Frederick Martin’s involvement with his local Bristol Microscopical Society. Note that Martin displayed two new microscopes within 6 months of each other, a Collins (probably the Lawson model) and a Browning. Either Martin was fairly wealthy or he sold microscopes from his chemists’ shop. (A) Monthly Microscopical Journal, 1869. (B) Scientific Opinion, 1870 (the meeting referred to took place in November, 1869). (C) Scientific Opinion, 1870.


In August of 1866, Frederick and his father, John, dissolved their partnership, with Frederick continuing to operate a business on Southampton Parade, Redland, Bristol. He continued at that location through 1874. An 1870 issue of The Lancet described a “Collections of 126 characteristic Specimens of the Roots, Barks, Flowers, Fruits, Leaves, Resins, Gums, &c, of the Materia Medica of the British Pharmacopeia, 1867. Each specimen Is enclosed in a strong paper bag, on which is printed a label descriptive of the source from which the article is derived, its natural order, characters, and tests, dose, and the names of the Pharmacopeia preparations into which It enters. Price of the Collection (in a neat wooden box), 30s.” These sets could be obtained from several pharmacists, including “F.R. Martin, Southampton-parade, Bristol.”

Martin’s pharmacy business appear to have been quite successful in the early 1870s. The 1871 census lists the Martin household as consisting of Frederick and his wife, Ellen (whom he had married in 1866), their three children, a chemists’ assistant and two general servants.

During late 1874 or early 1875, Martin moved his family to Torquay, Devon, where he again established a pharmacy. In 1875, Frederick sent out an exchange request that illustrates an expanding interest in the sciences: “Correspondence and Exchanges wanted in Terrestrial and Marine Conchology with American, Continental, and Colonial Conchologists, by Frederick Robertson Martin, 97 Union, street, Torquay, S. Devon.” Unfortunately, something went amiss with plans, and, by 1877, Frederick Martin was bankrupt (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Notice of Frederick Martin’s 1877 bankruptcy, from the London Gazette.


After their 1877 financial crisis, the Martin family moved to Clevedon, Somerset, where both Frederick’s and Ellen’s parents lived. The 1881 census listed Frederick as being a chemist. On the night of the census, he was with his father, mother and sisters at the family home of Grendon Lodge, Clevedon. His wife, Ellen, was with her mother, also in Clevedon. Their children were in boarding school nearby. Microscopy exchange offers from Frederick during 1882 gave addresses of both Grendon Lodge and Malvern House, so he was apparently living with his parents for some length of time (Figure 4). Malvern House appears to have been a shop, as a pharmacist named T. Grant was operating a chemists’ business from that location during the latter part of 1883.

Frederick Robertson Martin died on April 10, 1883, in Clevedon. He was then 40 years old. His wife, Ellen, died in December, 1936.

Figure 4. Early 1800s exchange advertisements from Frederick Martin, indicating a very broad range of microscopy interests. (A) The Northern Microscopist, 1881. (B) Microscopical News and Northern Microscopist, 1882. (C) Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, 1882. (D) Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, 1883. (E) Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, 1883. (F) Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, 1883.




Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 65 and 156, plate 26

Clevedon Civic Society, weddings at St. Andrews, 1855 to 1870 (accessed February 2012)

English census, birth, marriage and death records, accessed through

The Intellectual Observer (1864) Beautiful polariscope object, Vol. 4, page 308

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1875) Exchange offer from F.R. Martin, Vol. 11, page 24

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1882) Exchange offers from F.R. Martin, Vol. 18, pages 144 and 268

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1883) Exchange offers from F.R. Martin, Vol. 19, pages 24 and 48

Lancet (1869) Materia Medica Examina, Vol. 3, January 2 issue, advertiser

London Gazette (1866) notice of the dissolving of the partnership between John and F.R. Martin, October 12 issue, page 5447

London Gazette (1877) notice of the bankruptcy of Frederick Robertson Martin, April 17 issue, page 1877

Martin, F.R. (1867) Santonine, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, Vol. 3, page 119

Microscopical News and Northern Microscopist (1882) Exchange offer from F.R. Martin, Vol. 2, pages 196 and 228

The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1869) List of donations, Vol. 1, page 145

The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1869) Bristol Microscopical Society, Vol. 2, page 288

Northern Microscopist (1881) Exchange offer from F.R. Martin, Vol. 1, page 276

The Pharmaceutical Journal (1883) “Notice has also been received of the death of the Following .. On the 10th of April, Mr. Frederick Robertson Martin, Pharmaceutical Chemist, Clevedon. Aged 40 years.” Third series, Vol. 13, page 895

Scientific Opinion (1870) Bristol Microscopical Society, Vol. 3, pages 23 and 474

Yearbook of Pharmacy (1874) British Pharmaceutical Conference – List of Members, page 413

Yearbook of Pharmacy (1875) British Pharmaceutical Conference – List of Members, page 437

Yearbook of Pharmacy (1883) British Pharmaceutical Conference – List of Members, page 387