John Sargent Jr., 1849 - 1911

by Brian Stevenson
last updated May, 2021

This amateur microscopist marked his slides with small, circular labels that read "J. Sargent Jnr., Fritchley, Derby." (Figure 1). Sargent frequently posted slide and specimen exchange offers in a popular science magazine between 1870 and 1873. Those advertisements, and other published notes, indicate that Sargent was a skillful slide-maker who prepared a wide variety of specimen types (Figure 2). In addition, Sargent briefly served as a distributor for "Damar" mounting medium (Figure 3). He joined the Quekett Microscopical Club in 1872, but resigned after a year or two. After the early 1870s' flurry of exchange offers and pieces of advice, the only other known record of Sargent as a microscopist is a recommendation of a slide-mounting adhesive that was published in 1887. Thus, it is most likely that slides with Sargent's name attached date from the early 1870s, and that they may have been produced by him or acquired from other enthusiasts.

Figure 1. A ca. 1870-1873 microscope slide with Sargent's label. He was a competent slide-maker, and could easily have produced this mount himself. It is also possible that he acquired it through trades with other microscope enthusiasts. The specimen is Ballia callitricha, described as an "Australian marine alga". During the 1870s, it would have been fairly easy for someone in rural England to acquire such an exotic specimen via exchanges that were arranged through popular science magazines. Sargent advertised heavily between 1870 and 1873 to swap local materials for slides and unmounted specimens. Additionally, Sargent's membership in the Quekett Microscopical Club would provide additional contacts. For example, James F. Wight exhibited a mounted specimen of Ballia callitricha at the 1873 Annual Soiree of the QMC. Fritchley is a small village in Derbyshire, not far from the city of Derby, and Sargent regularly wrote his address as "Fritchley, near Derby".


Figure 2. This 1870 letter to "The English Mechanic" indicates that John Sargent Jr. was already a knowledgeable slide-maker by the time he turned 21.


Figure 3. A March, 1873 advertisement from Walter White for his "Damar" mounting medium, listing John Sargent Jr. as a distributor. Advertisements from later in that year did not mention Sargent. Fritchley was a small, rural village, and probably did not have many customers for slide-making materials. The town is only 13 miles / 21 km from the large city of Derby, where one could acquire "Damar" from "Mr. Wiggin, Chemist".


John Sargent was born in Capel, Surrey, during early 1849. He was the second child and second son of John Grant and Catherine Singer (his elder brother died in 1855, only 8 years old). John Grant Singer was born near London but raised in Paris, then returned to England during his teens and pursued a variety of occupations. When John Jr. was born, the father managed a farm (albeit a relatively successful farm, as the family enjoyed the benefits of two domestic servants at the time of the 1851 census). In 1854, he acquired a wood-turning factory in Cockermouth, Cumberland, producing bobbins for the thread-making and weaving industries. That business was sold in 1864, and another bobbin-making factory was purchased in Fritchley, Derbyshire. John Grant Sargent was well-known in religious circles as a reformist of the Society of Friends (Quakers), arguing doctrine with other members and eventually forming his own branch in Fritchley.

John Sargent Jr. showed evidence of an inquisitive mind as a youth. In 1865, when only 16, he published information on the construction of a simple apparatus for polarizing light. In 1866, he asked readers of The English Mechanic for advice on how to make "a very sensitive … thermo-electric machine", and the next year requested information on ventriloquism.

Beginning in 1870, and continuing through 1873, Sargent published regular exchange requests for slides and material in Hardwicke's Science-Gossip. In return, he offered slides and unmounted specimens of (mostly) local materials, including: "transverse section of rush", "leaf of evergreen oak", "bramble brand", "scales of bream and tench", "longitudinal section of boxwood", "ox parasites", "eggs of crane-fly", "Trichobasis fallens and other micro-fungi", "hairs of angora and pekan", "parasite of humble bee", "leaf of Onosma tauricum", "asbestos, mounted for polariscope", and "spicules of Gorgonia flabellum".

An 1870 letter to The English Mechanic indicated that Sargent was a capable preparer of slides (Figure 2). The following year, he responded to a query in the same magazine with advice on using a new form of mounting medium, "If 'E.C.J.' will place his slides for a few hours in a warm place, he will find his balsam will harden easily. They must not be overheated, or the balsam will boil, and form air-bubbles. I should recommend him to try damar instead of balsam, as being much pleasanter to use; but this will require some hours of gentle warmth. It will harden rather sooner than balsam". At that time, "Damar" was manufactured by Walter White and distributed by him and retailers throughout England (an illustrated history of White and his microscope preparations can be read elsewhere on this site). Sargent briefly acted as a supplier of Damar in early 1873(Figure 3).

John Sargent Jr. joined the Quekett Microscopical Club on July 26, 1872. There are no records of him traveling from Derbyshire to London for club meetings. Instead, he likely benefitted from ideas in the QMC's publications and, possibly, from contacts for new microscopic specimens. Sargent resigned his membership after a year or two.

Sargent's exchange requests ceased during 1873. He retained some interest in microscopy, though, and may have been a member of the Postal Microscopical Society, as he wrote letters to their Journal in 1883 and 1887. Notably, in 1887 he provided advice on glue for slide-making, "Cement - Kay's Coaguline is in my opinion the best for fixing cells and for dry mounts. I find it is often desirable to put a ring of it on slides other than dry mounts, thereby cementing together both cover and slide. The advantages of coaguline are - 1. That, it is very easily worked by putting the bottle in hot water. 2. That it sticks well. 3. That it is almost transparent. For fluid mounts and glycerine jelly, I use Bell's cement, which answers very well, but I always finish off with a coat of coaguline" (caveat: that published letter was published as being from "W. Sargent, Jun.", which my research suggests to have been a typographical error, but it is not impossible that the letter came from another person).

Professionally, John Sargent Jr. became proficient as a mechanical engineer, probably a result of his many years in the family wood-turning factories. He was recorded in the 1891 census as an "engineer, sugar machinery". He then lived in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Lancashire, boarding with a retired "East India merchant" named William Parker and his family. In 1892, the 53 year-old Sargent married Parker's eldest daughter, Emily (aged 28). They did not have any children.

By 1901, the Sargents had moved to Richmond, Surrey, with John listed as "mechanical engineer", working on his "own account" in that year's census. Emily's younger brother, "an invalid, unable to work", lived with them. John Sargent Jr. died in late 1911, at the age of 62.


England census and other records, accessed through

Gordon, Alexander (1900) Sargent, John Grant, Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 50 (accessed through,_1885-1900/Sargent,_John_Grant)

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1869) Nothing from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 5

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1870) Exchange offers from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 6, pages 240, 264, and 284

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1871) Exchange offers from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 7, pages 120, 144, 192, 249 and 264

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1872) Exchange offers from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 8, pages 96, 120, 144, and 192

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1872) Advertisement from Walter White, Vol. 8, March issue

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1873) Exchange offers from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 9, pages 168 and 192

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1874) Nothing from John Sargent Jr., Vol. 10

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1872) Minutes of the annual meeting, July 26, pages 93-95

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1872) Members: "July 26, 1872, Sargent, J. Jun., Fritchley, near Derby"

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1873) Minutes of the annual soiree, page 174

Sargent, J. Jr. (1865) "A cheap, simple, and efficacious polariscope", The English Mechanic, Vol. 1, page 236

Sargent, J. Jr. (1866) Thermo-electric machine, The English Mechanic, Vol. 2, page 238

Sargent, J. Jr. (1867) Ventriloquism, The English Mechanic, Vol. 4, page 37

Sargent, J. Jr. (1870) Mounting microscopic objects, The English Mechanic, Vol. 11, page 476

Sargent, J. Jr. (1871) Mounting, The English Mechanic, Vol. 14, page 76

Sargent, J. Jr. (1871) Starch, The English Mechanic, Vol. 14, page 76

Sargent, J. Jr. (1883) Hypopus muscarum, Journal of the Postal Microscopical Society, Vol. 2, page 56

Sargent, W.(sic) Jr. (1887) Cement, Journal of Microscopy and Natural Science, Vol. 6, pages 117-118

Sargent, John G. (1885) Selections from the Diary and Correspondence of John G. Sargent, self-published