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Daniell, John Fredericlocked

  • Frank A. J. L. James

Daniell, John Frederic (1790–1845), experimental philosopher and businessman, was born on 12 March 1790 at Essex Street, Strand, London, the eldest son of George Daniell (c.1760–1833), barrister, and his wife, Louisa Hahn (d. 1833). His mother was of German birth but had long lived in England. Educated at home by tutors, he received a good classical education. He early developed strong scientific tastes, and attended the lectures of Adam Walker which inspired his earliest scientific experimentation and reading. From 1808 to 1821 Daniell worked for a sugar refining establishment which belonged to a relative of his mother. Despite his business activities he was able to pursue his scientific interests. In 1812 he attended lectures delivered by William Thomas Brande at the Anatomical School in Great Windmill Street and they formed a lifelong friendship. Through his association with Brande he became a fellow of the Royal Society (1814), and began a lasting connection with the Royal Institution (where Brande had become a professor in 1813). In 1815, with Brande and another friend, he went on a geological tour of Wales and northern Ireland. In 1816 they toured the alps. In the same year Daniell became one of the managers of the Royal Institution (to 1819) and began to assist Brande in editing the first twenty volumes of the Quarterly Journal of Science, which though not a formal publication of the institution was closely connected with it.

On 4 September 1817 Daniell married Charlotte Rule (d. 1834); they had two sons and five daughters. They spent most of their married life in Gower Street, London. In 1819 he began work on meteorology; he invented a new dew point hygrometer and improved the methods of maintaining weather records. In 1823 he published Meteorological Essays (2nd edn 1827, 3rd edn 1845). The following year he returned to business as a director of the Continental Gas Company. During the first half of 1825, together with William Congreve and George Landsman, he visited many continental cities to investigate the possibilities of lighting them with gas.

Daniell was interested in the dissemination of scientific knowledge: in 1827 he helped to found the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and in 1841 was involved in the foundation of the Chemical Society. With the support of Samuel Taylor Coleridge he was appointed in 1831 the first professor of chemistry at King's College, London. Though he had never delivered a lecture before he quickly became a respected lecturer. From 1836 until his death he also held the professorship of chemistry and geology at the East India Company's military seminary at Addiscombe, where he lectured every August and September. At the Royal Institution he delivered three Friday evening discourses, and during Faraday's illness in 1840–41 he stepped in to deliver the Christmas lectures.

In 1830 Daniell invented a new pyrometer, and started construction of a water barometer that he set up at the Royal Society. His appointment at King's College gave him access to a newly equipped laboratory, and he turned his attention to electricity. In the course of this work he invented the Daniell cell, a battery which gave constant, as opposed to decreasing, current, and which was of great value to electrical researchers. A photograph of Daniell with Faraday shows a Daniell cell between them. Much of his work on electricity and forces he wrote up in his Introduction to Chemical Philosophy (1839, 2nd edn 1843), which also contains information on the work of Faraday and others.

By the end of the 1830s Daniell's reputation was such that the government sought his advice on technical issues such as lightning conductors, and why the protectors of the copper bottoms of ships did not work in the tropics. In 1839 he became chemistry examiner for London University and foreign secretary of the Royal Society, both tasks that he continued until his death. He was a visitor of the Royal Institution in the periods 1822–31, 1833–4, and 1839–41. He was one of the few men to win all three medals of the Royal Society: the Rumford medal in 1832, the Copley medal in 1837 (for his cell), and the royal medal in 1842. In 1828 he had received the Fuller gold medal of the Royal Institution, and in 1843 Oxford University made him a DCL.

In June 1834 Daniell moved to Norwood, London, for the sake of his wife's health; however, she died in August of that year, a blow from which he never fully recovered. His own health was poor after a lung haemorrhage in 1841. On 13 March 1845, after delivering a lecture at King's College, he attended a meeting of the Royal Society council at Somerset House, where he collapsed and died of apoplexy within five minutes. A devout Anglican, he was buried at Norwood cemetery on 17 March.


  • ‘Life’ of J. F. Daniell, King's Lond., Daniell MSS, box 1
  • J. F. Daniell, Elements of meteorology, ed. W. A. Miller and C. Tomlinson, 3rd edn (1845), memoir of the author xiii–xxxv
  • Abstracts of the Papers Communicated to the Royal Society of London, 5 (1843–50), 577–80
  • D. I. Davies, ‘John Frederic Daniell, 1791–1845’, Chemistry in Britain, 26 (1990), 946–9, 960
  • V. Gold, ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the appointment of J. F. Daniell, FRS, as professor of chemistry at King's College, London’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 28 (1973–4), 25–9
  • GM, 2nd ser., 23 (1845), 554–5
  • Catalogue of scientific papers, Royal Society, 19 vols. (1867–1925)


  • King's Lond., corresp. and papers
  • LUL, letters to Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
  • RS, letters to Sir John Lubbock


  • oils, King's Lond.
  • photograph (with Faraday), King's Lond.
  • two engravings, RS
King's College, London
Gentleman's Magazine