Joseph Black's 18th-century Lab Equipment Found
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Victoria Raimes writes (28 June) in The Scotsman (Scotland’s National Daily published in Edinburgh) HERE:
‘Dig finds treasured tools of leading 18th century scientist’
‘SCIENTIFIC equipment dating back to the 18th century and believed to have been owned by … Joseph Black, a professor of chemistry best known for his discovery of carbon dioxide gas.
Also included in the discovery which was described as a "very unusual" find, are samples of mercury, arsenic and cobalt, together with glass tubes and other vessels, bottle stoppers and thermometers, storage jars, and ceramic distillation apparatus made by Josiah Wedgwood. …
Excavation director Tom Addyman, of Addyman Archaeology, explained that the team had not expected to find such a large amount of artefacts. He said: "We dug some test trenches last year, but didn't find much. But as we watched the general excavation take place, we realised there was a huge amount of archeology coming up and a lot of human remains.
"We started an emergency dig a couple of weeks ago, opening a bigger area within the building, and there we found a whole floor strewn with laboratory-related materials.
"While there will have been some clearance before the building was demolished, it seems a lot of materials were simply left there, perhaps because they had become out of date.
"We very strongly suspect that many of these items belonged to Joseph Black as they date back to 1766, when he was working at the college."
"We have also found some very interesting ceramics, a type that so far is pretty much unrecorded, and we believe they were sent by Josiah Wedgwood. They are of the right date.
"This suggests a direct link between Black and Wedgwood and is the first physical evidence linking these two great minds of the 18th century."
Black was a student at Edinburgh from 1752-54 and went on to become Professor of Chemistry in 1766. He was a key figure in the Enlightenment and was an associate of Adam Smith and David Hume, among others.
Dr Robert Anderson, an eminent museum curator and expert on Black, said: "The age and style of the items and the location in which they were discovered all point towards their having belonged to Joseph Black himself. The discovery is wonderful new evidence of Black's working practices."
Joseph Black was indeed a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and knew Adam Smith at Glasgow University, and later they continued their scientific relationship at Edinburgh where they both worked.
The linkage to Josiah Wedgewood is most interesting. He was a leading entrepreneur at the time in the pottery trade, especially in superb dining crockery for the rising middle class in England and Scotland, much boosted by what is known now as the industrial revolution, and by Rostow as the ‘take off’ to fully fledged capitalism.
Joseph Black was also a close associate of James Watt, the steam engine improver and entrepreneur. I have a set of their correspondence published some years ago, which makes interesting reading. (I also attended the official opening of the Joseph Black building in Edinburgh University in 2010.)
Black was also a close colleague and trusted confidant of Adam Smith, and was appointed one of his two literary executors, who on his direct and repeated instructions, with James Hutton, a pioneer of the science of geology, burned almost all of Adam Smith’s unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, shortly before he died in 1790. The were also instructed to ensure that Smith’s essay, his History of Astronomy, was saved and published posthumously, which they did in 1795.
If Black’s chemical equipment and samples are curated and exhibited in due course, no doubt in the Joseph Black Building, I shall ensure I attend.
When I return to Edinburgh this weekend I shall make contact with friends at Edinburgh University and see what is known about the archeological finds.