Barometer

    Date
    ca.1831
    Creator
    John Frederick Newman (1783 - 1860, British) , Instrument maker
    Object type
    Archive reference number
    Material
    Dimensions
    length (object): 920mm
    diameter (object): 44mm
    Subject
    Content object
    Description
    Portable mountain barometer used by Charles Darwin in geological work during the voyage of H.M.S.Beagle.

    The instrument is contained in a mahogany tube with a thermometer at the base. It has a silvered scale, graduated to 19 to 31 inches. The tube has a brass guard. There is a brass hanging ring at the top with a Vernier operating screw. The instrument has a near-centre ivory band, inscribed ‘NEWMANS IMPROVED PORTABLE IRON CISTERN 122 REGENT STREET LONDON.’ The reverse lists: ‘CORRECTION FOR CAPACITY. NEUTRAL POINT. CAPILLARY ACTION. TEMPERATURE’. The brass cover is engraved ‘PORTABLE’ and ‘NOT PORTABLE’.

    A published letter by the maker describes how the addition of the iron cistern enabled the instrument to become more portable by preventing the loss of mercury when the barometer was subjected to oscillations: ‘On a mountain barometer constructed with an iron cistern’, by J.Newman, The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and the Arts, 1823, v.16. pp.277-279.

    Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882), naturalist, geologist, and originator of the theory of natural selection, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1839.

    John Frederick Newman (1783-1860) British instrument maker based at various locations including (1827-1856) at 122 Regent Street, London.
    Object history
    This instrument was purchased by Charles Darwin for the Beagle voyage, 1831-1836 and presented to the Royal Society on behalf of his executors.

    Royal Society Council Minutes of 16 March 1899 noted that: ‘The Senior Secretary having reported that the contents of Mr. Charles Darwin’s house, at Down, were about to be removed and dispersed, it was – Resolved – That a communication be made to Professor George Darwin, to the effect that the Royal Society would much like to take custody of any article which it might be desirable to preserve as a memorial of Mr. Charles Darwin.’ Royal Society Minutes of Council, Printed, vol.8, 1898-1903, p.33, 16 March 1899.

    The instrument was then presented by December of that year: ‘The barometer used by the late Mr. Charles Darwin F.R.S. during his voyage round the world in H.M.S. “Beagle”, presented by Professor G.H. Darwin F.R.S., on behalf of Mr. Darwin’s executors, was laid upon the table.’ Royal Society Minutes of Council, Printed, vol.8, 1898-1903, p.103, 117 December 1899.

    The instrument remained at the Society until 1932, at which time it was sent on loan to Down House, Kent. The item was receipted by the Secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Down House Committee) in letters, Royal Society archives MDA/H, 9 July 1932.

    The instrument’s donation and subsequent loan to Down House is noted in the Record of the Royal Society (4th edition, 1940), p.167: – ‘The Barometer which was used by Mr Charles Darwin on his voyage in H.M.S. Beagle has been lent to the Darwin Museum at Downe House, Kent’. The Record was updated by a Supplement, 1940-1989 by John S Rowlinson FRS and Norman H Robinson (London, Royal Society, 1992) which (on p.89) simply states that ‘The instruments and historical relics listed in the 1940 Record remain the property of the Royal Society…’
    Associated place
    <The World>
       > Europe
          > United Kingdom
    Credit
    ©The Royal Society
    Image number
    RS.12481
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