|Description||Gifford was the son of James Benjamin Gifford, the prosperous owner of a lace factory he founded in the 1840s, moving it to Chard in 1856. Gifford was to follow his father into the family business. |
Besides his everyday occupation, Gifford had several serious scientific interests, including astronomy, microscopy and x-rays. His house at Oaklands had its own observatory. He was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Microscopial Society, and was at one point President of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.
When it was founded in 1897, he was also one of the first members of the Röntgen Society. An early photograph shows him in his home laboratory surrounded by a plethora of the apparatus needed to generate X-rays - Crookes tube, two induction coils, a collection of Leyden jars and a hand operated vacuum pump. His first attempt to produce X-rays was a failure leading him to suppose that the newspaper account of Rontgen's discovery was either a hoax or a misconception and on this basis addressed a letter to the Royal Photographic Society for its 14 January meeting detailing his experiments and their failure. More definite information in later press reports caused him to make a fresh attempt and on Saturday, 18 January, 1896 he succeeded in "electrographing" his young son's hand through cardboard. This was amongst the very first radiographs taken in this country. Gifford gave one of the earliest public demonstrations of X-rays in London at the Royal Photographic Society, 12 Hanover Square on 21 January 1896 and also published many articles on the subject in Nature, Knowledge and various photographic journals but soon withdrew from the scene to concentrate on other matters.
An obituary in Nature magazine described him as 'one of that select band of scientific workers of whom Sir William Spottiswoode, Warren De La Rue, and others were brilliant examples; men who, in addition to their ordinary occupations, found time and opportunity to follow the pursuit of pure science for the love of it'. He died on 27th October 1930. He bequeathed his scientific instruments to Taunton Hospital and the Royal College of Technology.
[Source: Somerset Record Office; Journal of the British Society for the History of Radiology, November 2009]
Contents: The first x-ray taken by Wilhelm Roentgen in December 1895 was of his wife's hand, showing her diamond ring. Gifford was probably inspired by this when he took the image of the hand at GIJ/11.
Röntgen Ray photographs, 1896