CodeDS/UK/68
Person NameMurray; John (1778-1820); lecturer; chemist
Dates1778-1820
Epithetlecturer; chemist
HistoryJohn Murray was educated in Edinburgh, where he rose rapidly to eminence as a popular freelance lecturer on chemistry, materia medica, mineralogy, and geology, and as the prolific author of celebrated textbooks on chemistry and materia medica, most of which went through several editions in Britain and the USA. The best-known were Elements of Chemistry (1801; 6th edn, 1828), Elements of Materia medica and Pharmacy (1804), A System of Chemistry, (1806-7; 4th edn, 1819) and A System of Materia medica and Pharmacy (1810; 6th edn, 1832).

Murray was often cautious in his chemical views but took a wide view of chemistry and coined a few new terms. Highly regarded as an ingenious chemist by Humphry Davy, he did not seek to discredit French chemistry during the Napoleonic wars. As a follower of Berthollet he offered the most sustained challenge to Davy's view that chlorine was an element, suspected Proust's claim about the constant composition of chemical compounds, and denied Dalton's theory of mixed gases. As a philosophical chemist he published anonymously in 1802 a comprehensive and judicious Comparative view of the Huttonian and Neptunian systems of geology in answer to the illustrations of the Huttonian theory of the earth by Professor Playfair.

As a practical chemist Murray devised stoves for Edinburgh churches and by 1815 had used his knowledge of the relative densities of the dreaded firedamp and air to invent a safety lamp, but this did not attain the popularity of the devices of Davy and George Stephenson. He should not be confused with John Murray (1786-1851), who was also a scientific lecturer. He was elected an honorary fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1807, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1812 and of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1815. He became MD gratis of St Andrews in 1814. He died suddenly on 22 June 1820 at home in Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, and he was buried at Edinburgh on 29 June.

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