Record

Reference numberCB
Alternative reference numberBLA
LevelFonds
TitlePapers of Sir Charles Blagden
Date1771-1820
DescriptionThe correspondence, papers and diaries of Sir Charles Blagden FRS physician and Secretary of the Royal Society 1784 -1797. Blagden's papers are interesting on several levels, generally for his close contact with European men of learning, and his relationship with Sir Joseph Banks, (who was President of the Royal Society during the period of Blagden's service as Secretary). Blagden's professional researches are represented by medical notes. These are grouped with papers on other subject interests, including linguistics, eg a draft Tahitian-English dictionary, compiled from conversations with Omai, whom Blagden inoculated after Omai's voyage to England with James Cook. Blagden's interest in antiquities and travel is documented by diary entries, as is his intercourse with fellow scientists, particularly those associated with the founding of the Royal Institution.
LanguageEnglish
Extent41 volumes and 15 boxes. There are 6 volumes of letters to Blagden, with drafts of his replies; 1 vol of copy letters to various correspondents; 8 vols containing Blagden's diary 1771-1820; 15 boxes of notes and personal papers and 26 vols of printed books and monographs (catalogued in the library catalogue).
ArrangementPrinted volumes are noted in the Society's library catalogue. Another two boxes were received in 2000 from the Fairhust estate, but are as yet unsorted (ref: MS/821).
Access statusOpen
Administrative historyBlagden was born at Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and received his M.D. in 1768. Elected FRS in 1772 and served as a medical officer in the British Army from about 1776 to 1780. He was Cavendish's assistant from 1782 to 1789, from whom he received an annuity and a considerable legacy. Blagden succeeded Paul Henry Maty as Secretary of the Royal Society in 1784, while the Society was divided over the efficacy of its President, Sir Joseph Banks, a close friend of Blagden's. Both in this capacity and as Cavendish's assistant he became involved in the prolonged 'water controversy' - who had priority in discovering the composition of water, claimed by both Cavendish and James Watt in England and Lavoisier in France. Blagden admitted responsibility for conveying, quite well-meaningly, word of the experiments and conclusions of both Cavendish and Watt to Lavoisier; and he overlooked errors of date in the printing of Cavendish's and Watt's papers. His experiments on the effects of dissolved substances on the freezing point of water led to what became known as 'Blagdens's Law' where he concluded that salt lowers the freezing point of water in the simple inverse ratio of the proportion the water bears to it in the solution. In fact Richard Watson had first discovered the relationship in 1771. Blagden spent much of his time in Europe, particularly in France, where he had many friends among the French scientists such as Berthollet. He died in Arcueil in in 1820. He was knighted in 1792.
Related materialBeinecke Library, Yale University Library holds correspondence and papers covering 1770-1820 (c1100 items) - microfilm held at Royal Society; Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine holds papers covering 1767-1780; Gloucestershire Record Office holds correspondence and papers covering 1775-1819; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University holds 75 letters to Sir Joseph Banks 1773-1805; Royal Astronomical Society Library holds correspondence with Sir William Herschel 1781-1814; Sedgwick Museum of Geology, Cambridge University holds 17 letters to Edward King; Huntington Library holds 30 letters to Elizabeth Montague.
Small microscope belonging to Blagden (I/013)
Related records in the catalogueI/013
MS/821
Fellows associated with this archive
CodeNameDates
NA8132Blagden; Sir; Charles (1748 - 1820); Knight Physician1748 - 1820
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