Gilbert Papers

Scope and Content

Working papers and correspondence, c1930-1955, in manuscript and typescript, assembled by Lionel Felix Gilbert for a proposed biography of William Hyde Wollaston, comprising notes (some by P J Hartog) from various printed and manuscript sources on Wollaston's life and work, publications, and associates; copies and extracts of letters from Wollaston to the Rev Henry Hasted, Charles Babbage, and others; copies and notes of letters to Wollaston and on other letters relating to him; engraving of Wollaston, 1830; prints of Wollaston and various of his contemporaries, and of various places and artefacts associated with him; correspondence and notes relating to portraits of Wollaston; notes on Wollaston genealogy; notes, drafts, typescripts and correspondence on Gilbert's publications and lectures on Wollaston, including parts of his unfinished biography; correspondence on sources relating to Wollaston, and various correspondence on aspects of his life and work. The collection almost entirely comprises material of 20th century date, but refers to and duplicates various 19th century sources. The material extends beyond Wollaston's own life to refer to many prominent scientific contemporaries.

Administrative / Biographical History

Lionel Felix Gilbert: born, 1893; studied chemistry at University College London, 1910-1915, 1923-1928; on the staff of the Chemistry Department at University College London, 1919-1955; Senior Lecturer; died, 1955.

Philip(pe) Joseph Hartog: born, 1864; entered University College London, 1875; a chemist in London, Manchester, and elsewhere, but attained distinction as an educationist in Manchester, London, and India; joint contributor of the entry on Wollaston to the 'Dictionary of National Biography', 1900; knighted, 1926; died, 1947.

William Hyde Wollaston: born at East Dereham, Norfolk, 1766; third son of the author Francis Wollaston and his wife, Althea Hyde; educated at a private school at Lewisham for two years and then at Charterhouse, 1774-1778; a pensioner of Caius College Cambridge, 1782; scholar of Caius College Cambridge, 1782-1787; appointed a senior fellow, 1787; retained his fellowship until his death; while at Cambridge, became intimate with John Brinkley and John Pond and studied astronomy with their assistance; graduated MB, 1788; on leaving Cambridge, worked as a physician in Huntingdon, 1789; subsequently went to Bury St Edmund's; became acquainted with the Reverend Henry Hasted, a close friend and lifelong correspondent; MD, 1793; elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1793 and admitted, 1794; admitted candidate of the Royal College of Physicians, 1794; Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, 1795; went to London and set up practice at no 18 Cecil Street, Strand, 1797; censor of the Royal College of Physicians, 1798; increasing devotion to various branches of natural science, including physics, chemistry, and botany, led him to retire from medical practice, 1800; looked to support himself by chemical research; took a house, no 14 Buckingham Street, Fitzroy Square, and set up a laboratory, 1801; innovations relating to platinum including the discovery of palladium and of a process for producing pure platinum and welding it into vessels, c1804; awarded the Copley medal, 1802; secretary of the Royal Society, 1804-1816; fellow of the Geological Society, 1812; suggested in evidence before a committee of the House of Commons the replacement of the various gallons then in use by the "imperial gallon" (adopted in the Weights and Measures Act of 1824), 1814; served as commissioner of the Royal Society on the Board of Longitude, 1818-1828; a member of the Royal Commission on Weights and Measures that rejected the adoption of the decimal system of weights and measures, 1819; frequently elected a vice-president of the Royal Society; declined a proposal to be nominated president of the Royal Society, but consented to act as president until the election, 1820; elected a foreign associate of the French Academy of Sciences, 1823; elected to the Royal College of Physicians, 1824; suffered occasional partial blindness in both eyes from 1800; attacked by symptoms said to be signify a fatal brain tumour, 1827; set about dictating papers on his unrecorded work, many of which were published posthumously; transferred £1,000 to the Geological Society (which formed "the Wollaston Fund" from which the society awards annually the Wollaston medal and the balance of the interest), 1828; transferred £2,000 to the Royal Society to form the "Donation Fund", the interest to be applied in promoting experimental research, 1828; awarded a royal medal by the Royal Society for his work, 1828; elected a member of the Astronomical Society, 1828; died, 1828; his house was afterwards inhabited by his friend Charles Babbage. Publications: fifty-six papers on pathology, physiology, chemistry, optics, mineralogy, crystallography, astronomy, electricity, mechanics, and botany, the majority read before the Royal Society and published in the 'Philosophical Transactions'.


The papers apparently retain Gilbert's working arrangement.

Access Information


Open, with the exception of one file of correspondence between Gilbert and Professor McKie relating to the Platinum Metals Exhibition of 1955, which is closed.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from Gilbert's Department at University College London after his death.

Other Finding Aids

This collection has been partially listed. Please contact Special Collections for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Related Material

University College London Special Collections also holds a manuscript copy of a letter from Lionel Felix Gilbert to Herbert Dingle and a typescript letter from Dingle to Gilbert, 1955 (Ref: HISTORY OF SCIENCE SOURCES); John A Chaldecott, 'William Cary and His Association with William Hyde Wollaston: the Marketing of Malleable Platinum in Britain from 1805-1824' (offprint from 'Platinum Metals Review', xxiii, no 3, 1979). University College London Records Office holds a personnel file on Gilbert (Ref: GO 1799/25).

The Natural History Museum holds Gilbert's correspondence with W R Dawson (91 items), 1953-1955 (Ref: L MSS DAWS A). Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, holds Wollaston's correspondence and 19 notebooks (Ref: Add 7736). The Science Museum Library holds a notebook, 1822-1825, and letters to Thomas Farmer, 1809-1812. The Royal Society holds papers (Ref: MS 240); correspondence with Sir John Herschel (15 items), 1823-1827 (Ref: HS); and letters to Thomas Young, 1800-1801. The British Library holds letters to Charles Babbage (in Add MSS 37182-205).

Location of Originals

The copies of letters from Wollaston to Halsted were made from originals lent by D O Wollaston. The copies of letters from Wollaston to Babbage were made from the originals in the British Museum (now British Library).