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Davies Gilbert

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Title: Davies Gilbert  
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Subject: Sir William Oglander, 6th Baronet, Charles Bathurst, John Wilson Croker, Mary Ann Gilbert, Logan Rock
Collection: 1767 Births, 1839 Deaths, British Engineers, Cornish People, Cornish Writers, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellows of the Royal Society, High Sheriffs of Cornwall, Historians of Cornwall, Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for Constituencies in Cornwall, People from St Erth, People in Cornish History, Presidents of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, Presidents of the Royal Society, Uk Mps 1802–06, Uk Mps 1806–07, Uk Mps 1807–12, Uk Mps 1812–18, Uk Mps 1818–20, Uk Mps 1820–26, Uk Mps 1826–30, Uk Mps 1830–31, Uk Mps 1831–32
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Davies Gilbert

Davies Gilbert
Born (1767-03-06)6 March 1767
Penzance, Cornwall, England
Died 24 December 1839(1839-12-24) (aged 72)
Eastbourne, Sussex, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Engineering
Institutions Royal Society

Davies Gilbert (born Davies Giddy) PRS (6 March 1767 – 24 December 1839) was a British engineer, author, and politician. He was elected to the Royal Society on 17 November 1791 and served as President of the Royal Society from 1827 to 1830.[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Marriage and family 2
  • Publications 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Davies Giddy was born on 6 March 1767, the second child of three, to the Reverend Edward Giddy, curate of St Erth church, and Catherine Davies, daughter of Henry Davies of Tredrea, St Erth. The first child, also Davies by forename, had died within 24 hours of birth in 1766, and the third child, daughter Mary Phillipa Davies Giddy (aka Philippa) was born in 1769.[2] The Giddy family moved into Penzance, living on Chapel Street in 1775, until Giddy's mother Catherine inherited the family home of Tredrea back in St Erth. By 1780 the family returned to St Erth, and Davies was taught by his father, alongside his sister Philippa. Davies Giddy would later adopt Gilbert as his surname, the maiden name of his wife, the agronomist Mary Ann Gilbert, who he married at Easter of 1808.[1]

Davies was educated first at Penzance Grammar School and then by his father, and by Rev Malachy Hitchens,[3] the mathematical astronomer. At the age of 17, at the recommendation of Hitchins, he was sent to Bristol to join the Mathematical Academy of Benjamin Donne where he remained for three years. His sister Phillipa simultaneously finished her own schooling with the famous bluestocking Hannah More.[4] He went up to Pembroke College, Oxford in 1786, whence he graduated with a M.A. on 29 June 1789.[1]

Davies was High Sheriff of Cornwall from 1792 to 1793. He served in the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Helston in Cornwall from 1804 to 1806 and for Bodmin from 1806 to 1832.

Giddy was an intimate friend of physician Thomas Beddoes, had attended Beddoes' lectures in Oxford when the latter had become University Reader in Chemistry in 1788 and had been a confidant of Beddoes in his plans for the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol. He noticed and encouraged Humphry Davy and convinced Beddoes that Davy was the man to work in the laboratory at the Institution.[5]

The Dictionary of National Biography article says of him:

"Gilbert's importance to the development of science in the early nineteenth century lay in his faith that science provided the best means to tackle practical problems and in his facility as a parliamentary promoter of scientific ventures."

His mathematical skills were sought by such early engineering pioneers as Jonathan Hornblower, Richard Trevithick and Thomas Telford.[6] He also had a great interest for the history and culture of Cornwall. For instance, he removed a Celtic cross from near Truro, on the Redruth Road (where it had found new use as a gatepost), and took it to a churchyard in his new home of Eastbourne.[7] When asked why he carried off a Cornish Cross and re-erected it in Eastbourne by the Rev. Canon Hockin, of Phillack, Mr. Davies replied, It was to show the poor, ignorant folk that there was something bigger in the world than a flint!.

He assembled and published A Parochial History of Cornwall and collected and published a number of Cornish Carols.[8][9]

He edited for publication a Cornish Language poem about the Passion: Passyon agan Arluth, as Mount Calvary (1826).[10] He was elected to the Society of Antiquaries in 1820.[1] Gilbert was the President of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall from its foundation in 1814 until his death.[11] He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832.[12]

Davies Gilbert was opposed to mass education during his time in parliament. When the Parochial Schools Bill of 1807 was debated in the Commons, Tory MP Davies Gilbert warned the House that:

"However specious in theory the project might be of giving education to the labouring classes of the poor, it would, in effect, be found to be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life, instead of making them good servants in agriculture and other laborious employments to which their rank in society had destined them; instead of teaching them the virtue of subordination, it would render them factious and refractory, as is evident in the manufacturing counties; it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors; and, in a few years, the result would be that the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power towards them and to furnish the executive magistrates with more vigorous powers than are now in force. Besides, if this Bill were to pass into law, it would go to burthen the country with a most enormous and incalculable expense, and to load the industrious orders with still heavier imposts. (Hansard, House of Commons, Vol. 9, Col. 798, 13 July 1807, quoted in Chitty 2007:15–16)"

Marriage and family

On 18 April 1808 he married Mary Ann Gilbert, and in 1816 he took his wife's surname, Gilbert, to perpetuate it.[13] This enabled the couple to inherit the extensive property in Sussex of her uncle, Thomas Gilbert, who had no male heir.[1][14]

Three daughters and a son survived him. Their son, John Davies Gilbert (5 December 1811 – 16 April 1854) was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in April 1834[15] but does not seem to have published any scientific work. Their eldest daughter, Catherine, married John Samuel Enys (b. 1796) on 17 April 1834.[16][17] She was the mother of the notable New Zealand naturalist, John Davies Enys (11 October 1837 – 7 November 1912).[18] Their second daughter, Annie, married Rev. Henry Owen, rector of Heveningham, Suffolk on 4 December 1851.[19] The other daughters were Mary Susannah and Hester Elizabeth.[14]


Books and publications written or edited by Davies Gilbert include:[20]

  • Some ancient Christmas Carols, with the Tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England. Collected by D. Gilbert. London : J. Nichols and Son, (1822).)[21]
  • Some ancient Christmas Carols, with the tunes to which they were formerly sung in the west of England. pp. x. 79. J. Nichols and Son: London, 1823
  • "On the vibrations of heavy bodies in cycloidal and in circular arches, as compared with their descents through free space; including an estimate of the variable circular excess in vibrations continually decreasing." By Davies Gilbert, .. London : printed by William Clowes, [1823] 15,[3]p. 'Extracted from the Quarterly Journal, Vol. XV'.
  • A Cornish Cantata. [Names of places in Cornwall arranged in the form of verses.] [Privately printed? East-Bourn?] 1826.
  • Mount Calvary; or, the History of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, written in Cornish (as it may be conjectured) some centuries past. Interpreted in English, in ... 1682, by J. Keigwin . Edited by D. Gilbert. pp. xxii. 96. Nichols and Son: London, 1826.
  • "On the expediency of assigning Specific Names to all such Functions of Simple Elements as represent definite physical properties; with the suggestion of a new term in mechanics; illustrated by an investigation of the Machine moved by Recoil" ... From the Philosophical Transactions. pp. 14. [Privately printed:] London, 1827.
  • "Some Collections and Translations respecting St. Neot, and the former state of his Church." In : Hedgeland (J. P.) A Description ... of the ... decorations ... in the Church of St. Neot, etc. 1830.
  • A Cornish dialogue between Tom Pengersick and Dic. Trengurtha. East-Bourn : Davies Gilbert, [ca. 1835](In verse.)
  • The Parochial History of Cornwall, Founded on the Manuscript Histories of Mr. Hals and Mr. Tonkin; with Additions and Various Appendices, 4 vols., London, 1838. (includes copious extracts from J. Whitaker, Daniel Lysons and Samuel Lysons, &c. and geological notices by Dr. Boase).
    • Vol.1, London, 1838
    • Vol.2, London, 1838
    • Vol.3, London, 1838
    • Vol.4, London, 1838


  1. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Davies Gilbert, Esq. V.P.R.S". The Gentleman's Magazine (F. Jefferies) XIII (1): 208–211. Jan–June 1840. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 
  2. ^ Cornwall On-line Parish Clerks
  3. ^ West Briton, 3 January 1840 "Death of Davies Gilbert Esq." – quotation:"His preliminary education was conducted at home; and at a very early age he contracted an intimacy, which continued until death, with the Rev. Malachy Hitchens, vicar of St. Hilary, a gentleman of high and well-deserved celebrity as a mathematician and astronomer, and as editor of the Nautical almanack."
  4. ^ A C Todd Beyond the Blaze
  5. ^ Stansfield, Dorothy A., Stansfield, Ronald G. (1986). "Dr Thomas Beddoes and James Watt: preparatory work 1794–96 for the Bristol Pneumatic Institute". Medical History 30 (3): 276–302.  
  6. ^ "Cornish characters and strange events". Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Website of Eastbourne Pagan Circle accessed 28 October 2006
  8. ^ A Parochial History of Cornwall : This book provides the first written evidence of the use of Flag of Saint Piran . It is available via Google Books
  9. ^ hymns and Carols for Christmas website
  10. ^ Kent, Alan M. (2000). The literature of Cornwall: Continuity, Identity, Difference 1000–2000. Redcliffe Press. pp. 42, 66. 
  11. ^ Todd, A. C. (1964). "The Royal Geological Society of Cornwall". In K. F. G. Hosking & G. J. Shrimpton. Present Views of Some Aspects of the Geology of Cornwall and Devon. Penzance: Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. p. 1. 
  12. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Change of name: ODNB states 1817. Alumni CantabrigiensesVenn says 1816:12:10
  14. ^ a b Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain ...1838, Volume 4, page 323: Gilbert of Tredrea and East-bourn article(via Google Books)
  15. ^ "List of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1660–2006". Royal Society Library & Information Services. Archived from the original on 10 February 2007. Retrieved 6 October 2006.  . He was described as "a Gentleman much attached to Science being desirous of admission into the Royal Society".
  16. ^ Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain ...1838, Volume 4, page 373: Enys article. (via (Google Books)
  17. ^ The Enys Family Archive online.seeFor more information on Catherine Enys,
  18. ^ Dictionary of New Zealand Biography article, accessed 7 November 2006
  19. ^ Gentleman's Magazine July–December 1851, Page 648: Marriages(via Google Books)
  20. ^ Sources: British Library Integrated Catalogue and Cornwall County Library Catalogue
  21. ^ This collection and the second edition (1823) includes the first publication of the well-known carols: A Virgin Most Pure and The First Nowell That The Angel Did Say.
  • David Philip Miller (2004). Gilbert (Giddy) Davies (1767–1839)"'".  
  • A.C. Todd (1967), Beyond the blaze: A biography of Davies Gilbert, D.Bradford Barton 

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Davies Gilbert (aka Davies Giddy) Note: The low count is wrong – search Hansard with "Davies Giddy" and "Davies Gilbert".
  • Davies Gilbert Biography in website
  • "Smithsonian/NASA ADS Astronomy Abstract Service". Journal:  
  • Obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol.13 (New series) 1840 Jan – June, Page 208-211. Online in Google Books
  • "Giddy (post Gilbert), Davies (GDY794D)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  • Works by or about Davies Gilbert at Internet Archive
  • Works by Davies Gilbert at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Harris
John Penn
Member of Parliament for Helston
With: James Harris 1804–1805
Archibald Primrose 1805–1806
Succeeded by
Sir John Shelley
Archibald Primrose
Preceded by
Josias du Pre Porcher
James Topping
Member of Parliament for Bodmin
With: William Wingfield, 1806–1807
Sir William Oglander, 1807–1812
Charles Bathurst, 1812–1818
Thomas Bradyll, 1818–1820
John Wilson Croker, 1820–1826
Horace Beauchamp Seymour, 1826–1832
Succeeded by
William Peter
Samuel Thomas Spry
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