Abraham Bennet, F.R.S. (1749-1799): a provincial electrician in eighteenth-century england

P. Elliott

Abstract

Abraham Bennet was a clergyman and electrical experimenter who invented the gold-leaf electroscope and the doubler of electricity. He used a mechanical revolving version of the latter to devise a concept of ‘adhesive electricity’, which had an important influence on Volta in the formulation of his contact theory of electromotivity. Bennet managed to balance his clerical position, obtained by patronage, with the friendship and assistance of the local philosophical community, which included Erasmus Darwin, White Watson and the members of the Lunar and Derby Philosophical Societies. The Lunar members helped him to publish his research and supported his nomination as F.R.S. in 1789; however, the relative harmony of the philosophical community represented by the Royal Society, which temporarily united provinces and metropolis, was shattered by the political turbulence of the revolutionary era. The delicate balancing act that allowed Bennet to claim support from Banks and Kaye at the same time as from Priestley and Darwin became more difficult and Bennet's research activity foundered due to ill health and political division.

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