Article ID: CBB880180337

John Dalton and the Origin of the Atomic Theory: Reassessing the Influence of Bryan Higgins (2017)


During the years 1814–1819, William Higgins, an Irish chemist who worked at the Dublin Society, claimed he had anticipated John Dalton in developing the atomic theory and insinuated that Dalton was a plagiarist. This essay focuses not on William Higgins, but on his uncle Bryan Higgins, a well-known chemist of his day, who had developed his own theories of caloric and chemical combination, similar in many respects to that of Dalton. New evidence is first introduced addressing Bryan's disappearance from the scientific community after 1803. In his later years, Bryan apparently suffered from a condition resulting in a decline in his mental health, which explains why he never lodged any priority claims of his own against Dalton, or defended those of his nephew. Dalton's mention of Bryan's name in Part II of A New System of Chemical Philosophy, his laboratory notebook entries, and a fresh look at his correspondence with chemist Thomas Charles Hope indicate that Dalton adopted a Higgins-like caloric model in 1803. Together these factors provide evidence to support the argument that Dalton learned of Bryan's theories via a meeting he had with William Allen on 10 July 1803. Existing evidence related to the origin of the atomic theory is worthy of re-examination in light of Dalton's possible prior knowledge of Bryan's work.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Carroll, Lydia; (2011)
In the Fever King's Preserves: Sir Charles Cameron and the Dublin Slums (/isis/citation/CBB001213417/) unapi

Article Ward, O. Conor; (2013)
Rheumatic Fever in Ireland: The Role of Dr Monica Lea Wilson (1889--1971) (/isis/citation/CBB001200763/) unapi

Chapter Cullen, Clara; (2011)
Women and the Pursuit of Scientific Knowledge in Mid-Victorian Dublin (/isis/citation/CBB001221550/) unapi

Article Gass, Gillian; (2007)
Spheres of Influence: Illustration, Notation, and John Dalton's Conceptual Toolbox, 1803-1835 (/isis/citation/CBB000772412/) unapi

Article Usselman, Melvyn C.; Leaist, Derek G.; Watson, Katherine D.; (2008)
Dalton's Disputed Nitric Oxide Experiments and the Origins of his Atomic Theory (/isis/citation/CBB000960304/) unapi

Article Mark I. Grossman; (2021)
John Dalton’s “Aha” Moment: The Origin of the Chemical Atomic Theory (/isis/citation/CBB038145467/) unapi

Article Zwier, Karen R.; (2011)
John Dalton's Puzzles: From Meteorology to Chemistry (/isis/citation/CBB001024141/) unapi

Article Andrew Lacey; (2017)
The Chemical Club: An Early Nineteenth-Century Scientific Dining Club (/isis/citation/CBB642471363/) unapi

Chapter Maria P. Banchetti-Robino; (2020)
The Changing Relation between Atomicity and Elementarity: From Lavoisier to Dalton (/isis/citation/CBB907470408/) unapi

Article Pratt, Herbert; (2010)
A Letter Signed: The Very Beginnings of Dalton's Atomic Theory (/isis/citation/CBB001021940/) unapi

Article Pellón, Inés; Bilbao-Goyoaga, Ana; (2013)
The Chemical Atomic Theory in Ramón Torres Muñoz De Luna's Textbooks (1848--1885) (/isis/citation/CBB001320171/) unapi

Book Dalton, John; Pellón González, Inés; (2012)
El atomismo en Química: Un nuevo sistema de Filosofía Química (/isis/citation/CBB001214185/) unapi

Article Usselman, Melvyn C.; Brown, Todd A.; (2015)
Atomic Theory and Multiple Combining Proportions: The Search for Whole Number Ratios (/isis/citation/CBB001551140/) unapi

Article Gregory S. Girolami; (2019)
A Book Collector’s View of the Periodic Table: Before Mendeleev. (/isis/citation/CBB300228576/) unapi

Article Rocke, Alan J.; (2005)
In Search of El Dorado: John Dalton and the Origins of the Atomic Theory (/isis/citation/CBB000650660/) unapi

Article Chalmers, Alan; (2005-2006)
Transforming Atomic Chemistry into an Experimental Science: The Limitations of Dalton's Theory (/isis/citation/CBB000931940/) unapi

Article Kelly, Brendan D.; (2008)
Poverty, Crime and Mental Illness: Female Forensic Psychiatric Committal in Ireland, 1910--1948 (/isis/citation/CBB000930668/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Rocke, Alan J.
Usselman, Melvyn C.
Grossman, Mark I.
Nelson, E. Charles
Gass, Gillian Linda
Kelly, Brendan D.
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Substantia: An International Journal of the History of Chemistry
Social Research
Archives of Natural History
Social History of Medicine
A. & A. Farmar
Alicante Publicaciones
Oxford University Press
Chemical elements
Societies; institutions; academies
Atomic structure
Public health
Dalton, John
Davy, Humphry
Berzelius, Jons Jakob
Wollaston, William Hyde
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent
Higgins, William
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century
17th century
Dublin (Ireland)
Great Britain
London (England)
Natural History Society of Dublin
Dublin Philosophical Society
Museum of Irish Industry

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment