A Brief Biography of Henry Cavendish

By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Henry Cavendish was one of the great scientists of the 18th century. Cavendish was born on 10 October 1731 in Nice in France. He was born into a rich family. His father was Lord Charles Cavendish, who was himself a noted scientist. Henry’s family moved to London in 1738 and from 1742 Henry attended Hackney Academy. In 1749 he went to Peterhouse, Cambridge. However, Henry left the university in 1753 without a degree.

The Great Scientist

Nevertheless, Henry Cavendish was passionately interested in science (or natural philosophy as it was called then) and devoted his life to experimenting. Henry Cavendish was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1760.

Henry experimented with gases and in 1766 he discovered hydrogen, which he called inflammable air. Henry also showed that hydrogen is made of oxygen and water. Henry Cavendish also experimented with electricity but much of his work on the subject was only published after his death. Cavendish also studied heat.

When he was 40 Henry Cavendish inherited a huge sum of money. Afterward, he was one of the richest men in England. However, Cavendish was also a very reserved and introverted man and he never married. In 1783 Henry Cavendish moved to a house at Clapham and he continued to do research.

In 1785 he published a paper showing the Earth’s atmosphere consists of 4 parts nitrogen to 1 part oxygen. (Henry also realized there was a tiny amount of another gas present, a fraction of not more than 1/120. This gas was identified as argon in 1894). Then in 1797-1798, Henry Cavendish measured the density of the Earth.

Henry Cavendish died on 24 February 1810. He was buried in All Saints Church in Derby. (It is now Derby Cathedral).