The Mineralogical Record
The Mineralogical Record - Join us on Facebook!  The Mineralogical Record - Sign up for our newsletter

Henry E. Roscoe

Henry Enfield Roscoe, prominent 19th-century British spectroscopist and chemist, was born in London on January 7, 1833, the son of Henry Roscoe (1800-1836), and the grandson of the historian William Roscoe (1753-1831). He studied at the Liverpool Institute for Boys and University College London, then went to the University of Heidelberg to work under Robert Bunsen, who became a lifelong friend. In 1857, Roscoe was appointed to the chair of chemistry at Owens College, Manchester, where he remained until 1886, by which time the Victoria University had been established. From 1885 to 1895 he was a Member of Parliament for Manchester South. He served on several royal commissions appointed to consider educational questions, in which he was keenly interested, and from 1896 to 1902 was vice-chancellor of the University of London. He was knighted in 1884.

Roscoe's scientific work includes a memorable series of researches carried out with Bunsen between 1855 and 1862, in which they laid the foundations of comparative photochemistry. In 1865 Roscoe was inspired to begin investigating vanadium when he visited the copper mines at Mottram (the type locality for the vanadium mineral mottramite, described by Domeyko in 1848), near Alderley Edge in Cheshire. Roscoe began an elaborate investigation of vanadium and its compounds, and devised a process for preparing it pure in the metallic state, at the same time showing that the substance which had previously passed for the metal was contaminated with oxygen. In so doing he corrected Berzelius's value for the atomic mass. He also carried out researches on niobium, tungsten, uranium, perchloric acid, and the solubility of ammonia.

Roscoe's Treatise on Chemistry (1877) went through numerous editions and was a standard college textbook for many years. His other publications include Lectures on Spectrum Analysis (1869); a Treatise on Chemistry (the first edition of which appeared in 1877-1892); A New View of Dalton's Atomic Theory, with Dr. Arthur Harden (1896); and an autobiography (1906). His Lessons in Elementary Chemistry (1866) also passed through many editions in England and abroad. The mineral Roscoelite was named after him, in recognition of its vanadium content and Roscoe's work on that element. He was also the uncle of the children's author Beatrix Potter.

Roscoe died December 18, 1915. Most of his mineral collection is held today by the Oxford University Museum, though a few specimens were obtained by the Manchester Museum in 1908.

KEANE, C. S. (1916) Obituary: Henry Enfield Roscoe. The Analyst, 41 (480), 63-70.
To contribute more information please E-mail us at:

[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at]
Contents copyright © 2019 The Mineralogical Record, Inc. All rights reserved.  
Graphic design of this website by Wendell E. Wilson. Website programming by