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Robert Davidson chemist1

M, #17035, b. 18 April 1804, d. 15 November 1894
Last Edited: 22 Oct 2020

Parents:

Father*: William Davidson merchant2 b. s 1773, d. Oct 1830
Mother*: Elisabeth Allardyce2 b. c 1775
  • Baptism*: Robert Davidson chemist was baptised on 18 April 1804 at Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, ; Aberdeen 18th April 1804 (page 159), Davidson; Mr William Davidson merchant and his spouse Elisabeth Allardyce had a son born named Robert baptised by the Rev Dr Shirrefs in presence of William Maitland clerk & Samuel Duncan soapmaker both in Aberdeen.2
  • He was the son of William Davidson merchant and Elisabeth Allardyce.2
  • (Groom) Marriage*: Robert Davidson chemist married Margaret Ross, daughter of John Ross farmer and Christina Smith, on 26 February 1873 at 259 George Street, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, ; 1873 on the Twentysixth day of February at 259 George Street Aberdeen after banns according to the forms of the Established Chirch of Scotland; signed Robert Davidson general merchant bachelor aged 65 resifding 31 Canal Road Aberdeen, parents William Davidson general merchant (dec) & Elizabeth Davidson ms Allardyce (dec); signed Margaret Ross spinster aged 36, residing 24 CAnal Road Aberdeen, parents John Roass farmer (dec) and Christima Ross ms Smith (dec); signed Ch Skene minister of John Knox Church Aberdeen, signed David Wright, Duncan F Christie witnesses, registered 1873 February 27th at Aberdeen signed Charles STronach assist registrar, John Watt registrar.3
  • (Deceased) Death*: Robert Davidson chemist died on 15 November 1894 at 32 Canal Road, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, , at age 90 Robert Davidson chemist retired married to Margaret Ross, died 1894 November Fifteenth 5h 30m pm at 32 Canal Road Aberdeen, male aged 94 years parents William Davisdon wine merchant (dec) & Catherine Davidson ms Allardyce (dec); cause senile gangerene as cert by Wm Sineldir MB; signed Margaret Davidson widow present, registered 1894 November 16th at Aberdeen signe James Weston registrar.4
  • (Spouse) Death: His spouse Margaret Ross died on 19 February 1904 at 19 University Road, Old Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, ; Margaret Davidson widow of Robert Davidson nanufacturing chemist, died 1904 February Ninteenth 9h 0m pm 19 University Raod Old Aberdeen, female aged 70 years, parents James Ross farmer (dec) & Christian Ross ms Smith (dec), cause syncope as cert by P Mitchell MD, signed Wm Blake lodger present, regsitered 1904 February 22nd at Old Abereen signed A McWillie assit registrar, initialled William McWillie registrar.5

Census Events

Head of Household6 June 1841He and Elisabeth Allardyce were listed in the 1841 census at Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . Robert     Davidson     Male     35     1806     Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Elizabeth     Davidson     Female     65     1776     Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Jane     Robertson     Female     15     1826     Aberdeenshire, Scotland.6
Head of Household30 March 1851He was listed as head of household in the 1851 census at Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . Robert     Davidson     Head     Unmarried     Male     46     1805     Chemist     Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Elizabeth     Davidson     Mother     Widow     Female     77     1774     No Occupation     Forgue, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Margaret     Ross     Servant     Unmarried     Female     17     1834     House Servant     Glenbervie, Kincardineshire, Scotland; also in the household were Elisabeth Allardyce and Margaret Ross.7
Head of Household7 April 1861He was listed as head of household in the 1861 census at Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . Robert     Davidson     Head     Unmarried     Male     57     1804     Manufacturing Chemist     St Nicholas, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.8
Head of Household2 April 1871He was listed as head of household in the 1871 census at 33 Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . Robert     Davidson     Head     Unmarried     Male     64     1807     Chemist     St Nicholas, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.9
Head of Household3 April 1881He was listed as head of household along with spouse Margaret Ross in the 1881 census at 32 Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . Robert     Davidson     Head     Married     Male     60     1821     Chemist Master     Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Margaret     Davidson     Wife     Married     Female     46     1835     -     Kincardineshire, Scotland
Robert     Davidson     Son     Unmarried     Male     14     1867     Scholar     Aberdeenshire, Scotland; also in the household were Robert Davidson gardener.10
Head of Household5 April 1891He was listed as head of household along with spouse Margaret Ross in the 1891 census at Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, . First name(s)     Robert
Last name     Davidson
Relationship     Head
Marital status     Married
Sex     Male
Age     87
Birth year     1804
Birth town     -
Birth county     Aberdeenshire
Birth county as transcribed     ABERDENSHIRE
Birth place     Scotland
Occupation     Chemist
Street     Canal Road
Town     Aberdeen
Parish     Old Machar
City     -
County     Aberdeenshire
Country     Scotland
Registration district     Aberdeen
Archive reference     -
Piece number     -
Folio     -
Page     -
Record set     1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census
Category     Census, land & surveys
Subcategory     Census
Collections from     Great Britain, Scotland
------------
First name(s)     Robert
Last name     Davidson
Relationship     Son
Marital status     Unmarried
Sex     Male
Age     24
Birth year     1867
Birth town     -
Birth county     Aberdeenshire
Birth county as transcribed     ABERDENSHIRE
Birth place     Scotland
Occupation     Gardener
Street     Canal Road
Town     Aberdeen
Parish     Old Machar
City     -
County     Aberdeenshire
Country     Scotland
Registration district     Aberdeen
Archive reference     -
Piece number     -
Folio     -
Page     -
Record set     1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census
Category     Census, land & surveys
Subcategory     Census
Collections from     Great Britain, Scotland
------------------
Margaret not found; also in the household were Robert Davidson gardener.11

Family:

Margaret Ross b. 1834, d. 19 Feb 1904
  • (Groom) Marriage*: He married Margaret Ross, daughter of John Ross farmer and Christina Smith, on 26 February 1873 at 259 George Street, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, ; 1873 on the Twentysixth day of February at 259 George Street Aberdeen after banns according to the forms of the Established Chirch of Scotland; signed Robert Davidson general merchant bachelor aged 65 resifding 31 Canal Road Aberdeen, parents William Davidson general merchant (dec) & Elizabeth Davidson ms Allardyce (dec); signed Margaret Ross spinster aged 36, residing 24 CAnal Road Aberdeen, parents John Roass farmer (dec) and Christima Ross ms Smith (dec); signed Ch Skene minister of John Knox Church Aberdeen, signed David Wright, Duncan F Christie witnesses, registered 1873 February 27th at Aberdeen signed Charles STronach assist registrar, John Watt registrar.3

Child:

  • Note for Web*: Robert Davidson chemist I have always wondered why so many of our Robert Nicolsons had/have the middle name of Davidson. I have looked far and wide to try to find a likely candidate marrying into our Nicolson clan, but have drawn a blank. That led me to think about someone who may have been known to the family from their days in Aberdeen. This Robert Davidson is only about 5 or 6 years younger than our Robert Nicolson who was the first (as far as we know) to use the Davidson name for his son born in 1823. Both men lived in the same part of Aberdeen - did they grow up together? Attend the same church? Did our Robert, as a blacksmith, cross paths with Robert Davidson the chemist who was building batteries, an electric locomotive, electric lathe, and electric printing press in the 1830s? Our Robert is in Dundee by 1836.

    The Scientific Tourist: Aberdeen
    Robert Davidson – pioneer electrician
    Robert Davidson (1804-1894) was a man of eclectic interests, an inventor who had originality, vision and even prototype devices but did not have the financial or commercial resource to develop his ideas far enough to better the technology of the day.
    His impact was not in generating a world-beating product or even gaining any significant personal wealth from his inventions but rather in providing an example to his successors of what could be done.
    Davidson was born, schooled, spent much of his working life and died in Aberdeen. He attended the second and third year classes of Marischal College from 1819-1821, including the lecture course of Patrick Copland. Since in due course Davidson established himself as a manufacturer and supplier of chemicals, it is likely that he also
    attended the optional chemistry class at the College given by William Henderson.
    Davidson set himself up in business in the 1820s supplying yeast from premises at Causewayend and then in nearby Canal Road, close to the Aberdeen-Inverurie canal. Via a small, narrow, wooden slatted bridge (the ‘tarry briggie’), Canal Road today crosses the railway line that follows the old canal cutting. In Davidson’s younger days the area was edge-of-town market garden and nursery land that was gradually attracting houses and industry1. Davidson moved from yeast into chemical manufacturing and supplying, and diverse ventures such as file sharpening. He seems, though, to have had two passions: astronomy and electricity. In astronomy he built himself a large reflecting telescope of 35 feet length with a 2 foot diameter mirror that rivalled the largest productions of John Ramage. His telescope, with its big supporting structure of struts and ladders, must have been a landmark in the area for several years but no illustration of it has been found. What brings Robert Davidson into these notes is his electrical developments.
    In the 1830’s, Faraday showed how to generate mechanical motion from electricity, albeit in a way that was useless for exploitation as a practical electric motor. Davidson became fascinated by the possibilities. He constructed his own batteries, not a difficult task for a chemical supplier and man with workshop skills, and by 1837 had made his first fair sized electric motor. In 1840 he held a public “Electromagnetic Exhibition” in Aberdeen and thousands paid 1/- entrance to see a working model electric locomotive able to carry two people, a model electric lathe, a small electric printing press and an electro-magnet that could lift 2 tons when supplied by a suitable battery.
    The motor driving the lathe and printing press had a 5 foot diameter flywheel and the electromagnet had pole pieces 4 inches square. These were not desk-top toys. If Davidson had had this exhibition in 1880, many would have marvelled. This was 1840, truly well ‘ahead of his time’. The Aberdeen Banner prophesised that electromagnetic machinery “will in no distant date supplant steam”’. Davidson took his exhibition to Edinburgh in the following year, where the influential Robert Chambers of encyclopaedia fame made similar remarks and the young James Clerk Maxwell aged 10 was taken by his father to see it. In late 1842, Davidson took his exhibition to London in the hope of attracting sponsorship. By then he had added an electrically powered circular saw that cut 1” square planks in about 1 second and a powerful electric arc made by passing the current through two pieces of coke. He broke even in London but didn’t attract the sponsorship he’d hoped for. His motor was illustrated (above) in an edition of Penny’s Mechanic of 1843.
    Between the Aberdeen and London exhibitions, Davidson built a full-sized prototype electric locomotive called Galvani. It was 16 feet long and weighed about 6 tons. In 1842 it ran at 4 miles per hour on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line (the railways hadn’t reached Aberdeen by then). Unfortunately, Galvani was destroyed before
    Davidson could get it back, by men unknown but suspected of being promoters of steam engines. In truth, Davidson didn’t quite have the necessary technology to make a commercial success of electric railways. His power was provided by chemical batteries that were expensive to produce and to re-charge them the chemicals had to be
    replaced. The re-chargeable lead-acid accumulator wasn’t invented until the end of the 1850s. He was some three decades before even the early days of viable electrical generators that could really make electric transport feasible. It all could have happened much earlier if Davidson had found a patron with deep pockets and patience but no-one was forthcoming in the early 1840s.
    Electric locomotives would make city underground railways a possibility but they didn’t appear in Britain until around 1890. Robert Davison was suddenly found to be still alive and was converted into a media celebrity “Octogenarian Aberdonian - oldest living electrician” e press trumpeted, or words to that effect. The Electrician magazine reported “Robert Davidson was undoubtedly the first to demonstrate the possibility of electrical traction in a practical way”. He was, but the torch he lit did not begin a blaze. Davidson died 4 years later at the age of 90, old enough to see his vision made real at last. Nothing remains in Canal Road of Davidson’s house at no. 32 or his business; only the name and the little road with its tarry briggie, itself a ‘modernisation’ of 1854 that replaced a lower bridge over the canal a little downstream. Davidson is buried in St Peter’s cemetery but his gravestone simply describes him as ‘chemist’.

    John S. Reid
    1 Diane Morgan “The Villages of Aberdeen: Round About Mounthooly”, Denburn Books, Aberdeen (1995),
    outlines how the area has changed over the last two centuries and includes a short chapter on Davidson.

    ---------------

    More info here https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/outdoors/motors/an-electric-future-planned-by-19th-century-scot/.12

Citations

  1. [S35] Old Parochial Register of pre-1855 (General Record Office of Scotland) OPR Births Aberdeen 168/A 100 169 [Oct 2020].
  2. [S35] OPR, pre-1855 OPR Births Aberdeen 168/A 100 169, image held [Oct 2020].
  3. [S64] General Record Office for Scotland, online www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, General Record Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Statutory Marriage 1873 Aberdeen St Nicholas, ref 168/1 62 [Oct 2020].
  4. [S50] General Record Office for Scotland, online www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, General Record Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Statutory Death 1894 Aberdeen Old Machar, ref 168/2 906; image held [Oct 2020].
  5. [S50] General Record Office for Scotland, Statutory Death 1904 Aberdeen, ref 168/4 9; image held [Oct 2020].
  6. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1841 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland[Oct 2020].
  7. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1851 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland [Sept 2020].
  8. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1861 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland [Sept 2020].
  9. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1871 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    33 Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland [Oct 2020].
  10. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    32, Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland [Oct 2020].
  11. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census
    Canal Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland [Oct 2020].
  12. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) https://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/npmuseum/Scitour/Davidson.pdf
  13. [S14] General Record Office for Scotland, online www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, General Record Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Statutory Birth 1866 Aberdeen Old Machar, ref 168/2 687 [Oct 2020].