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Gowin Knight

(1713—1772) physician and inventor of geomagnetic instruments


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Gowin Knight was born in Corringham, Lincolnshire and died at the British Museum on 8 June 1772. Educated at Leeds Grammar School, he entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford in April 1731. He was awarded a BA in October 1736, and MA in June 1739, before proceeding to MB in February 1742. He then settled in London as a practising physician. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1745 after presenting his research on magnets and magnetism to the Society in 1744. He published a number of papers on the topic in the Philosophical Transactions from 1744 to 1747 and was awarded the Society's Copley Medal in 1747. Knight's researches enabled him to make magnets of greater strength than those generally available and he found a ready market for them. In 1750 a paper showing how the magnetic compass could be improved by changing the means of suspension of the needle and its shape drew the attention of the Navy Board and, after trials, they awarded Knight £300 and adopted his compass as their standard. Knight continued to work on improving the compass, taking out a patent in 1756 for checking vibrations in compasses. In 1756 Knight was appointed Principal Librarian at the newly established British Museum. He seems to have become increasingly reclusive in his later years, although it is known that when he became financially distressed by speculating in failed mining schemes, he was saved by a loan of 1,000 guineas (which he could never repay) from his friend John Fothergill.

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From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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