Astonishing Science. Spectacular museum.
The enthusiasm of the royal family for natural philosophy was important for two reasons: natural philosophers needed patrons, and the tastes of the royal family influenced the fashions of the day.
George III was not the first member of the royal family to show an interest in science. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, Parliament sent for the Elector of Hanover to become King George I. Soon after their arrival, members of the new royal family attended lectures given by J.T. Desaguliers.
In 1727 George II succeeded his father on the throne of England and Caroline became Queen. She ordered the construction of a hermitage at Kew, ornamented with busts of Newton and Boyle.
The Duke of Cumberland, second son of King George II, also took an interest in natural philosophy. As part of a strategy to subdue the Scottish clans and gain control of the highlands, a detailed geographical survey of the whole of Scotland was carried out. As a result, Cumberland acquired a collection of scientific instruments, including some used for land surveying. After Cumberland's death, they were inherited by his nephew, George III.
Theodolite, mid 18th century.
George II's son Frederick, who never came to the throne due to an early death, had some curiosity towards the new science and commissioned an armillary sphere from Jonathan Sisson. However, it was George II's grandson, the future George III, who took a keen interest.
In 1755, when George was Prince of Wales, Lord Bute took charge of his education. Bute himself had an interest in natural philosophy and had built up his own cabinet of apparatus. Early in 1755, George and his brother Edward also took a course on the subject from the travelling lecturer Stephen Demainbray.
When George became King in 1760, he emulated Bute by ordering his own set of instruments from George Adams to demonstrate the principles of mechanics and pneumatics. Adams was one of the foremost instrument makers of the day. The commission from the King was an important one: he was probably well paid for making the instruments, and was certainly able to make use of his title of 'Mathematical Instrument-Maker to the King' to sell instruments to government bodies and wealthy individuals. He was also able to publish with royal sanction a treatise on the use of globes, in return for which he included in the book a flattering dedication to the King composed by Dr Johnson.
Plate electrical machine, 1770.
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