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Fox, Robert Were, 1789-1877 (scientist and writer)



  • Existence: 1789 - 1877


Robert Were Fox (1789-1877), scientist, writer. Robert Were Fox was born at Falmouth into a Quaker family with interests in mining, iron founding, shipping and banking. He early developed a fascination with science, and in 1812 he and a friend took out a patent for improvements to steam engines. From 1815 he undertook extensive investigations into temperature in Cornish mines, showing that the increase of temperature was in a constantly diminishing ratio with the increase of depth, due to factors far below the earth's surface. His researches in mines led to a study of electro-magnetic currents within veins of metallic ore, and thence to his construction of a 'deflector needle' for the determining of magnetic dip and intensity. The Fox needle was used with great success during the magnetic survey of the United Kingdom conducted by the Admiralty in the late 1830s, on the Antarctic expedition commanded by James Clark Ross between 1839 and 1843, and on the 'Challenger' voyage a generation later. Fox embodied his various researches in a long series of papers read before learned societies and published in scientific journals from 1819 onwards. R.W. Fox's scientific work formed only one aspect of his life. He was a leading philanthropist in and around Falmouth, a prominent member of the Society of Friends in Cornwall, a supporter of such national causes as Catholic emancipation and the abolition of slavery, and American consul for the West of England (in succession to his father who had been appointed to the post in 1794). Fox married a fellow-Quaker, Maria Barclay, and they had three children: Anna Maria (d.1897), Robert Barclay (d.1855) and Caroline (1819-1871). The R.W. Fox papers catalogued here passed to his grandson Robert Fox, and the collection also includes a number of papers of the latter relating to his grandfather, arising from a visit to Falmouth in 1909 by an American oceanic survey team led by Dr L.A. Bauer. These papers were purchased by the University Library from Bernard Quaritch Ltd in 2011.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

 Fonds — Box: MS Add.9942: Box 1

Robert Were Fox: Collection of papers by or relating to him

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.9942
Scope and Contents

Correspondence, scientific material, manuscript miscellanea, pamphlets and offprints and papers of Robert Fox mostly concerning RWF.

Dates: 1822-1910
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (