The Life of William Nicholson, by his son 

The first biography of William Nicholson (1753-1815) was written by his son and namesake in 1868, but would be more appropriately described as a memoir.

Until around 1963 the Nicholson papers were in the possession of Guy Berners Nicholson. He passed the collection to my grandfather, Ronald Peter de Berners Nicholson, who made typed copies of this biography.  Much of the Nicholson collection remains with the family, but a few items went astray over the years, including the manuscript papers of the son's biography which include extracts from the minutes of the philosophical society established by Kirwan at the Chapter Coffee House in 1780.

The original manuscript of this biography is now in the safe and expert care of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, having been acquired from Emil Offenbacher in New York in 1978 by the Bodley's American Friends.  The library reference is: Western Manuscripts MSS. Don.d. 175, e. 125.

This was published for the first time in 2018 by Peter Owen Publishers (acquired by Pushkin Press in 2022), with an afterword by Professor Frank A. J. L. James. 

This new edition of Nicholson's biography does not include the minutes of the Chapter House Coffee Society, which were so ably transcribed and annotated by Trevor H. Levere and Gerard L’E Turner in Discussing Chemistry and Steam, Oxford University Press, 2002.

A modern biography of William Nicholson (1753-1815)

A comprehensive modern biography of William Nicholson is in progress, with plans for publication in the near future.

Click here to request to be kept informed about publication.


The Life of William Nicholson, 1753–1815

A Memoir of Enlightenment, Commerce, Politics, Arts and Science

Edited by Sue Durrell and with an afterword by Professor Frank James


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Exploring the life and publications
of William Nicholson 1753-1815