Sorby, Henry Clifton, 1826-1908

Alternative names
Birth 1826-05-10
Death 1908-03-09

Biographical notes:

Henry Clifton Sorby was an English geologist and mineralogist.

From the description of Diaries, 1859-1908. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122644711

From the guide to the Henry Clifton Sorby diaries, 1859-1908, 1859-1908, (American Philosophical Society)

Epithet: geologist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000295.0x0000a7

The collection consists of architectural photographs, diaries, a letter, and a set of reprinted papers by Sorby with his manuscript amendments. The eight boxes of architectural photographs taken by Sorby on his travels contain mostly examples from all over England (Prehistoric to modern) but there are a smaller number depicting styles in foreign countries (Norway, Italy, France and elsewhere). There are also specimens of half-timbered work. The eleven diaries, written in pencil, cover the years 1859-1908 (with some gaps), and there is a further diary in ink thought to be by his father Henry Sorby for the years 1845-1846. The printed papers with manuscript amendments appear to include instructions to the printer intended to produce revised versions.

Henry Clifton Sorby (1826-1908) was born on the 10th May 1826 into an old Sheffield family, being the grandson of a Master Cutler. After completing his education both at Sheffield Collegiate School and by private tuition he devoted his life to scientific research, being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the early age of 31. His published papers, which number over 150, include research in chemistry, metallurgy, biology and geology. His best known work was in the last of these fields, in particular in microscopy. He pioneered the basic techniques of microscopic petrology and of modern metallography, and invented the microspectroscope.

Sorby took a keen interest in education and during the 1860s had taken a leading part in an unsuccessful attempt to found a Technical School in Sheffield. Soon after the establishment of Firth College he became its Vice-President in 1881, President from 1882-1897, and Vice-President of the new University College, Sheffield, 1897-1905. With the inauguration of the University of Sheffield he served as a member of its Council from 1905 until his death on 9th March 1908.

The name of Sorby is perpetuated in the Sorby Chair (formerly of Geology, now Earth Sciences) in the University, the Sorby Research Fellowship of the Royal Society, and the Sorby Society of Sheffield. A biographical study by Norman Higham: A very scientific gentleman: the major achievements of Henry Clifton Sorby (Oxford, 1963) made much use of the diaries.

From the guide to the Henry Clifton Sorby collection, 1845-1906, (University of Sheffield Library)


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  • Geologists
  • Geologists Great Britain
  • Scientists Great Britain
  • Microscopy
  • Microscope and microscopy
  • Geologists--Great Britain
  • Mineralogy


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  • Great Britain (as recorded)