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John Dalton Manuscripts

Date range: 1781-1845

Medium: Manuscript

John Dalton (1766–1844), pioneer of chemical science, was born near Cockermouth in Cumberland, but moved to Manchester in 1793 to take up a post as Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Manchester Academy, a dissenting institution. He spent the rest of his life in the city, lecturing and tutoring in science.

Dalton made significant contributions to meteorology, colour vision and the study of gases and vapours, but his reputation rests on his development of the atomic theory and the publication of the first table of atomic weights, ‘the great foundation stone in chemical science’. He first expounded this theory in 1803 and developed it more fully in the first volume of A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808-10).

Dalton was closely associated with the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, which provided facilities for his research; he also delivered many scientific papers to the Society. After his death, the Society acquired many of Dalton's manuscripts; a number of these were lost in a fire during the Second World War, but the remainder were sold by the Society to the Library in 1979. These constitute what is probably the largest single collection of Dalton's papers.

The archive consists of over 130 manuscript items, including Dalton's lecture notes, drafts of published articles, research notes and data on meteorology, chemistry, mathematics, botany, and astronomy. In addition, there are over thirty letters from correspondents relating mostly to scientific subjects, especially meteorological phenomena. The collection includes Dalton's personal financial records and the papers of the Dalton Testimonial Committee, which raised funds for a public monument to Dalton.

The collection is of fundamental importance for studies of the history of science, and in particular the development of chemistry in the early 19th century.

The Library also has custody of a document book compiled by Dalton's friend, Rev. William Johns, which includes many letters from Dalton to the Johns family, as well as associated ephemera, including an early daguerreotype of John Dalton. This volume can be found in the Woolley Family Collection (uncatalogued).

Further information:

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • A. L. Smyth, John Dalton 1766-1844: A Bibliography of Works by and about Him, revised edition (Manchester, 1997).


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