Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Augustus George Vernon-Harcourt 1834 – 1919

Augustus George Vernon-Harcourt
Augustus George Vernon-Harcourt

Born 24 December 1834 in Chelsea, London, Augustus George was the son of Admiral Frederick Edward Vernon-Harcourt and Marcia Tollemarche and grandson of The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt and Lady Ann Leveson-Gower.

He was educated at Harrow School and obtained his BA at Balliol College, Oxford where he worked with Henry Smith. Augustus taught chemistry at Christ Church, Oxford where he converted the former anatomy museum into a chemical laboratory. With H G Madan he wrote a chemistry textbook, Exercises in Practical Chemistry.

Harcourt Practical chemistry

He wrote many papers on chemical matters including:

* 1862 On the peroxides of potassium and sodium
* 1862 On a method for the determination of nitric and nitrous acids
* 1867 On the observation of the course of chemical change
* 1899 On a method for providing a current of gaseous chloroform mixed with air in any desired proportion, and on methods for estimating the gaseous chloroform in the mixtures
* 1902 Observations on the phenomena and products of decomposition when normal cupric acetate is heated
* 1910 A method for the approximate estimation of small quantities of lead
* 1911 The alleged complexity of tellurium

He was also an inventor and developed the idea if a one-candle and a ten-candle standard of light using the chemical Pentane. He also invented an inhaler for the administration of chloroform; for the first time it could be given in known and limited proportions.

He was famous for the Harcourt and Essen Experiment; a rates of reaction experiment.

Nevil Vincent Sidgwick One of his students at Christ Church was Nevil Vincent Sidgwick (1873 – 1952) who won a scholarship in natural science in 1892. He graduated with a first class degree in the Honour School of Natural Science in 1895 and in the Honour School of Literae Humaniores in 1897.




Augustus was General Secretary for the British Association for the Advancement of Science and their president in 1875. He was a Fellow of the Chemical Society of London from 1859 and vice president between 1880 and 1919, taking the presidency for the years 1895 to 1897.

The Chemical Society formed in 1841 under the name The Chemical Society of London as a result of increased interest in scientific matters. Its importance was recognised by Royal Charter in 1847 and membership was open to all interested in chemistry. Its aims were for “the communication and discussion of discoveries and observations, an account of which shall be published by the Society”.

He was also a member of the Royal Society of London after being proposed and elected on 4th January 1868 when John Peter Gassiot was in the chair.

Page from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London

Page from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London
Vol 16 1867-1868 showing the candidates for election to the Society

The family seat of St Clare, Appley, also known as St Clare Castle, was a castellated mansion with extensive grounds and gardens with commanding views across Spithead to Portsmouth. Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort were repeated visitors and Princess Alice and Prince Louis spent their honeymoon there in 1862.

St Clare - Brannon

St Clare – Brannon

The family house of St Clare has since been demolished.


harcourt 4
As a friend of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Augustus is thought to be the inspiration for the White Knight in Alice through the looking glass because he was also a slightly mad inventor.

Augustus George Vernon-Harcourt died at St Clare on 23 August 1919.

On 22 October 2007 Ann Ryder wrote with the following information:

I thought you might like this info I have on my gt uncle, Henry James Higgins.

Henry James was born 20 January 1884 the youngest son of Alfred & Elizabeth Lavina Higgins, of 30a Carters Yard, George Street, St Clements Oxford., he was known as Harry to the family.

Harry left School at 13, worked as a gardener at Trinity Collage Oxford, he left there about 1903 to go to work for Augustus George Vernon Harcourt, (a chemist at Christ Church, Oxford,) who lived at St Clare a large house near Ryde, IW.

While working near Ryde he met his future wife Ethel. She worked as a cook in a large house for Mrs Carter, of Wooton House, St Johns Park Ryde Isle of Wight.

The couple had a long courtship. On 9 July 1906 Harry moved to Caterham Surrey to work there, Ethel continued work in service on the IW until the time of her marriage, she travelled abroad with the Carters, at one time she was in Gibraltar.

Harry married Ethel M F Herbert on 26 December 1913 at St John’s Church, Oakfield, Ryde, IW. After their marriage they lived at 185 Corydon Road, Caterham Valley, Surrey. They brought up a boy named Leslie who was the son of one of Ethel’s sisters.

Harry was in the army in the First World War, a private to the Queens Royal Regiment.

Harry’s sister Florence May Higgins married Joseph Lacey the grandson of Joe & Jane Lacey (Joe and Jane are both buried in Ryde Cemetery).