The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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William Robert Grove, 1811-1896

Nationality: Welsh
Date of Birth: 1811.07.11
Place of Birth: Swansea
Date of Death: 1896.08.01
Place of Death: Harley Street, London


William Robert Grove married the daughter of John Diston Powles in 1837, and they had six children.


Grove (PC, DCL, LLD, FRS) was educated privately and then at Brasenose college Oxford, where he was awarded his BA in 1830. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1835. He practised in Westminster and on the South Wales and Chester circuits, became a QC in 1853/1857, and Judge of the Common Pleas in 1871. He was knighted in 1872. It was in 1876 that he had the only known contact with Whistler or rather with his lawyer, James Anderson Rose. Grove retired in 1887 and was then made a Privy Councillor.

He was a Patent lawyer, a member of the Metropolitan Commission on sewers and of the Royal Commission on Patent Laws. Grove's knowledge of science made him an ideal choice as a lawyer in technical lawsuits and patent cases.

A deeply respected lawyer and scientist, Grove developed two electrochemical cells (batteries). The first cell consisted of zinc in dilute sulfuric acid and platinum in concentrated nitric acid, separated by a porous pot, that was practically used for the early American telegraph. The second cell, a 'gas voltaic battery' was the forerunner of modern fuel cells.

He was also Professor of Experimental Philosophy at the London Institution, and advanced the doctrine of the mutual convertibility of the various natural forces.

He was interested in photographic science and in 1841 he experimented (in collaboration with J. P. Gassiot) at the London Institution with daguerreotype plates for photomechanical printing. A paper on this 'voltaic process for etching daguerreotype plates' was read at a meeting of the London Electrical Society on 17 August 1841 and the prints he displayed there ought to, he suggested, have been inscribed 'drawn by Light and engraved by Electricity'. He served as a lawyer for the defence in the case of Beard v Egerton, that was important in the history of the daguerreotype patent in England in the courts from 1845 to 1849.


Incorporated Law Society of the United Kingdom, Incorporated Law Society's Calendar and Law Director, London; Dictionary of National Biography; Annual Register, London, 1896; (accesssed 19.9.2003).