Born in September of 1807 in Devonport, England, Robert Hunt was the son of a naval officer. After spending his boyhood in Cornwall, he was placed into an apprenticeship with a Paddington surgeon at the age of twelve. He then went to work for a Scottish physician named Smith, and spent the next few years working as a pharmacist.
After reading about the discoveries of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Mr. Hunt became a photography enthusiast, and developed an actinograph that measured the amount of light available for film exposures. He collaborated with John Thomas Towson on a paper entitled 'On the Proper Focus for the Daguerreotype', which was published in the November 1839 issue of Philosophical Magazine. The two colleagues also conducted experiments with a reflecting camera and developed an extremely sensitive type of photographic paper.
In 1841, Robert Hunt's seminal text "A Manual of Photography" was published, and is believed to be the first such English work on the medium. This was followed up with Researches on Light in 1844. Mr. Hunt's love of natural prose is celebrated in the volumes Romances and Drolls of Devon and Cornwall, The Poetry of Science, and Panthea, or Spirit of Nature. He also published the scholarly text, Elementary Physics, in 1851. Mr. Hunt's background in chemistry inspired him to conduct experiments that laid the scientific groundwork for modern-day photochemistry.
Mr. Hunt was named Secretary of the Polytechnic Society at Falmouth, and soon established himself as the public face of the English mining industry. He became so well known, Sir Henry De la Beche, author of the Geological Survey, appointed Mr. Hunt Keeper of Mining Records at the Museum of Practical Geology. a position he held from 1845 until 1883. In addition to these duties, he was the editor of Mineral Statistics of the United Kingdom, which was published annually. During this time, Mr. Hunt was also a physics lecturer and professor of mechanical engineering at London's Royal School of Mines, and became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of London.
In 1884, Mr. Hunt published an extensive text on the British mining industry, and for his public service, the Health Exhibition presented him with the Diploma of Honor. The Government School of Mines also named him its first Professor of Mechanical Science. After years of exhaustive public service, Robert Hunt died on October 17, 1887 at the age of eighty. The Redruth Mining School established a mineralogical museum to honor Mr. Hunt, but it closed in 1950, and the minerals are now housed in the Camborne School of Mines. Amazingly, A Manual of Photography is still in print, more than a century-and-a-half after it was first published.
1814 Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, Volume XI (Penzance: Royal Geological Society of Cornwall), pp. 69-72.
1887 The Academy and Literature, Vol. XXXII (London: Alexander and Sheppard), pp. 272-273.
1909 Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XIX (New York: The Macmillan Company), p. 1062.
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