Edward William Binney (1812-1881)

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Morton, Nottinghamshire

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The Late Mr E. W. Binney

Manchester has just lost one of its most distinguished scientific men, a geologist of long and high standing, Mr Edward William Binney. The deceased gentleman came young to Manchester, in the year 1836, and has ever since steadily remained here, residing, excepting for a few years at first, at Cheetham Hill. He was born at Morton, in Nottinghamshire, in 1812, and his love for the Sherwood Forest and all its surroundings was shown in his conversation to the last, increasing with time. Only two or three weeks ago he planned excursions to be made there in the spring with friends.

He was brought up as a solicitor, serving his apprenticeship in Chesterfield, and, after a while in London, he settled here. But it was soon found that he had no special love for the study of law. He was a strong, tall, and active man, fond of nature, a student of rocks and scenery, and sufficiently self-reliant for long solitary rambles. In fact he seemed to be made by nature for a geologist, and he rapidly became known as such. It will interest Manchester to know that as a young man he was at the founding of the Manchester Geological Society, the beginning of which, we believe, was the work of Mr James Heywood, whilst Mr Binney began the collection afterwards known as the museum of that society, which collection was subsequently transferred to the Natural History Museum, and thence to Owen's College. As secretary, vice-president and president he showed an interest in the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester that never flagged, and many of his papers have been read at its meetings, whilst his attendance was constant.

He became early associated with Mr James Young, F.R.S., L.L.D., when the latter gentleman was living in Manchester, and he assisted by his means and geological inquiries the promotion of the Mineral and Paraffin Oil Company, which was for a long time partly carried on under the style of E. W. Binney and Co. The three partners (the third being Mr Edward Meldrum) worked together during the term of the patent, and at its conclusion each undertook works for himself. The business was very lucrative and laid the foundation of fortunes for all the partners.

Mr Binney was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and was also a fellow of the Geological Society. At the time of his death he was president of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, an office filled for a hundred years by men of the highest eminence. As a geologist, especially of the coal counties of England, Mr Binney stood, we believe, first or foremost in rank. As a man it is remarkable how much he liked to observe and encourage the study of nature among the working classes, spending much of his time with them, lecturing to them, and taking geological excursions with them. We remember the interest he took in Sam Bamford, and the filial love he showed to Mr Richard Buxton, the author of "Flora Mancuniensis, " the old and refined botanist, a poor man but a gentleman uneducated but learned. We are scarcely at liberty to tell all his hidden acts of kindness, for he was a strong friend, although a good hater, free, however from vindictiveness.

Mr Binney had a beautiful house looking over the harbour of Douglas, Isle of Man, and from it he was going in a small boat towards the streamer, to return his family to Manchester for the winter, when he fell down paralysed. On the steamer he became worse, and when brought to his own house at Cheetham Hill he lay, seldom conscious, from the 8th December, the day of the attack, till yesterday when he died.

We may mention, as showing the amount of work done by Mr Binney, that his writings consist of some 94 communications. Although most, if not all, are on subjects which may be called geological, it must not be supposed that Mr Binney was a man either of one idea or with one side to his character. He was possessed of a power of observation of a very rare kind. He was a keen observer of character. He was also very well read in every science, appreciating every discovery, although pretending to originality only in his own departments. His friends will remember him as a man of the highest honour, remarkably outspoken, and over fierce if anything in the nature of sham came under his notice, whilst his sturdiness and strength of character are rarely equalled.

Manchester Examiner and Times, 21st December 1881