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John Newlands’s Grave, West Norwood Cemetery

Restoration of the grave

John Newlands (1837 – 1898) was a British chemist who discovered the Periodic Table. The son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister and his Italian wife, he was interested in social reform and during 1860 served as a volunteer with Garibaldi in his military campaign to unify Italy. Returning to London, he established himself as an analytical chemist in 1864 and in 1868 became chief chemist of James Duncan's London sugar refinery, where he introduced a number of improvements in processing.
Newlands was the first to identify a pattern (‘periodicity’) in the chemical properties of the elements. His Law of Octaves in which he arranged the existing elements by increasing atomic mass (which he likened to octaves of music), was ridiculed by many of his contemporaries and the Chemical Society refused to publish his work stating that ‘they had made it a rule not to publish papers of a purely theoretical nature since it was likely to lead to correspondence of a controversial character’. However a series of articles by Newlands were published from 1864 in Chemical News, an independent journal produced by the chemist Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), (discoverer of thallium), five years before the Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) announced the discovery of what we now call the Periodic Table. The Royal Society awarded Newlands the Davy Medal in 1887.

The memorial is in a bad state of repair and the marble has weathered badly, with the lead letters now illegible. The stone will be refaced and the memorial lettering cut and lead infilled to match the existing lettering.

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