Start of main content

Archive Biographies: Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney

Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney, RE, KCB, FRS. was born in Derby in 1843, the eldest son of the Rev. Canon E. H. Abney. When he was 18 years old, he left Rossall School and joined The Royal Engineers and was promoted to Captain by 1873, retiring in 1881. He continued to be known as Captain until he was created a K.C.B. in 1900.

The first scientific society he joined was The Royal Photographic Society in 1870 who later elected him as their President from 1892-94, in 1896, 1903 and again in 1905.

In 1871, he became a Fellow of the Chemical Society, joining the Physical Society in 1876 with the Royal Society admitting him as a Fellow that same year. From 1882-84 he was on the Council of the Chemical Society. 1893 saw him elected President of The Royal Astronomical Society. From 1895-1897 he was President of the Physical Society.

In 1898, the first issue of Science Abstracts was published by The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), with Sir William as one of the members of the editorial committee. He was elected as Chairman of the Council by The Royal Society of Arts in 1903.

Sir William's work revolved, in the main, around light, vision and associated subjects - in particular, photography. He was responsible for numerous books and handbooks which remained for a long time as standard guides for practical photographers who found all the technical advice needed in the information contained within them. In all the societies to which he belonged, he obtained high honours. His activities in later years were principally devoted to scientific education and he became a member of the Advisory Council for Education to the War Office.

In later years, after his long and distinguished career, failing health forced him into retirement.

He died 3 December 1920.