Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney, the son of Rev. Edward Henry and Katherine Abney, was born in Derby, England on July 24, 1843. After receiving his classical education at Lancashire's Rossall School, he entered Woolwich's Royal Military Academy. Thereafter, he entered the Royal Engineers with the rank of lieutenant, and was briefly deployed to India. During his military service, he was able to pursue his interest in photography, and served as a photographic instructor to his fellow officers. He later would oversee the chemical and photographic laboratory at the School of Military Engineering in Chatham, Kent, which is where his scientific experimentation began.
In 1864, Lieutenant Abney married Agnes Mathilda Smith, with whom he would have a son and two daughters. His study of astronomy led to a fellowship to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1870. Promoted to Captain by the Royal Engineers three years' later, he followed the lead of German chemist Hermann Vogel by applying the dry gelatine photographic plate process to astronomy. While traveling in Egypt in 1874, Captain Abney made dry plates of his observations of Venus. Returning to England, he became a civil servant and focused on photographic research for the next several years at the South Kensington Museum (also known as the Victoria and Albert Museum). He discovered the importance of hydroquinone as a developing agent, and in 1881 achieved success with silver bromide emulsions for POP (printing-out paper). He was also believed to have coined the term infrared, and his infrared light-sensitive emulsions were perhaps his greatest photographic contributions.
Captain Abney was a prolific writer on scientific and photographic subjects, and a frequent lecturer on solar photography at the Royal Society of London. He continued researching emulsions, exploring photographic photometry, and considering such phenomena as the association between density and exposure. In 1878, Captain Abney's Treatise on Photography was published. A comprehensive volume on the science of photography, the text also includes the author's personal observations on achieving desirable artistic effects through the manipulation of light, shadow, and point of view. He also conducted experiments on color vision, sunlight, and spectrophotometry.
Agnes Smith Abney died in 1888, and two years' later, Captain Abney married Mary Louisa Meade, with whom he had another daughter. In his later years, he played an active role in several scientific societies, and served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1893 to 1895. He helped establish the Science Museaum Photography Collection in Bradford, which was later renamed the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television. For his many contributions to astronomy and photography, he was knighted in 1900. Seventy-seven-year-old Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney died at Folkstone, Kent, England, on December 20, 1920. Several of his research artifacts have been preserved at the National Museum in Bradford and at London's Science Museum.
2007 Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (New York: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC), p. 8.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 3.
1878 Nature, Vol. XLII (London: Macmillan & Co.), pp. 378-379.
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