Exley, Thomas

Scientist and schoolmaster, born at Gowdall, Yorks. He married Adam Clarke's sister Hannah and came to Bristol, where he was a member at Old King Street and ran a school in Kingsdown. After his wife's death in 1810 he remarried, started a new school in Kingsdown and joined Portland Street chapel. He lectured at the Baptist College 1809-1825 and was a popular examiner in mathematics at Kingswood School 1815-1849. He was described as 'a fine old gentleman [who] used to walk into the school, clad in swallow-tailed coat, his face beaming with good humour' and was known as 'Digits' from his stock question, 'How many digits are there?'

His wide-ranging interests are reflected in his editorial involvement in the Imperial Encyclopaedia, or Dictionary of the Sciences and Arts (1812). He also produced around 40 papers on chemical and physical subjects. His Commentary on Genesis (1844, the same year as Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation) sought to combine the Mosaic and scientific accounts of creation. Though he was an early member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, his spiritual qualities served his reputation better than his speculative science. He died in Bristol on 17 February 1855.

  • Transactionsof Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1993 pp.201-8
  • Oxford DNB


Entry written by: CJS
Category: Person
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