Henry Edward Schunck

(1820 - 1903)

The famous Manchester chemist

Edward Schunck Henry Edward Schunck was born on 16 August 1820, one of seven children of Martin Schunck, who had moved from Malta to Manchester in 1808. Martin was a successful merchant in the textile business and Edward (he never used his first name) was expected to join the family business. Edward was educated privately in Manchester and was introduced to practical chemistry by William Henry (1774 - 1836), author of the gas solubility law. Further education proceeded with study in Berlin with Magnus and Rose, followed by a PhD degree with Justus von Liebig at Giessen. Returning to England in 1842, Edward became manager of a factory at Belfield, on the outskirts of Rochdale, for fulling, bleaching and calico-printing. But after a few years, he gave it up, and the family fortune enabled him to live the life of a gentleman-scientist and philanthropist.

Portrait from: anon, Dr. Edward Schunck, F.R.S., Manchester Faces and Places, 1897, 9(1), 1-5
More pages here ...
List of all Schunck's papers
Papers about Schunck by William Farrar
More papers about Schunck

and elsewhere ...
Biographies of other chemists

Schunck in Manchester Museum of Science and Industry
chrysammic acid His first scientific paper (of about 200) was published in 1841 and concerned chrysammic acid, a product of the nitration of aloes, which found some use as a dye.  
While still at Giessen, he examined lichens, and later was able to isolate and characterise lecanoric acid, erythric acid, orsellinic acid which were precursors of orcinol, the origin of lichen purple dye. lecanoric acid
Rubian; rubyrethyric acid
A major study of madder was started in 1846 and occupied Edward for the next decade. He isolated the colour precursor, rubian, later called rubyrethyric acid, and studied the colour components - alizarin and purpurin and many others which were less well defined. This led to the use of visible absorption spectroscopy as an analytical tool.  
indigo and urine Around 1855, Edward turned his attention to indigo, investigating the colour precursor contained in woad, which he isolated with much difficulty: it was the unstable isatan A which he called indican. The instability led him to devise the first thin-film evaporator. He was very interested in the production of indigo and indirubin from urine. IsatanB
Murex trunculus In 1879 he investigated the purple colour from shellfish, initially Nucella lapillus at Hastings and later Purpura pansa from Nicaragua and showed that the pigment was like indigo, but not identical.
It was thirty years later that it was shown that the molecule contained bromine and was 6,6'-dibromoindigo.
  In 1883 he started a long investigation into chlorophyll and after many years was able to show that it was structurally similar to haemoglobin.  
Bronze plaque Edward Schunck died at his home "The Oaklands" in Kersal on 13 January 1903 and was buried in the local church, St. Pauls. This part of the churchyard is now overgrown and through subsidence or vandalism, his headstone has toppled forward rendering its inscription unreadable. Schunck's grave
  Blue plaque  

Further details can be found in
"Edward Schunck - forgotten dyestuffs chemist?"
C. J. Cooksey, A. T. Dronsfield, Dyes in History and Archaeology, 2008, 21, 190-208

last modified ...  Email: webmaster@chriscooksey.demon.co.uk   Indigo   Lichen purple   Tyrian purple   Dyes in History and Archaeology   Murexide   Home