Government Work

Despite the failure of both the copper sheathing and optical glass projects, which were both blamed on Davy, Faraday's reputation remained clean and he was regularly called upon as an expert and referee by government agencies whenever scientific matters had to be decided. This was reinforced by the closure of the Board of Longitude, a governmental body which provided research funds, and which Davy had been heavily involved with; this left Faraday as virtually the only scientist who the Admiralty, in particular, would listen to.

Useful work he carried out included advising on dry rot treatments, the avoidance of accidents through lightning discharges, and the possibilities of communication by using the electric telegraph, but perhaps the most bizarre plan he gave advice on was to abandon a project to sail ships loaded with sulphur into an enemy port, and then set fire to them in the hope that the fumes would kill the defenders. Fortunately he strongly advised against this early use of a potentially poisonous gas, but it is scarcely likely that it would have had the desired effect anyway!

He was commissioned to act as an independent expert on matters as diverse as conserving the Elgin marbles to investigations into the causes of disasters such as colliery accidents, where he occasionally came up against political interference by powerful people who wanted him to give the 'right' verdict, but he inevitably kept his integrity alive.

A major project he undertook for the government was advising on matters concerning lighthouses. In the 1830s Trinity House was handed the funds to allow them to buy all the privately owned lighthouses in England and Wales and future funding was secured by a levy on ships entering and leaving the harbours. Faraday was given the job as scientific adviser; a role which meant a great deal of routine work analysing water and paint but his advice was also sought on improving the lighting systems. One particular problem that lighthouses had was that most of them burned oil for illumination and the smoke from this needed to be cleaned away regularly to prevent it from obscuring the glass. He solved this by inventing a chimney system which became his first patented invention; it was very successful and was installed in many major buildings including Buckingham Palace.

The idea of replacing oil lamps with electrical ones was raised; after all there would be a number of advantages; a brighter light and a cleaner enviroment being the chief ones. However there were practical problems as well, not least of all the continuous generation of electricity. Faraday advised agaist it, and it was more than 60 years before it was considered a practical proposition.