John Mawe

Birth: 1764


JOHN MAWE (1764-1829) was a mineralogist, was born in Derbyshire in 1764. In early life he appears to have spent fifteen years at sea. About the end of the century he made a tour of most of the mines in England and Scotland, collecting minerals for the cabinet of the king of Spain. In August 1804 he started on a "voyage of commercial experiment" to Rio de la Plata funded by Portugal's Prince Regent. His missions was to assess the value of the gold and diamond industries that might revitalize Brazil's ailing economy.[6] Mawe had reached Cadiz when war broke out between England and Spain, and he was blockaded in the town where he was taken ill and nearly died. He sailed from Cadiz in March 1805 for Montevideo, and on reaching that town was imprisoned as an English spy.

He procured his liberty soon after, but was interned, and did not obtain his release till the capture of Montevideo by General Beresford in 1806. He accompanied the expedition under General Whitelocke to Buenos Ayres, and on his return to Montevideo purchased a schooner and sailed to Brazil, putting in at various ports on the way. He was well received in Brazil by the prince regent, Dom Pedro, who gave him permission to visit the diamond mines of Minas Geraes and other parts of the interior during 1809-10, and also granted him access to the government archives.

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Mawe returned to London in 1811, and opening a shop in the Strand, close to Somerset House, became well known as a practical mineralogist. He died in London on 26 Oct. 1829. A tablet to his memory is in Castleton church, Derbyshire. The business was afterwards carried on by James Tennant [q. v.] the mineralogist.


Mawe's principal work was the account of his South American voyage, Travels in the Interior of Brazil, London, 1812; Philadelphia, 1816; 2nd edition, 1823.

He also wrote:

  • 1. The Mineralogy of Derbyshire, 1802.
  • 2. A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones, 1813; 2nd ed. 1823.
  • 3. A Catalogue of Minerals, 1815.
  • 4. A Descriptive Catalogue of Minerals, 1816; 4th edit. 1821; reissued in 1823.
  • 5. Familiar Lessons on Mineralogy and Geology, 1819; 10th edit. 1828.
  • 6. Amateur Lapidary's Guide, 3rd edit. 1823; 1827.
  • 7. Instructions for the use of the Blow-pipe and Chemical Tests, 4th edit. 1825.
  • 8. The Voyager's Companion or Shell-Collector's Pilot, 1821; 4th edit. 1825.
  • 9. The Linnaean System of Conchology, 1823.

He edited the 2nd edit. of Wodarch's Introduction to Conchology, 1822, and wrote a paper on The Occurrence of Diamonds, etc., in Brazil for Gilbert's Annalen lix. (1818), besides one On the Tourmaline and Apatite of Devonshire for the Quart. Journ. of Science, iv. (1818). He appears also to have issued at some time Directions to Captains of Ships, Officers, and Travellers; particularly to those engaged in the South Sea Fishery (for collecting shells). A manuscript paper On a Gold Mine in South America is preserved in the library of the Geological Society.

A number of Mawe's publications were extensively illustrated by James Sowerby and his sons, who specialized in detailed coloir plates.

A manuscript paper "On a Gold Mine in South America" is preserved in the library of the Geological Society.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 by Bernard Barham Woodward, Volume 37

[Appleton's Cyclop, of American Biog.; Mawe's Works, Nos. 1, 8, and Travels in Brazil. Rose and others wrongly give his Christian name as Joseph.]

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