Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GESNER, Abraham, Canadian geologist, born in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. 2 May, 1797 ; died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 19 April, 1864. He was a son of Henry Gesner, loyalist, who, during the Revolutionary war, fled to Nova Scotia, where he received a grant of land in compensation for that confiscated in New York. The young man studied medicine at St. Bartholomew's hospital, and surgery at Guy's hospital in London, and, after receiving his degree, returned to Nova Scotia in 1824. At first he practiced his profession, but soon turned his attention to scientific pursuits. In 1838 he was appointed by the legislatures of the lower provinces of British North America to explore and report on their geological resources. In this connection he made collections of minerals, of specimens illustrating the surveys, and of ethnological implements, and also gathered many other objects of natural history, which now constitute the Gesner museum in Saint John, New Brunswick He became familiar with numerous Indian dialects, and was appointed Indian commissioner of Nova Scotia in 1850. Dr. Gesner had an excellent knowledge of chemistry, and was among those who early became connected with the development of artificial illuminants from hydrocarbons. In 1851 he experimented with Trinidad asphalt, and obtained from it an illuminating oil. Subsequently he distilled an oil, suitable for burning in lamps, from cannel coal and bituminous shale, thus originating in America the discovery of '" kerosene," the name which he gave it, and which since has been extended to all mineral illuminating oils. The name, as he first formed it, was "keroselain," from the Greek (((((, wax, and E(((((, oil, and was suggested by the waxy nature of paraffin, which is derived from the distillation of bituminous substances, coming over with the oily part of the distillate. Afterward it was shortened to "kerosene." In 1853 Dr. Gesner came to New York, and took out several patents for the manufacture of kerosene from coal, but subsequently disposed of them to the New York kerosene company, whose extensive works were erected under his supervision. These soon ceased to be valuable in consequence of the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, at which time there were fifty-six such factories in the United States. Shortly before his death he returned to Nova Scotia, expecting to fill the chair of natural history in Dalhousie College, but meanwhile occupied himself with literary work. He was a member of the Royal geological society of London and of other scientific associations in England, and also maintained a continual correspondence with eminent scientists abroad, among whom were Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir Charles Lyell, and the Earl of Dundonald. Besides scientific papers and reports, he published "Remarks on the Geology and Mineralogy of Nova Scotia" (Halifax, 1837) ; "Reports on the Geological Survey of the Province of New Brunswick" (Saint John, 1844) ; "New Brunswick, with Notes for Emigrants" (London, 1847) ; "Industrial Resources of Nova Scotia" (Halifax, 1849) ; "A Practical Treatise on Coal Petroleum and other Distilled Oils" (New York, 1861). He left an uncompleted manuscript on "The Fisheries of the Provinces," which has not been published.
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