Michael Faraday’s scientific curiosity reached further than most people know.

For example, he had a particular interest in the Thames (the river that runs through London), and the state of its murky water. This bottle contains water he collected from the river as early as 1837, and the cartoon - published on this day in 1855 - shows him negotiating with the grotesque Father Thames. At this time, the foul water in the Thames sent an unbearable smell flowing through London. 

When travelling by boat down the Thames, Faraday was so appalled at the state of the river he conducted an experiment by dropping a number of his visiting cards into the water to test its degree of opacity. He discovered that before they could sink an inch into the water they were already impossible to see.

Faraday wrote to The Times newspaper to explain his experiment and to bring to the attention to the people of London the state of the river. In his letter he writes, ‘I have thought it a duty to record these facts that they may be brought to the attention of those who exercise power, or have responsibility in relation to the condition of our river. There is nothing figurative in the words I have employed, or any approach to exaggeration. They are the simple truth.

If there be sufficient authority to remove a putrescent pond from the neighbourhood of a few simple dwellings, surely the river which flows for so many miles through London ought not to be allowed to become a fermenting sewer. The condition in which I saw the Thames may perhaps be considered as exceptional, but it ought to be an impossible state; instead of which, I fear it is rapidly becoming the general condition. If we neglect this subject, we cannot expect to do so with impunity; nor ought we to be surprised if, ere many years are over, a season give us sad proof of the folly of our carelessness.’