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The Swiss who left their mark on Britain

Editor Brian Harrison with a set of the Oxford DNB Keystone

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a treasure trove of information about people who helped shape British history – including a number of Swiss.

This content was published on October 26, 2004 - 20:28

On the online edition of the dictionary, tapping in the word “Swiss” in the search function comes up with no fewer than 531 results.

Enter the word “Switzerland” and an impressive 1,250 results are found.

For example, the Oxford DNB will tell you that Ferdinand Hurter (1844-1898) was an industrial chemist from Schaffhausen who campaigned for free education and for the introduction into Britain of the metric system.

You can learn that a Swiss, Frederick Wissler, established the Marmite company in Burton upon Trent in 1902, before it was taken over by Bovril in the 1920s.

Théodore Gardelle (1722-1761) has the dubious reputation of being dubbed a “murderer and painter”. The Oxford DNB mentions that Gardelle met Voltaire in Geneva, drew his portrait and enamelled it on a snuffbox.

He was executed in London’s Haymarket after being convicted of murdering Anne King, a “gay, showy woman, of a doubtful character, who dressed fashionably, and was chiefly visited by gentlemen”.

Rosalie Dreyer, born in Bern, rose through the ranks of British nurses to become the first president of the National Association of State-Enrolled Nurses.

The dictionary describes her as “birdlike, tall and slim” until she went to work for the World Health Organization. And it comments that despite her significant contribution to health provision for Londoners, she received no civic or public honours.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography includes only people who have died or who had died by December 31, 2000.
It includes only people who were noteworthy in the history of Britain and its overseas connections.
Until November 30, the Oxford DNB costs £6,500 or $11,000. After that date, the price jumps to £7,500 or $13,000.

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