May 30, 1934


Nova Scotia, this province of so many first things in Canadian history, was the home of the inventor, or discoverer if you like, of kerosene, and so put light into millions of homes. Born at Cornwallis, May 2, 1797, the son of Harry Gesner, a Loyalist, he went to London to study medicine and graduated with honors. Returning to Halifax in 1824 he did not pursue the practice of medicine but mineralogy, and wrote a treatise which is the basis of all provincial information of this subject. He then took up the development of artificial illuminants. In 1851 he experimented with Trinidad asphalt and obtained from it an illuminating oil. One experiment led to another. In course of time he distilled an oil suitable for burning in lamps, from cannel coal and bituminous shale. He named his product Keroselain, from the Greek, but later shortened it to Kerosene. In 1853 he went to New York, took out several patents for the manufacture of kerosene, but he did not derive much pecuniary benefit from his discovery which revolutionized the lighting of homes and shops all over the world. He sold his patents to a New York company, but his royalties did not last long. The discovery of Petroleum in Pennsylvania and in South-western Ontario lessened the value of his process, but could not take from him the honor of his discovery.

His later years were devoted to literary work at Halifax, where he died April 29, 1864. He was buried in Camp Hill cemetery. For nearly 70 years his grave was unmarked but last year that neglect was remedied. – Hants Journal.