Augustus Harcourt was educated at Harrow School before enrolling at Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a degree in Natural Science in 1858, working with Henry Smith and Benjamin Brodie.
He was one of the first scientists to do quantitative work in the field of chemical kinetics. Harcourt"s mother was sister of the first Lord Tollemache. A year later Harcourt became Lee"s Reader in chemistry and took a position as a senior student at Christ Church, an Oxford college.
Working with the mathematician William Esson (1838–1916), Harcourt began a series of chemical investigations which lasted for over 40 years.
In 1872, Harcourt married Rachel Mary Bruce, daughter of the Home Secretary, Henry Bruce. Harcourt was contemporary with Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and is mentioned in Carroll"s diaries.
Harcourt remained at Oxford until he retired in 1902, whereupon he moved to Street Clare, near Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Among the processes they investigated was the acid-catalyzed iodine clock reaction (iodide and hydrogen peroxide).
Their work showed that the reaction"s changing rate was proportional to the concentration of reactants present.
This result was later formalized by Guldberg and Waage as the law of mass action. Harcourt and Esson also studied the reaction between oxalic acid and potassium permanganate. Harcourt"s other activities included inventing a device to safely administer chloroform (an anesthesic), and the analysis and purification of coal gas, used for illumination.
Harcourt also invented pentane-burning lamps that served as photometric standards.
1863: Fellow of the Royal Society
1865–1873: Secretary of the Chemical Society
1895: President of the Chemical Society.