seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Thomas Romney Robinson, Astronomer & Physicist

Reverend John Thomas Romney Robinson, 19th-century astronomer and physicist usually referred to as Thomas Romney Robinson, was born at St. Anne’s in Dublin on April 23, 1792. He is the longtime director of the Armagh Observatory, one of the chief astronomical observatories in the United Kingdom at the time. He is remembered as the inventor in 1846 of the Robinson 4-cup anemometer, a device for measuring the speed of the wind.

Robinson is the son of the English portrait painter Thomas Robinson (d.1810) and his wife, Ruth Buck (d.1826). He is educated at Belfast Academy then studies Divinity at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar in 1808, graduating BA in 1810 and obtaining a fellowship in 1814, at the age of 22. He is for some years a deputy professor of natural philosophy (physics) at Trinity.

In 1823, at the age of 30, Robinson gains the appointment of astronomer at the Armagh Observatory. From this point on he always resides at the Armagh Observatory, engaged in researches connected with astronomy and physics, until his death in 1882. Having also been ordained as an Anglican priest while at Trinity, he obtains the church livings of the Anglican Church at Enniskillen and at Carrickmacross in 1824.

During the 1840s and 1850s Robinson is a frequent visitor to the world’s most powerful telescope of that era, the so-called Leviathan of Parsonstown telescope, which had been built by Robinson’s friend and colleague William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse. He is active with Parsons in interpreting the higher-resolution views of the night sky produced by Parsons’ telescope, particularly with regard to the galaxies and nebulae and he publishes leading-edge research reports on the question.

Back at his own observatory in Armagh, Robinson compiles a large catalogue of stars and writes many related reports. In 1862 he is awarded a Royal Medal “for the Armagh catalogue of 5345 stars, deduced from observations made at the Armagh Observatory, from the years 1820 up to 1854; for his papers on the construction of astronomical instruments in the memoirs of the Astronomical Society, and his paper on electromagnets in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.”

Robinson is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1851 to 1856, and is a long-time active organiser in the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a friend of Charles Babbage, who says was “indebted” for having reminded him about the first time he came up with the idea of the calculating machine.

Robinson marries twice, first to Eliza Isabelle Rambaut (d.1839) and secondly to Lucy Jane Edgeworth (1806–1897), the lifelong disabled daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. His daughter marries the physicist George Gabriel Stokes. Stokes frequently visits Robinson in Armagh in Robinson’s later years.

Robinson dies in Armagh, County Armagh at the age of 89 on February 28, 1882.

The crater Robinson on the Moon is named in his honour.


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Birth of William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Historian & Theorist

William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Irish historian and political theorist, is born at Newtown Park, near Dublin, on March 26, 1838. His major work is an eight-volume History of England during the Eighteenth Century.

Lecky is educated at Kingstown, Armagh, at Cheltenham College, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduates BA in 1859 and MA in 1863, and where he studies divinity with a view of becoming a priest in the Church of Ireland.

In 1860, Lecky publishes anonymously a small book entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age, but upon leaving college he turns to historiography. In 1861 he publishes Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, containing brief sketches of Jonathan Swift, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, and Daniel O’Connell, originally anonymous and republished in 1871. The essay on Swift, rewritten and amplified, appears again in 1897 as an introduction to an edition of Swift’s works. Two surveys follow: A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865), and A History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2 vols., 1869). The latter arouses criticism, with its opening dissertation on “the natural history of morals.”

Lecky then concentrates on his major work, A History of England during the Eighteenth Century, Vols. i. and ii. which appear in 1878, and Vols. vii. and viii., which complete the work, in 1890. In the “cabinet” edition of 1892, in twelve volumes, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century is separated out.

A volume of Poems (1891) is less successful. In 1896, he publishes two volumes entitled Democracy and Liberty, in which he considers modern democracy. The pessimistic conclusions at which he arrives provoked criticism both in the UK and the United States, which is renewed when he publishes in a new edition (1899) his low estimate of William Ewart Gladstone, then recently dead.

In The Map of Life (1899) Lecky discusses in a popular style ethical problems of everyday life. In 1903 he publishes a revised and enlarged edition of Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, in two volumes, with the essay on Swift omitted and that on O’Connell expanded into a complete biography. A critic of the methods by which the Act of Union is passed, Lecky, who grew up as a moderate Liberal, is opposed to Gladstone’s policy of Home Rule and, in 1895, he is returned to parliament as Unionist member for University of Dublin constituency in a by-election. In 1897, he is made a privy councillor, and among the coronation honours in 1902, he is nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit.

William Edward Hartpole Lecky dies in London on October 22, 1903.