seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Astronomer William Edward Wilson

William Edward Wilson, Irish astronomer, is born at Greenisland, County Antrim, on July 19, 1851. He is the only son of John and Frances Wilson of Daramona House, Streete, County Westmeath, and is privately educated.

Wilson becomes interested in astronomy and travels to Oran in 1870 to photograph the solar eclipse. In 1871 he acquires a reflecting telescope of 12 inches (30.5 cm) aperture and sets it up in a dome in the gardens of Daramona House. He uses it to experiment on the photography of the moon with wet plates and also begins to study solar radiation using thermopiles. In 1881, he replaces the original telescope with a Grubb reflector of 24 inches (61 cm) aperture and a new dome and mounting that has an electrically controlled clock drive. The new telescope is mounted in a two-story tower attached to the house with an attached physical laboratory, darkroom and machine shop.

Wilson’s main research effort, in partnership with P.L. Gray, is to determine the temperature of the sun using a “differential radio-micrometer” of the sort developed by C.V. Boys in 1889, which combines a bolometer and galvanometer into one instrument. The result of their measurements is an effective temperature of about 8000 °C for the sun which, after correction to deal with absorption in the earth’s atmosphere, give a value of 6590 °C, compared to the modern value of 6075 °C.

Some of Wilson’s other astronomical projects include observations on the transit of Venus, determination of stellar motion, observations of sunspots and a trip to Spain to photograph a solar eclipse. He takes a great many excellent photographs of celestial bodies such as nebulae. His astronomical findings are published in a series of memoirs such as Experimental Observations on the Effective Temperature of the Sun.

Wilson is elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1875 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896. He receives an honorary doctorate (D.Sc.) from the University of Dublin in June 1901. He serves as High Sheriff of Westmeath for 1894.

Wilson dies on March 6, 1908 at Daramona at the relatively young age of 56, and is buried in the family plot in Steete churchyard. He had married Caroline Ada in 1886, the daughter of Capt. R.C. Granville, and they have a son and two daughters. His son donates his telescope to the University of London, where it is used for research and teaching, finally becoming a feature in Liverpool museum.


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Marriage of John Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley

john-bligh-3rd-earl-of-darnleyJohn Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley and former Member of Parliament (MP) for Athboy, who suffers from the delusion that he is a teapot, marries suddenly and unexpectedly on September 11, 1766 at nearly 50 years of age. Suffering from the delusion that he is a teapot, from the date of his marriage until his death in 1781 he fathers at least seven children “in spite of his initial alarm that his spout would come off in the night.”

Bligh is born on October 1, 1719 near Gravesend, Kent, the son of John Bligh, 1st Earl of Darnley and Lady Theodosia Hyde, later Baroness Clifton (in her own right). At the age of eight he is sent to Westminster School. He matriculates at Merton College on May 13, 1735 and is created MA on July 13, 1738.

Outwardly, Bligh appears “solid” and “capable,” a man “terribly conscious of his own dignity.” His eccentricities do not stop him becoming MP for Athboy, which he represents from 1739 until 1748, and for Maidstone, Kent, which he serves from 1741 to 1747.

After failing to be elected MP for Tregony, Cornwall, in 1754, Bligh never stands again for parliament, either in England or Ireland. The seat that he gains in the House of Lords, in 1765, gives him the opportunity to return to Ireland more frequently.

In Dublin, on September 11, 1766, the “ageing nobleman” of almost 48-years-old, suddenly marries eighteen-year-old Mary Stoyte, a wealthy heiress and only child of John Stoyte, a leading barrister from Streete, County Westmeath. The unexpected marriage, between a sworn bachelor and a young woman, shocks Dublin society.

The new Countess of Darnley has to cope with the odd private behaviour of her touchy husband. According to a manuscript in the possession of the Tighe family, on the night of his marriage, Bligh “imagined himself to be a fine China tea pot, and was under great fears, lest the spout should be broken off before morning!”

In spite of his nocturnal fears, the earl manages to father at least seven children: John (1767), Mary (1768), Edward (1769), Theodosia (1771), Sarah (1772), Catherine (1774), and William (1775).

Each summer, Bligh takes his family to Weymouth, where the seawater is believed to strengthen weak constitutions and help brace nerves.

Despite every precaution, in 1781 Bligh catches malaria. Attempts to treat him with quinine and peppermint-water purges fail, and on July 31, 1781, he dies at the age of 61, his spout supposedly still intact. Mary lives on until 1803.