Associated People: Derbyshire


Abney, William de Wiveleslie, Sir (1843–1920), Civil servant and photographic scientist, born at Derby. He was chosen to organize the photographic observation in Egypt of the transit of Venus in 1874. Abney developed a photographic emulsion that was sensitive in the infra-red region of the electromagnetic spectrum, and was the first (1887) to express the idea that the axial rotation of stars could be determined from the broadening of spectral lines He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1893–5 (ODNB).

Cavendish, Henry (1731-1810), natural philosopher. Born Nice, buried All Souls Church Derby (now Derby Cathedral). After planning a treatise on Newtonian mechanics Cavendish wrote a commentary on the theory of motion using a principle of conservation of mechanical momentum, the product of mass and velocity. Cavendish also took an active role in the Royal Society’s plans for astronomical surveying. In June 1766 he sent the president a list of sites from which the imminent 1769 Venus transit could be observed to determine the solar parallax, and in November 1767 he joined the society’s committee to plan these observations and correct likely errors. The following year Cavendish discussed with the new astronomer royal, Nevil Maskelyne, the gravitational pull of nearby mountains on the vertical plumb lines used earlier in the decade in American surveys by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. After trying to reconcile measures of pendulum rates with French data on the earth’s shape published in the 1740s, Cavendish concluded that gravitational pull rather than meridional degrees would be a better guide to the earth’s shape. The project typified his view that precise estimation of central forces held the key to rational mechanics and natural philosophy (ODNB).

Cockayne, William (1717–1798), Church of England clergyman and the son of the Revd George Cockayne, was born on 3 November 1717 at Doveridge in west Derbyshire.  From 1752 to 1795 he held the chair of astronomy in Gresham College, London, for which at that date no particular astronomical competence was required. On 20 September 1763 he was nominated rector of Kilkhampton in Cornwall, a post he occupied until his death in 1798. His only publications were religious in content (see ODNB).

Parker, Benjamin (d. 1747), author, was born at Derby; further details of his parents and upbringing are unknown. He was originally a stocking maker who, having failed in business, took to manufacturing books. In 1731 he was living at Horsley, near Derby, when his first work, Parker’s Projection of the Longitude at Sea, was submitted to the ‘great Edmund Halley’ and published in Nottingham. It supported the view that the position of the Moon could be used to determine longitude at sea.Held a strong belief in the plurality of worlds and prevalence of other beings throughout the universe, including on the Moon (ODNB).

Whitehurst, John (1733-1788), clock and scientific instrument maker of Derby; founder member of the Lunar Society. Founded a philosophical society in Derby around 1770.Made many clocks movements for Matthew Bolton at Soho House. Had many interests, including geology and astronomy. Was a close friend of James Ferguson. Was made a member of the Royal Society in 1779 as a result of his geological researches in An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth published in 1778. Believed to have been the author of reports on eclipses, the appearance of the planets, constellations and meteor showers that appeared regularly in the Derby Mercury newspaper. Lived in London in later life (ODNB).

Wright, Derby,  of Joseph (1734–1797), painter and friend of Lunar Society members John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin. Two large candlelight paintings above all made Wright’s name in the 1760s. These were A philosopher giving a lecture on the orrery, in which a lamp is put in the place of the sun (exh. 1766; Derby Art Gallery) and An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (exh. 1768; National Gallery, London), see ODNB.