Astronomers: Roxburghshire


Brewster, David, Sir, MA (1781-1868) born Jedburgh, Principal St Andrews University. Secretary Edinburgh astronomical Institution 1815. Copley medal 1815. 300 papers to the Royal Society (see ODNB).

Brisbane, SirThomas Makdougall,  [baronet] (1773–1860), born at Brisbane House, Largs, Ayrshire. He was educated in astronomy and mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. In the meanwhile he had joined the British Army, had a distinguished career including serving with Wellington in the Peninsular, and rose to the rank of Major-General.  Later he was appointed colonial governor for New South Wales, Australia.  On his return he retired to the family estate at Makerstoun, near Kelso where he re-established his observatory (see: AyrshireODNB & below).

Somerville, Mary [née Fairfax] (1780-1872), was born in the Manse of Jedburgh, the house of her aunt and future mother-in-law. Gifted with a remarkable aptitude for mathematics, and a great curiosity for the natural sciences, she was largely self-educated in parallel to over-hearing the lessons from her brother’s tutors. After her second marriage in 1812 to her cousin Dr William Somerville, she lived in Edinburgh for four years, and then from 1816 in London where she moved in a brilliant intellectual circle.
In 1827 she was asked on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge to write a volume describing Laplace’s five volume Le Méchanique Céleste. It was a daunting task of translation, reworking unexplained equations, creating illustrations, explaining obtuse subjects, and adding a preface explaining the astronomy to non-mathematicians, and also a summary of Laplace’s interpretation of the motions of planets and satellites. Its publication and success in 1832 as The Mechanism of the Heavens immediately placed her in the first rank of scientific writers, and brought her honours and a pension. John Herschel hailed it as ‘by far the best condensed view of Newtonian philosophy which has appeared’ (cited by K. Weitzenhoffer, ‘The Education of Mary Somerville’, Sky & Telescope (Feb. 1987), 138-139, p. 139. It became a school textbook until the end of the century. Of her next book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1834), which went to ten editions, John Couch Adams said that a single sentence in the sixth edition inspired him to investigate whether an unseen outer planet was causing the unexpected irregularities in the motion of Uranus.
Mary Somerville plunged in to the struggle for women’s rights and education. In 1879 Somerville Hall, later Somerville College, was founded at Oxford University, exclusively for women students (ODNB).

Veitch, James (1771-1838), born Inchbonny near Jedburgh, a ploughwright and astronomer. Maker of reflecting telescopes and other instruments.


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