BRIEF LIVES AND TIm ES: 1 28 020 0 Y – E 20 A20 RS BR OFI T EH F L E R IVA ES S Founders of the RAS: Captain Thomas Colby t the tender age of 17 years and four months, Mike Edmunds Second Lieutenant Thomas Colby of the examines the life ARoyal Engineers was picked out – possibly of the OS surveyor partly through his military family connections – as a promising recruit to the Ordnance Survey. The mak- Thomas Colby, ing of maps was to be his life’s work. But the next in his Brief Lives, year (1803), he nearly died. While handling a pistol celebrating the on a visit to Cornwall it exploded, inflicting injuries founders and that required the amputation of his left hand. Part of the gun barrel entered his head and probably caused history of the RAS. his somewhat eccentric and complex personality. He (literally) tended to run where others would nor- mally walk, he dressed in a slightly peculiar fashion, but could display extraordinary energy, firmness, generosity and administrative ability. In a letter in 1815, Colby observed that there was “no country on Earth to which astronomical science is of so much consequence as it is in Great Britain”. Astronomy was at that time an intrinsic part of 1 Thomas Frederick Colby by William Brockedon, chalk, 1837. determination of position on the Earth’s surface. (© National Portrait Gallery, NPG 2515. Creative Commons) While he was a single man in London he resided in an apartment in the Tower where the Survey there. The survey was a considerable undertaking, at had its headquarters, and he was a member (and times involving up to 2000 personnel, and the superb AUTHOR often dined at the clubs) of most of the literary and 6-inch-to-the-mile mapping of the country ranks as Michael Edmunds, School of Physics scientic fi societies. During the v fi e years leading up an extraordinary achievement. and Astronomy, Cardi U ff niversity, UK. to the formation of the RAS in 1820, much of his time Ireland brought him personal satisfaction too. In THE RAS BICENTENARY was spent surveying in Scotland, walking at times 1828, he married Elizabeth Boyd, daughter of the In 2020, the RAS celebrates 200 years up to 40 miles a day. He appeared “unaffected by the treasurer of the county of Londonderry, and his fam- since its founding as “the Astronomical Society of London”. It began at a meet- blast of winter”. As part of an attempt to extend the ily of seven children became his greatest happiness. ing on 20 January 1820, with 14 men meridian arc that had been measured Colby was inventive. When trian- aged 24 to 65. Who were they? What through France and Spain, the French ‘‘He inspired great gulating across London he introduced was their astronomical world like? Why astronomer and physicist Jean- loyalty, but by nature simple tinplate ree fl ctors on sighting start a society then? This series of short articles running up to 2020 aims to Baptiste Biot travelled with Colby to quarrelled with many poles to use the Sun’s light to pene- sketch both the men and their times. the Shetlands. Another RAS founder, contemporaries’’ trate the smoke. He collaborated in the Olinthus Gregory, was also involved. development of compensated rods of FURTHER READING Baigent E 2004 Colby, Thomas Fred- But Colby distrusted Biot, and Biot hated Gregory. iron and brass to ameliorate temperature effects in erick (1784–1852) Oxford Dictionary of The mission was, unsurprisingly, not a great success, the measurement of linear baselines. Duplicate bars National Biography (Oxford University although both Biot and Colby were awarded the went for survey work in India with Captain Ever- Press) degree of LLD by the University of Aberdeen. Colby est in 1830 – after he had tried them out at Lord’s Hewitt R 2010 Map of a Nation: a Biography of the Ordnance Survey was not a scientic fi francophobe – indeed he champi - cricket ground. (Granta) An enjoyable popular account oned Fresnel lenses to Robert Stevenson, who caused The Colby family lived in England from 1838 until with much about Colby their adoption in British lighthouses. Thomas had to retire from the Ordnance Survey McWilliams P 2008 Cartography and in 1846 when he was promoted to major-general. Utilitarianism versus Culture: Thomas Colby of the Ordnance Survey of Raising standards Retirement included periods in Belgium, Germany Ireland Éire-Ireland 43(3&4) 183 Sug- The year 1820 was an important one for Colby. The and New Brighton near Liverpool, where he died gests that “the writing of Irish cultural, superintendent of the Ordnance Survey, William “with scarcely any warning” in 1852, surrounded by social and linguistic history is deeply indebted” to Colby Mudge, who had picked out Colby as a young man, his family and aged 68. His reputation is witnessed Obituary 1853 Mon. Not. R. Astron. died. After taking advice, the Duke of Wellington by the fact that the government awarded his wife a Soc. 13(4) 95 appointed Colby – by now a captain, and just elected life pension. Colby must have been a rather dif- Obituary 1853 Annual Report, to the Royal Society – as Mudge’s successor. As c fi ult man to know. He inspired great loyalty in his Institution of Civil Engineers, 1852–3 http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/ superintendent he succeeded in raising standards, subordinates, no doubt through his willingness to Thomas_F._Colby “never allowing pleasure to interfere with duty”. lead by example, but by nature he quarrelled with Portlock J E 1869 Memoir of the Life In 1824, the government approved the survey of many contemporaries. Most seemed to forgive, and of Major-General Thomas Colby (Seely, Jackson and Halliday, London) Ireland and Colby was to spend much of 1824–46 to remember him with affection. ● A&G • February 2018 • Vol. 59 • aandg.org 1.13 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article-abstract/59/1/1.13/4804285 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018
Astronomy & Geophysics – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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