John Goodricke Astronomer

John Goodricke born in Groningen Holland 17th September 1764, and baptized two days later in the Anglican Church there, the eldest of five, the son of a British diplomat Henry Goodricke and of a Dutch merchant’s daughter, Levina Benjarmina Sessler, of Namur, Woldthuzen in Friesland. In 1769 at the age of five he contracted scarlet fever leaving him totally deaf. John had such a profound hearing loss that he was not aware of voices, but after a good education he was able to read lips well and to speak. His well-off parents had sent him to a school specializing in his disability in Edinburgh at the age of eight; Thomas Braidwood established the school in 1760. In 1773 Dr. Johnson wrote, "No other city has to show a college of the deaf and dumb, who are taught to speak, to read, to write, and practise arithmetic." Amazed by what he witnessed from the twelve student’s, he declared, "they hear with the eye."

In 1778 at the age of thirteen John was enrolled to go to the academy in Warrington near York, then a well-known educational institution. This academy unlike Edinburgh had no special facility for his handicap. Records show that he had overcome his disadvantage by this time to a great extent and was a very good mathematician and chemist he could read lips and speak with only the a very slight impediment. Warrington, founded as a Unitarian theological seminary, was a very progressive institution where Joseph Priestly and Jean Paul Marat, of French revolutionary fame, had at times been tutors. Undoubtedly the one that influenced young John more than any other was William Enfield, a tutor of natural philosophy and mathematics, who wrote on religion, elocution and astronomy. He almost certainly gave John his first interest in probing the universe. By this time (1781) the Goodricke family had moved to a townhouse in York known today as the Treasurer’s House and this is where John almost certainly made his historic observations of Algol which lead to him receiving the Copley medal from The Royal Society. A memorial tablet to John Goodricke is on the wall of the Treasurer’s House bearing the family Arms give tribute to John’s achievements and reads.

"From a window in the Treasurer's House, City of York, the young deaf and dumb astronomer John Goodrick, who was elected a fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 21, observed the periodicity of the star ALGOL and discovered the variation of CEPHEL and other stars thus laying the foundation of modern measurement of the Universe."

John’s cousin Edward Piggott (1753 – 1825) son of Nathaniel Piggott,  (1725–1804), astronomer (*see foot notes), shared the same interests in astronomy. They quickly formed a partnership exchanging notes and ideas, 28 year old Edward being an organiser and John at 17 full of new ideas and imagination. I believe Edward Piggott’s father Nathaniel may have made timepieces as a hobby, which would have helped the two achieve more accurate recordings; so far I have no documentary evidence of this other than family hand me downs.

On the night of the 10th September 1784 Edward discovered the variability of Aquilae which turned out to have a period of 7.176 days and only hours later John detected the variability of Lyrae late that very week John also discovered the variability of Cephei, another prototype of its class. This eminently fruitful partnership ended two years later with John’s untimely death from pneumonia after contracting a cold while observing in the cold night air.

John Goodricke died, unmarried, at York, 20th April 1786, and was buried in a new family vault at Hunsingore Church Yorkshire close to Ribston Hall the Goodricke family seat for three hundred years.

site of the Goodricke family vault at Hunsingore church.Engraving on The Goodricke Vault stone. The capital letter "E" at the top presumably denotes east, as the stone is facing in this direction

 

 

 

St John the Baptist Parish Church
Also known as: Hunsingore, St John the Baptist Parish Church.

John’s cousin Edward Piggott (1753 – 1825)son of Nathaniel Piggott,  (1725–1804), astronomer (*see foot notes), shared the same interests in astronomy. They quickly formed a partnership exchanging notes and ideas, 28 year old Edward being an organiser and John at 17 full of new ideas and imagination. I believe Edward Piggott’s father Nathaniel may have made timepieces as a hobby, which would have helped the two achieve more accurate recordings; so far I have no documentary evidence of this other than family hand me downs.

On the night of the 10th September 1784 Edward discovered the variability of Aquilae which turned out to have a period of 7.176 days and only hours later John detected the variability of Lyrae late that very week John also discovered the variability of Cephei, another prototype of its class. This eminently fruitful partnership ended two years later with John’s untimely death from pneumonia after contracting a cold while observing in the cold night air.

John Goodricke died, unmarried, at York, 20th April 1786, and was buried in a new family vault at Hunsingore Church Yorkshire close to Ribston Hall the Goodricke family seat for three hundred years.

Thanks to Linda M. French Professor of Physics for this link to the

site of the Goodricke family vault at Hunsingore church.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=37768417

John Goodricke was admitted to the Royal Society on April 16th 1786 at 21 years old. He didn't know of or recognized this honour, because of his illness but he had been aware of the Copley prize (sponsored by Sir Geoffrey Copley) awarded just two years before his untimely death.

John Goodricke has been remembered in York by naming one of the University Halls of Residence after him. John Goodricke, a deaf and dumb astronomer, whose life was cut short tragically at the age of twenty-one, and who should never be considered as handicapped but as a man who overcame his disadvantage in life to do great things. The records of his observations are to be found in the "Philosophical Transactions' of the Royal Society Vols. 73, 74 and 75.

General Notes for the interest of the reader.

The portrait of John Goodricke's was painted in pastel in the year 1785 when he was twenty-one years of age and this fine picture, together with that of his grandfather Sir John - painted by Lunberg, at Stockholm in 1766 - became the property of Charles Alfred Goodricke in the year 1898.  As he was anxious that this portrait should be carefully preserved in perpetuity where it will be valued, he presented it to the Royal Astronomical Society, on 8th November 1912 on the occasion of the first meeting of the winter session and an account of what then took place can be read at p.p. 419 and 435 of "The Observatory" Vol. 35, December 1912.

The records of his observations are to be found in the "Philosophical Transactions' of the Royal Society Vols. 73, 74 and 75.

Algol or Beta Persei eclipsing binary is a pair of rotating stars in the constellation Perseus, one of which eclipses the other every 69 hours, causing its brightness to drop by two-thirds. The brightness changes were first explained in 1782 by the amateur astronomer John Goodricke (1764-1786).

The wonders of Astronomy are not only definite but endless and some small conception of this may be derived from the fact that Astronomers estimate the distance of Algol to be so great that it takes 93 years for its light to reach the Earth so that the variations which we may see in its light this evening will be those which actually occurred almost a hundred years before! 

The discovery of the variable stars started with David Fabricius (1564-1617) in the year 1596, when he discovered Mira (aka alpha Cetus) as a star with non-equal brightness. At this time this would have caused a sensation, because the invariability of the sphere of fix stars was strongly believed to be an omen. Nearly three quarters of a century later the Italian astronomer Geminiano Montanari (1633-1687) noted in 1670 that "the second brightest star in the constellation of Perseus is changing its brightness." The star has the Arabic name "Algol", which stands for "Head of the Ghul". In fact at the place of Algol in the picture of the constellation there is the head of the Medusa, which the Greek hero Perseus had killed with his mirror shield by her own look. With this head Perseus was able to petrify the sea monster Cetus, to which the princess Andromeda, daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus should have been offered.

Another name for Algol is "Devils Star". This name may indicate that Montanari the Arabian astronomer knew before of the special nature of Algol.

More than a hundred years after the discoveries by Montanari John Goodricke looked to the stars with somewhat modest equipment. He was the first one to calculate the period of Algol to 68 hours and 50 minutes, where the star was changing its brightness by more than a magnitude as seen from Earth. John Goodricke was reporting this observations in 1783 at the British royal society, and explaining these observations he proposed two theories: that the distant sun is periodically orbited by a dark body, or that the star itself has a darker region which is pointing to Earth periodically because of the stars rotation. With his first theory John Goodricke is noted as the discoverer of the eclipsing binary or variable stars in the history of astronomy.

Patrick Moore, the TV astronomer, made the following comments

"He was deaf and dumb and remained so all through his life, but there was nothing the matter with either his eyesight or his brain, he became an expert observer as well as a theorist."

Do any of our deaf children today, with the benefits of early diagnosis, special education and electronic aids, aspire to become Fellows of the Royal Society? I would hope that John Goodricke would serve to be an inspiration to us all.

Sources references thanks & Credits to: -

The records of his observations are to be found in the "Philosophical Transactions' of the Royal Society Vols. 73, 74 and 75.C. A. Goodricke, ‘Gift to the society of a portrait of John Goodricke’, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 73 (1912–13), 3–4 · M. Hoskin,  (Cambridge University)‘Goodricke, Pigott and the quest for variable stars’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 10 (1979), 23–41 · C. Gilman, ‘John Goodricke and his variable stars’, Sky and Telescope, 56 (1978), 400–03 ·Richardson 1967,p.85. Anita McConnell and Alison Brech (1Imperial College London. 2Bothwick institute York)

*Foot Notes

Nathaniel Pigott, (1725–1804), astronomer, was born at his grandfather's house in Whitton, Middlesex, the only surviving son of Ralph Pigott (d. 1731), a lawyer of the Middle Temple, and his wife, Alethea, the daughter of William, ninth Viscount Fairfax. His grandfather Nathaniel Pigott (1661–1737), renowned as a barrister and a friend of Pope, legally assisted William Fairfax, eighth viscount, of Gilling, Yorkshire, and acted as conveyancer to most of the Yorkshire Catholic families. The Pigotts were staunch Catholics and maintained a Jesuit chaplain in their private chapel at Whitton. Ralph was the only son not educated at Douai; two of his brothers became Benedictines, while another, Nathaniel, was in business as a druggist at Brownlow Street, Holborn, London. After Ralph's unexpected death, Alethea and her children moved to Ormonde Street, Holborn, and before 1752 she left England and settled in Brussels, near the English Benedictine convent where her daughters Rebecca and Catherine professed as nuns.

Nathaniel Pigott attended school at St Gregory's Benedictine College, Douai, about 1737, and later joined his mother. He married in Brussels, on 29 September 1749, Anna Mathurine De Bériot (1727–1792) of Louvain. Of at least four children born, two sons survived infancy: Edward Pigott (1753–1825) and Charles Gregory Pigott (d. 1845), both educated in France. The Pigotts led a vagrant life in various parts of Britain and on the continent, where, like many other English Catholics, they found life more congenial. For some years they resided at Caen, in Normandy, and counted among their friends several of the Paris academicians.

It is not known how Pigott became interested in astronomy, but he had sufficient money to acquire a number of fine instruments from the best London makers, and he gained a reputation for his observing and computational ability. He was in regular communication with J. H. Magelhaens, the so-called Portuguese agent, who negotiated the procurement or repair of scientific instruments for those who were unable to deal in person with the London makers.

Our knowledge of Pigott's movements comes from the meteorological and astronomical journals which he kept with the assistance of his wife and Edward. He was still at Whitton in 1760, but at Louvain in 1761 and at Caen from 1764 to 1768, where he built an observatory at his house near L'Abbatiale. In 1771 he was in London and at Gilling, where Edward's French style of dress and manners caused some comment, and in 1772 he was in Brussels, where he took delivery of a new 2½ foot reflecting telescope by Heath and Wing, ordered previously in London. In April that year both he and Edward were presented at court to Prince Charles of Lorraine and to his prime minister, Prince Staremberg, before returning to England.

Pigott chanced to pass through Brussels on his way to Spa at a time when a cartographic survey of the Austrian Netherlands was being proposed. His assistance was sought, probably at the recommendation of John Turberville Needham FRS, principal of the Imperial Academy in Brussels, to determine astronomically, by timing eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, the geographical positions of the principal towns. Pigott immediately cancelled his visit to Spa, sent to England for his instruments, and devoted five months to this task. Equipped with a clock with a gridiron pendulum by Le Paute, a quadrant by Bird, which Pigott borrowed from the Royal Society, a 6 foot Dollond achromatic telescope, two barometers by Ramsden and one by Wing, Needham and the Pigotts proceeded slowly via Namur, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Ostend, Tournai, Brussels, and Louvain, where they arrived in the summer of 1773. Pigott took the meridian heights of many stars. He also undertook an unusual experiment to see what effect the sound of the great bell of Ste Goedule in Brussels had on the barometer, later described by Sir Henry Englefield, who had joined them in Brussels. Pigott was elected a foreign member of the Imperial Academy in 1773 and a correspondent of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1776. He freely communicated his observations, which included transits of Venus and Mercury, and sightings of comets, some of which were published by learned societies and others incorporated into anonymous records. He was among the first to study double stars and those which had a proper movement.

The Pigotts arrived at Gilling in 1774 in order to press claims to the Gilling estate, but, failing to resolve the affair by means of a private act of parliament, in the summer of 1777 they lodged with another relative, Lady Widdrington, at Wickhill in Gloucestershire, where Pigott determined the longitude. He then moved to Frampton House, Glamorgan, on his own estate, where he erected an observatory with a transit by Sisson, the 6 foot Dollond achromatic, and several smaller telescopes. During this time Edward occupied himself with a survey of the Severn estuary, finding it to be far less broad than most maps indicated. In 1781 the Pigotts returned to York in the hope of succeeding to what was left of the Gilling estate. They leased a house just outside Bootham Bar, close to the minster, and built a substantial two-storey stone observatory in the garden to house the instruments from Frampton. Nathaniel observed there until 1785, when they went again to Louvain. It was a fruitful time too for Edward, who became fast friends with his distant cousin John Goodricke (1764–1786), said to have become a deaf mute in early youth. For his discovery of periodicity and variation of certain stars, Goodricke was elected to the Royal Society at the age of twenty-one. Edward shared his passion, and on one remarkable occasion, the night of 10 September 1784, first Edward, then a few hours later Goodricke, each made new discoveries of variable stars. Their brief partnership was ended by Goodricke's premature death. During the 1780s, the result of a lengthy family quarrel, Edward was cut out of his inheritance. When Ann Fairfax died in 1793, Charles Gregory Pigott inherited Gilling Castle. He took the name of Fairfax and married in 1794 a protestant, Mary, the sister of Sir Henry Goodricke of Ribston, and died in 1845. Nathaniel Pigott died at his home in York on 4 June 1804 and was buried the following day in Gilling churchyard. In his latter years he was being looked after by Lavinia Goodricke, who as sole executrix declared his personal estate at the time of his death to be under £600.

Edward Pigott continued a somewhat vagrant life but, after brief pauses in Louvain, York, and London, he settled about 1796 at Bath, where he set up the instruments from York in an observatory at 15 Belmont, the house he occupied from about 1808. He corresponded with the botanists John Stackhouse and Dawson Turner, with whom he shared an interest in seaweeds. When travelling again to France he was detained in Fontainebleau about 1803 during the Anglo-French hostilities. In May 1806 he wrote to old friends at the Academy of Sciences, begging their help in securing permission to return to England, where his astronomical apparatus and botanical collections were being neglected; in July the emperor acceded to their request and his passport was returned. He continued to make observations from Bath for some years, and his letters to Sir William Herschel report sightings of comets in 1799, 1807, and 1811. In his letter of 10 August 1821, addressed to John Herschel, he mentions his own poor health and sends greetings to the elderly Sir William, who had befriended his father. He died unmarried at his home on 27 June 1825. His body was transported to Bridlington, Yorkshire, in accordance with his wishes, and was buried close to the grave of his mother on 11 July.

Anita McConnell

Sources  

J. C. H. Aveling, Catholic recusancy in the city of York, 1558–1791, Catholic RS, monograph ser., 2 (1970) · A. Brech and A. McConnell, ‘The Pigott family: eighteenth century connections with church, science and law’, Recusant History, 25 (2000), 449–60 · J. Scott, ‘York astronomers and instrument makers’, Yorkshire Gazette (24–31 Jan 1925) · papers of Nathaniel and Edward Pigott, City of York RO, Acc 227/8–13, 24 · RAS, Pigott MSS · A. Quételet, Histoire des sciences mathématiques et physiques chez les Belges (1864), 291–5 · J. Lavalleye, L'Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres, et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1772–1972 (1973) · M. Hoskin, ‘Goodricke, Pigott and the quest for variable stars’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 10 (1979), 23–41 · S. Melmore, ‘Nathaniel Pigott's observatory at York, 1781–1793’, Annals of Science, 9 (1953), 281–6 · Archives de l'Académie des sciences, Paris, Pigott MSS · minutes, vol. 95, 10 Jan–20 Dec 1776, Académie Royale des Sciences, Paris, fol. 187r · minutes, vol. 3, 1804–7, Académie des Sciences, Paris, 354, 389 · J. Bernoulli, Nouvelles littéraires de divers pays, 5 (1779), 67; 6 (1779), 43–5 · parish register (burial), Gilling, 5 June 1804 · parish register (burial), Bridlington, 11 July 1825 [Edward Pigott] · A. Brech and A. McConnell, ‘Nathaniel and Edward Pigott, itinerant astronomers’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 53/3 (1999), 309–18