The Revd. Richard Sheepshanks, M.A. F.R.S. F.R.A.S. &c.Yours very truly R. Sheepshanks [facsimile signature.]
Line engraving. 250 x 174mm. Some spotting.
Sheepshanks, Richard (1794-1855), astronomer. Educated at Richmond school in the same county under James Tate, whose intimate friend he became, he formed, with William Whewell, Adam Sedgwick, Connop Thirlwall, and others, the brilliant group known later at Cambridge as the ‘Northern Lights.’ Sheepshanks entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1812, graduated as tenth wrangler in 1816, and proceeded M.A. in 1819. He was elected fellow of his college in 1817, and, never marrying, retained the fellowship till his death. He was called to the bar in 1825, took orders in the church of England in 1828, but practised neither profession, the comparative affluence in which his father's death left him permitting him to follow instead his scientific vocation. He joined the Astronomical Society on 14 Jan. 1825, and, as its secretary from 1829 onwards, edited for many years and greatly improved its ‘Monthly Notices.’ In 1830 the Royal Society admitted him to membership, and two years later elected him to its council. He took part in 1828 in Sir George Airy's pendulum-operations in Dolcoath mine, Cornwall, rendered abortive by subterranean floods, and about the same time actively promoted the establishment of the Cambridge observatory. Appointed in 1831 a commissioner for revising borough boundaries under the Reform Act, he visited and determined most of those between the Thames and Humber. His advice in favour of suppressing the imperfect edition of Stephen Groombridge's ‘Circumpolar Catalogue’ was acted on by the admiralty in 1833; and he was entrusted with the reduction of the astronomical observations made by Lieutenant Murphy during General Chesney's survey of the Euphrates valley in 1835-6. Sheepshanks was a member of the royal commissions on weights and measures in 1838 and 1843, and was entrusted in 1844, after the death of Francis Baily, with the reconstruction of the standard of length. The work, for which he accepted no payment, occupied eleven laborious years. It was carried on in a cellar beneath the Astronomical Society's rooms in Somerset House, and involved the registration of nearly ninety thousand micrometrical readings. In order to insure their accuracy he constructed his own standard thermometers by a process communicated to the Royal Astronomical Society in June 1851. His succinct account of the whole series of operations was embodied in the report of the commissioners presented to parliament in 1854; and they were described by Sir George Airy before the Royal Society on 18 June 1857. Their result was of first-class excellence, and the new standard, with certain authorised copies, was legalised by a bill which received the royal assent on 30 July 1855. A classical scholar of no mean quality, he was also versed in English literature, and deeply read in military tactics.
DNB: A.M.C. 1897. Institute of Astronomy Library: PE/50. Not in Wellcome.
[Ref: 12543] £95.00