William Wales (astronomer)

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William Wales (1734? – 29 December 1798) was a British mathematician and astronomer.

Early life[edit]

Wales was born around 1734 to John and Sarah Wales and was baptized in Warmfield (near the West Yorkshire town of Wakefield) that year. As a youth, according to the historian John Cawte Beaglehole, Wales travelled south in the company of a Mr Holroyd, who became a plumber in the service of George III.[1] By the mid-1760s, Wales was contributing to The Ladies' Diary. In 1765 he married Mary Green, sister of the astronomer Charles Green.[1]

In 1765, Wales was employed by the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne as a computer, calculating ephemerides that could be used to establish the longitude of a ship, for Maskelyne's Nautical Almanac.[2]

1769 transit of Venus and wintering at Hudson Bay[edit]

As part of the plans of the Royal Society to make observations of the June 1769 transit of Venus, which would lead to an accurate determination of the astronomical unit (the distance between the Earth and the Sun), Wales and an assistant, Joseph Dymond, were sent to Prince of Wales Fort on Hudson Bay to observe the transit,[3] with the pair being offered a reward of £200 for a successful conclusion to their expedition.[1] Other Royal Society expeditions associated with the 1769 transit were Cook's voyage of 1768-71, with observations of the transit being made at Tahiti, and the expedition of Jeremiah Dixon and William Bayly to Norway.

Due to winter pack ice making the journey impossible during the winter months, Wales and Dymond were obliged to begin their journey in the summer of 1768, setting sail on June 23. Ironically, Wales when volunteering to make a journey to observe the transit, had requested that he be sent to a more hospitable location.[4] The party arrived at Prince of Wales Fort in August 1768.[5]

Due to the scarcity of building materials at the chosen site, the party had to bring not only astronomical instruments, but the materials required for the construction of living quarters.[5] On their arrival, the pair constructed two "Portable Observatories", which had been designed by the engineer John Smeaton.[6] Construction work occupied the pair for a month and then they settled in for the long winter season.

When the day of the transit, June 3, 1769, finally arrived, the pair were lucky to have a reasonably clear day and they were able to observe the transit at around local midday. However, the two astronomers' results for the time of first contact, when Venus first appeared to cross the disc of the Sun, differed by 11 seconds; the discrepancy was to prove a cause of upset for Wales.[4]

They were to stay in Canada for another three months before making the return voyage to England, thus becoming the first scientists to spend the winter at Hudson Bay.[7] On his return, Wales was still upset by the difference in the observations and refused to present his findings to the Royal Society until March 1770; however, his report of the expedition, including the astronomical results as well as other climatic and botanical observations, met with approval and he was invited by James Cook to join his next expedition.[4]

Captain Cook's second circumnavigation voyage[edit]

Wales and William Bayly were appointed by the Board of Longitude to accompany James Cook on his second voyage of 1772–75,[3] with Wales accompanying Cook aboard the Resolution. Wales' brother-in-law Charles Green, had been the astronomer appointed by the Royal Society to observe the 1769 transit of Venus and had died during the return leg of Cook's first voyage.[8] The primary objective of Wales and Bayly was to test Larcum Kendall's K1 chronometer, based on the H4 of John Harrison.[8] Wales compiled a log book of the voyage, recording locations and conditions, the use and testing of the instruments entrusted to him, as well as making many observations of the people and places encountered on the voyage.[9]

Later life[edit]

Following his return, Wales was commissioned to write the official astronomical account of Cook's first voyage in 1778.[10]

Wales became Master of the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1776.[2][7] Amongst Wales' pupils at Christ's Hospital were Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb.[5] It has been suggested that Wales' accounts of his journeys might have influenced Coleridge when writing his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.[11]

He was appointed as Secretary of the Board of Longitude in 1795, serving in that position until his death in 1798.[10][12]

Recognition of his work[edit]

During his voyage of 1791-95, George Vancouver, who had studied astronomy under Wales as a Midshipman on the HMS Resolution during Cook's second circumnavigation, named Wales Point, a cape at the entrance to Portland Inlet on the coast of British Columbia, in honour of his tutor; the name was later applied to the nearby Wales Island by an official at the British Hydrographic Office.[13] In his journal, Vancouver recorded his gratitude and indebtedness to Wales's tutelage "for that information which has enabled me to traverse and delineate these lonely regions."[14]

Wales featured on a New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) postage stamp of 1974 commemorating the 200th anniversary of Cook's discovery of the islands.[8]

The asteroid 15045 Walesdymond, discovered in 1998, was named after Wales and Dymond.[15]

Works by William Wales[edit]

  • The Method of Finding the Longitude by timekeepers

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Wendy Wales. "William Wales' First Voyage". Cook's Log. Captain Cook Society. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 
  2. ^ a b Mary Croarken (September 2002). "Providing longitude for all – The eighteenth-century computers of the Nautical Almanac". Journal for Maritime Research. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  3. ^ a b "William Wales". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  4. ^ a b c Hudon, Daniel (February 2004). Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 98 (1). pp. 11–13. 
  5. ^ a b c Fernie, J. Donald (September–October 1998). "Transits, Travels and Tribulations, IV: Life on the High Arctic". American Scientist 86 (5): 422. doi:10.1511/1998.37.3396. 
  6. ^ Steven van Roode. "Historical observations of the transit of Venus". Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  7. ^ a b Glyndwr Williams. "Wales, William". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  8. ^ a b c "William Wales". Ian Ridpath. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  9. ^ Wales, William. "Log book of HMS 'Resolution'". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Orchison, Wayne (2007). Hockey, Thomas A., ed. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers: A-L. p. 1189. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. 
  11. ^ Christopher Ondaatje (2002-03-15). "From Fu Man Chu to a grizzly end". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  12. ^ The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, from Their Commencement, in 1665, to the Year 1800: 1763-1769. Royal Society. 1809. p. 683. 
  13. ^ "Wales Island Cannery". Porcher Island Cannery. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  14. ^ "Captain George Vancouver". Discover Vancouver. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  15. ^ "15045 Walesdymond (1998 XY21)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 

Sources[edit]

  • Who's Who in Science (Marquis Who's Who Inc, Chicago Ill. 1968) ISBN 0-8379-1001-3
  • Francis Lucian Reid “William Wales (ca. 1734–1798): playing the astronomer”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39 (2008) 170–175

External links[edit]