Person: Brinkley, John Mortimer
John Brinkley was an English-born astronomer who became Royal Astronomer of Ireland and worked on the parallax of stars.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- There is some confusion concerning John Brinkley's date of birth.
- Brinkley's date of birth of July 1766, which we give above, is a guess based on the following data.
- Brinkley's schooling was for a year with the Rev Mr Dimsdale in his school in Benhall, Suffolk, and for three years he received private tuition by the Rev Mr Black, of Woodbridge, at the Rev Black's home.
- As a sizar, Brinkley would have been charged reduced fees and living costs in exchange for working as a waiter for the other students at meal times and performing other duties.
- During his time as an undergraduate, Brinkley spent two periods at the Royal Greenwich Observatory as an Assistant to the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne.
- Brinkley had two reasons to undertake this work; he gained some observing experience and he earned some money to allow him to return to Cambridge to complete his studies.
- We note that Brinkley wrote the answers to the examination questions although the questions themselves were dictated.
- It was only two years after Brinkley graduated that written questions were produced and 1790 is considered the year that the Mathematical Tripos examinations began in Cambridge.
- Having graduated, Brinkley was one of a small number of students who took a further examination in higher mathematics for the Smith's prize which he was awarded.
- For four years, from 1788 to 1792, Brinkley was a fellow of Caius College, Cambridge.
- Maskelyne had no hesitation in recommending Brinkley although he was only 24 years old.
- John Stack (1760-1813), had entered Trinity College Dublin in 1777, and was made a fellow in 1784.
- Unable to appoint Stack after the veto, the Board had little option but to appoint Brinkley at a meeting on the 11th December 1790.
- When Brinkley took up his roles as professor and Royal Astronomer at Dunsink Observatory, the Observatory was lacking in good equipment for observing.
- When Brinkley was appointed to Dunsink Observatory, the instrument had still not been delivered and, as years went by, it still failed to be delivered.
- The problems with lack of quality instruments at Dunsink Observatory must have been a great frustration to Brinkley but, on the other hand, it led to a number of positive outcomes.
- It allowed Brinkley the opportunity to engage in mathematical research and to influence the reform of the teaching of mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin.
- At the time that Brinkley was appointed as Andrews professor of astronomy, Richard Murray was Professor of Mathematics, a post he held until 1795 when he became Provost.
- As examples of Brinkley's mathematical papers we list the following seven papers (many of which have long descriptive titles): A General Demonstration of the Property of the Circle Discovered by Mr Cotes, Deduced from the Circle Only (1800); A Method of Expressing, When Possible, the Value of One Variable Quantity in Integral Powers of Another and Constant Quantities, Having Given Equations Expressing the Relation of These Variable Quantities.
- In 1813 Brinkley published his textbook The Elements of Astronomy.
- In 1871 John William Stubbs and Francis Brünnow published Brinkley's Astronomy which was a revised and partly rewritten version of Brinkley's original work.
- Once the instrument was installed, Brinkley began the major research of his career, namely his attempts to measure the parallax of stars.
- Other astronomers could not reproduce the results claimed by Brinkley on parallax and a controversy arose which went on for a considerable time.
- It was John Pond (1767-1836), the Astronomer Royal, who argued with Brinkley from 1810 to 1824 about his results.
- Brinkley was wrong and his false results can be attributed to his 8-foot circle.
- The parallax of the stars investigated by Brinkley is too small to be discovered with his equipment.
- As a professor, Brinkley was not well paid so he sought additional funds from the Church.
- When he was appointed as Bishop, it was said in Ireland that "he might thank his stars" for his promotion! It was fitting that after Brinkley resigned his chair and position as Royal Astronomer of Ireland, both positions were filled by William Rowan Hamilton.
- It had been Brinkley who had taught Hamilton mathematics and encouraged him when he was a young boy.
- At that time, there was nobody else except Brinkley at Trinity College who had knowledge of the latest mathematical developments.
- Brinkley attended the meeting held on 12 May 1820 when he explained that he had not come to the founding meeting due to "accidental delay in receiving the original circular." The Astronomical Society became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 when the King signed its new Charter.
- Brinkley, by this time Bishop of Cloyne, was elected as the first President of the Royal Astronomical Society under its new Charter at its meeting on 11 February 1831.
- This appointment was made under the new Charter but the King did not sign the Charter until 7 March 1831 so Brinkley's appointment was not seen as valid.
- By 1833 Brinkley's health was causing him concern.
- We see a little of this from a letter Brinkley sent to Stephen Peter Rigand (1774-1839), a mathematical historian and Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford.
- Brinkley received many honours both for his mathematical work and for his contributions to astronomy.
- Brinkley died at his home on Leeson Street, Dublin, and was buried in Trinity College Dublin chapel.
Born probably July 1766, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. Died 14 September 1835, Dublin, Ireland.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive