Person: Fallows, Fearon
Fearon Fallows was a mathematician and astronomer who was appointed as the first Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. He arranged for the building of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- John Fallows, born 14 May 1759 in Cockermouth, was a hand-loom weaver.
- Let us note at this point that many of the biographies of Fearon Fallows give his date of birth as 4 July 1789.
- Although a manual worker, John Fallows had a level of education which later allowed him to act as parish clerk at the church in neighbouring Bridekirk.
- John Fallows became parish clerk at the church of St Bridget's in Bridekirk, 3 km north of Cockermouth, where the vicar was Rev Humphrey Archer Hervey (1768-1843).
- John Fallows was proud of the mathematical skills that Fearon was demonstrating and told the Rev Hervey.
- Mr Temple employed Fallows as an assistant but, in 1808, Temple died.
- On the death of Mr Temple, the Rev Edward Stanley, rector of Plumbland, offered the situation to Fearon, who accepted it.
- This was a fortunate introduction for Fallows, as the Rev Mr Stanley, a man of superior character and discernment, soon ascertained the young schoolmaster's worth and high abilities, and laudably exerted himself to promote his advancement.
- The clergy, gentry, and others in the neighbourhood, on hearing of Fearon's great promise, willingly co-operated with the Rev Messrs Hervey and Stanley in getting up a subscription to enable him to go to Cambridge, and in the year 1809 he commenced residence as a student of St John's College, Cambridge.
- Cambridge was a wonderful place for Fallows who was very happy in the academic atmosphere and, after years of basically being self-taught, was delighted to be able to learn from leading mathematicians such as Robert Woodhouse.
- It had been a very close contest between Fallows and Peacock.
- Herschel was elected a fellow of St John's College, Peacock was elected a fellow of Trinity College but there was no fellowship for Fallows; he was very unlucky to have been in competition with Herschel who produced one of the most brilliant mathematical tripos performances of all time.
- Fallows, on the other hand, was happy to compete and, rather than go in a different direction academically from Herschel, he was happy to go towards Herschel's specialist interest of astronomy.
- Fallows spent two years as a lecturer in mathematics at Corpus Christi College before returning to St John's College in 1815 where he was elected to a fellowship.
- A few days later, Herschel wrote to Whittaker that he had encouraged Fallows to examine 'according to the principles of the true faith and on principles of moderate reform (being urged to do so by the violent motive resulting from the will of another)'.
- He had expected opposition to this remodelling from Bland, one of the examiners, but he was overcome when ambushed by both White and Fallows who deserted him under pressure from 'older members' of the University.
- In 1818 Fallows became the moderator (chief examiner) of the mathematical tripos.
- Herschel wrote to both Fallows and Peacock on 26 January concerning the setting up of the Astronomical Society.
- A second meeting was arranged for 29 February when 28 attended; Fallows was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society at this 29 February meeting.
- On 8 June 1820 Fallows was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London.
- It was proposed that an Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope be established which would be "highly conducive to the improvement of astronomy." At a later meeting on 17 February they recommended the appointment of an Astronomer of the Cape "as soon as a proper person can be found." The Cape of Good Hope Royal Observatory was established by an Order in Council of 20 October 1820 and, on 26 October 1820, Fearon Fallows was appointed to the office of Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope.
- It may well have been through the influence of Herschel that Fallows had become interested in astronomy.
- Fallows was now in a position to marry; he could not while holding the fellowship since fellows were not allowed to marry until a change of rules in 1860.
- Fearon and Mary Fallows sailed for South Africa on the ship the Sappho on 4 May 1821 with their maid Sarah Bootle.
- Before leaving England, Fallows had been given precise instructions and he now carried them out.
- In May 1822 Fallows moved to a house near Concordia Gardens bringing with him the wooden observatory.
- That is when Scully took the post as second assistant to Fallows at the salary of £50 per annum.
- From this paper we learn that sometime in 1823, that would be after receiving intimation of the Admiralty's sanction of his appointment, Father Scully told his churchwardens of the post that had been offered to him, with residence in the household of the Rev Mr Fallows.
- However unfortunately it must appear to our fellow Catholics, their clergyman became the victim of slander, and on the 11th July, 1824, when the circumstance was made known to him that he had been, according to report, discovered in a criminal conversation with a female in the service of Mr Fallows, Mr Scully engaged a passage for Europe and sailed so suddenly," that the congregation, not knowing of it, assembled for Mass as usual on the following Sunday.
- Despite Scully's support from the Catholic Church, we cannot believe that Fallows would cause Scully to leave by slandering him.
- In the first place this would be totally out of character for Fallows, and secondly he was in great difficulty carrying out his duties without an assistant.
- Fallows' main first task had been to find a suitable site for the Cape of Good Hope Royal Observatory.
- (Table Mountain is for a great part of the year either covered by cloud or plagued by strong winds.) After extensively scouting around quite afar in all directions Fallows settled on a hill known as Tygerberg, only to change his mind again.
- By this time both Ronald and Fallows were in poor health.
- Mary Fallows was very capable and had learned quickly; in March 1830 she discovered a new comet.
- Despite becoming seriously ill, Fallows refused to give up work and was carried each day in a blanket to the observatory.
- We give three additional biographies of Fallows.
Born 4 July 1788, Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. Died 25 July 1831, Simon's Town, South Africa.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive