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Thomas Romney Robinson

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Rev. (John) Thomas Romney Robinson, (1792–1882) astronomer and physicist

1792 Born in Dublin son of Thomas Robinson (d. 1810), an artist from Windermere who trained under George Romney, after whom he was named, and Ruth Buck (d. 1826).

1801 The family moved to Belfast. Thomas attended Belfast Academy

1806 He entered Trinity College, Dublin.

1814 Became a fellow of Trinity where he stayed until 1823

1821 he married Elizabeth Isabelle Rambaut (d. 1839)

1823 Accepted the college living of Enniskillen in Co. Fermanagh. Appointed astronomer at Armagh observatory

Soon afterwards took up the living of Carrickmacross.

He re-equipped the observatory with instruments constructed by Thomas Jones of London

1835 Installed an equatorially-mounted reflector, an important early commission for Thomas Grubb of Dublin, who went on to become one of the world's leading telescope builders.

1843-6 Invented the cup-anemometer. The Robinson anemometer was adopted universally as the standard instrument for measuring wind speed.

1843 Married Lucy Jane Edgeworth.

1859 Published the "Volume of Places of 5345 Stars Observed from 1838 to 1854 at the Armagh Observatory", at government expense, which became a standard work of positional astronomy.

1882 Robinson died at the Armagh observatory


1884 Obituary [1]

THE REV. THOMAS ROMNEY ROBINSON, D.D., F.R.S., a son of Mr. Robinson, artist, of Windermere, who settled in Ireland under the patronage of the Bishop of Dromore, was born in Dublin on the 23rd of April, 1792.

He displayed the most promising poetical talents at a very early age, having written a poem to celebrate Romney, the instructor of his father, when but ten years apd eight months old, and a number of other poems which were published in 1806. In January of that year he entered Trinity College, Dublin, of which he was elected a Scholar in 1808, after a strict examination, and a fellow in 1814. For several years he was engaged in lecturing in the University as Deputy-Professor of Natural Philosophy, and in 1830 published a volume entitled “A System of Mechanics for the use of Students in the Dublin University.”

After a residence for nine years in the University, Dr. Robinson accepted from Trinity College the living of Enniskillen, which in 1824 he exchanged for that of Carrickmacross. On the disestablishment of the Irish Church he took a prominent part in the Representative Church Body. Of his ecclesiastical career there is little further to note, except that in 1872 he was nominated a Prebendary of St. Patrick‘s Cathedral, Dublin.

Dr. Robinson is principally known to fame by his connection with the Armagh Observatory. This Observatory was founded in 1793 by Primate Richard Robinson, the first Baron Rokeby in the peerage of Ireland, a descendant of William Robinson, who resided at Whitehall, Kendal, in the reign of Henry VIII.

Dr. Robinson was appointed Director of the Armagh Observatory in 1824, and threw himself into the work of practical astronomy with great zeal and success. The ‘L Armagh Catalogue,” a monument of his assiduity and skill, though not published until 1859, contains many observations of stars between the years 1828 to 1854, of which there are few contemporary observations. In 1862 the Council of the Royal Society awarded to him a Royal Medal for this Catalogue ; for his papers on the Construction of Astronomical Instruments, in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society ; and his paper on Electro-magnets, in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. In divers papers he showed that he profoundly studied the use as well as thc mechanical construction of astronomical instruments, the various errors to which they are liable, and the best methods of discovering and eliminating them ; and he proved himself to be fertile in ingenious suggestions for the improvement of instruments. The duties of the Observatory, and the preparation of the above-mentioned catalogue, did not prevent Dr. Robinson from devoting a large amount of attention to physical research ; as manifested from his papers on the Lifting Power of an Electro-magnet, published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy; on the Stratification of the Electric Discharge ; and other papers on analogous subjects. Subsequently, the mural circle at Armagh having been furnished with a new telescope of 7 inches aperture, one thousand stars of Lalande’s catalogue, nearly all between G. 0 and 7 -5 magnitude, were,rc-observed in 1868-76, and the results have been published in the "Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society,” new series, vol. i. Among his achievements as an astronomer, his determination of the constant of nutation deserves notice, The cup-anemometers, now so extensively used, are an indication of the practical skill and ingenuity by which Dr. Robinson was distinguished.

His latest scientific labour was a redetermination of the constantfi of the cupanemometer. This was accomplished by experiments on an extensive scale, in the dome of Mr. Grubb’s workshops, at Dublin. The results of these labours have been published in the "Philosophical Transactions,” 1878-80. Dr. Robinson was a most genial man ; in the course of his long life he acquired an immense amount of information on scientific subjects; he was a great reader, and his conversational powers were great; he was elected an Honorary Member of this Institution on the 28th of June, 1842, and died on the 28th of February, 1882.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography, ODNB
  • Cambridge Alumni