Charles Piazzi Smyth

1819 (Naples, Italy) – 1900 (Ripon, England)

Smyth’s reputation as an innovative astronomer and meteorologist has tended to be obscured by his eccentric obsession with the Pyramids and with the British as the lost tribe of Israel. Piazzi (whose name he took) was his godfather and a significant early influence. As a young man he worked alongside Herschel in South Africa; Herschel’s opposition to metric measurement contributed to Smyth’s farfetched belief in the inch’s Egyptian ancestry. The famous engineer Stephenson lent him his yacht, accompanying him on an important trip to Tenerife. Draper and Abbe were both correspondents.

Charles Piazzi Smyth knew…

Cleveland Abbe

1838 (New York) – 1916 (Chevy Chase, Md.)

The modest Abbe did much to put meteorology on a proper scientific footing, helped establish the system of international time-zones, and was the first to issue systematic weather-forecasts in the U.S. (Britain and France having pioneered the idea). A paper of Ferrel’s inspired him: he later recruited Ferrel, whom he greatly admired, into the nascent national weather bureau. Henry discussed meteorological theory with him: the two were present at Bell’s presentation of his invention, the telephone. Abbe welcomed Bjerknes, something of a competitor, to the U.S. The Wrights, Draper and Piazzi Smyth were all correspondents.

Cleveland Abbe knew…

John Dalton

1766 (Eaglesfield, England) – 1844 (Manchester)

Gough taught Dalton, and Owen was a close friend in Manchester (possibly also lodging together). Davy described him as “a very coarse experimenter”, who in fact had a knack for getting the imaginative reasoning right (Davy opposed his theory for 50 years; Dalton merely objected that Davy didn’t smoke). Whewell, Wollaston (a speedy supporter of his ideas), Brewster and Babbage (who was outraged that one so eminent was still forced to teach in his 70’s) all knew him in London, a place he avoided if possible; Berthollet, Laplace, Arago and other French scientists were met on his sole visit to Paris.

Francis Galton

1822 (Birmingham, England) – 1911 (Haslemere)

A notable scientific polymath, Galton was Darwin’s cousin; they corresponded enthusiastically, intrigued by each other’s researches — Galton’s invention of the field of statistical analysis can be said to have had its roots in Darwin’s work. De Candolle was also an influential correspondent, forcing him to reformulate the nature/nurture debate; other correspondents included Wallace (a friend), Stokes, Rayleigh and Maxwell. Herschel taught him the use of an instrument of his own devising; the young Cattell worked alongside him. Hooker, Spencer and Bentham were all friends, while the statistically-minded Nightingale mooted a professorship with him.

Robert FitzRoy

1805 (Ampton, England) – 1865 (London)

Beaufort, an older friend, intervened to have FitzRoy re-appointed as captain of HMS Beagle. FitzRoy (mid-twenties) and Darwin (younger still) spent nearly five years voyaging together, Darwin’s nominal role being as a scientifically-minded ‘gentleman’s companion’ to FitzRoy. Lyell asked FitzRoy to look out for erratic boulders; FitzRoy gave Darwin Lyell’s influential book to read. Darwin and FitzRoy stayed friends for twenty years after the voyage, FitzRoy regularly visiting Darwin; however publication of ‘The Origin of Species’ proved several steps too far for FitzRoy, who felt his strong Christian beliefs betrayed. He was a vocal supporter of Māori land rights.

Robert FitzRoy knew…

Daniel Draper

1841 (New York, N.Y.) – 1931 (?New York)

Abbe, Bell, Tyndall, Cattell, Eiffel and Piazzi Smyth were all scientific correspondents of Draper’s. He assisted his father John W. Draper with lectures at New York University, and was involved in the establishment of his brother Henry’s astronomical observatory.