William Henry Smyth (1788 - 1865)

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Death: Died
Occupation: Admiral
Managed by: Anders Jarmund
Last Updated:

About William Henry Smyth

William Henry Smyth (21 January 1788 – 8 September 1865) was an English sailor and astronomer. He was the father of Charles Piazzi Smyth, Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth and General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth. Of his daughters, Henrietta Grace Smyth married Professor Baden Powell and was mother of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, while Georgiana Rosetta Smyth married Sir William Henry Flower.

He was born in Westminster, London. He was the only son of Joseph Smyth and Georgina Caroline Pitt Pilkington, granddaughter of the Irish writer and protégéé of Jonathan Swift, Laetitia Pilkington. His father was a colonial American who lived in East Jersey. He was an English loyalist, however, and after the American Revolution emigrated to England where his son was born.

Smyth joined the Royal Navy and during the Napoleonic wars he served in the Mediterranean, eventually achieving the rank of Admiral. He married Eliza Anne "Annarella" Warington in 1815. During a hydrographic survey in 1817 he met the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi in Palermo, Sicily, and visited his observatory; this sparked his interest in astronomy and in 1825 he retired from the Navy to establish a private observatory in Bedford, England, equipped with a 5.9-inch refractor telescope. He used this instrument to observe a variety of deep sky objects over the course of the 1830s, including double stars, star clusters and nebulae. He published his observations in 1844 in the Cycle of Celestial Objects, which earned him the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1845 and also the presidency of the society. The first volume of this work was on general astronomy, but the second volume became known as the Bedford Catalogue and contained Smyth's observations of 1,604 double stars and nebulae. It served as a standard reference work for many years afterward; no astronomer had previously made as extensive a catalogue of dim objects such as this.

Having completed his observations, Smyth retired to Cardiff in 1839. His observatory was dismantled and the telescope was sold to Dr. John Lee and re-erected in a new observatory of his own design at Hartwell House. Smyth still had the opportunity to use it since his residence at St. John's Lodge in Stone was not far from its new location, and did a large number of additional astronomical observations from 1839 to 1859. The telescope is presently in the Science Museum, London.

Smyth suffered a heart attack in early September, 1865, and at first seemed to recover. On 8 September he showed the planet Jupiter to his young grandson, Arthur Smyth Flower, through a telescope. A few hours later in the early morning of 9 September, at age 78, he died. He was buried in the churchyard at Stone near Aylesbury.

A lunar mare was named Mare Smythii in his honour.

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Admiral William Henry Smyth's Timeline

1788
January 21, 1788
1816
1816
Age 27
1817
August 26, 1817
Age 29
Naples, Campania, Italy
1819
January 3, 1819
Age 30
Napoli, Campania, Repubblica Italiana
1819
Age 30
1824
September 3, 1824
Age 36
1825
November 25, 1825
Age 37
London, UK
1828
1828
Age 39
1865
September 9, 1865
Age 77
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