Wrottesley, John (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wrottesley, John

by Edward Irving Carlyle
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle Sir John Wrottesley (1771–1841).

WROTTESLEY, Sir JOHN, second Baron Wrottesley (1798–1867), was born at Wrottesley Hall in Staffordshire on 5 Aug. 1798.

His father, Sir John Wrottesley, first Baron Wrottesley (1771–1841), born on 4 Oct. 1771, was the eldest son of Major-general Sir John Wrottesley, bart. (1744–1787), by his wife Frances (d. 1828), daughter of Sir William Courtenay, first viscount Courtenay (d. 1762). He was a descendant of Sir Walter Wrottesley [q. v.], was admitted to Westminster school on 31 Jan. 1782, and served in Holland and France during the revolutionary war as an officer in the 13th lancers. On 2 March 1799 he was returned to parliament for Lichfield in the whig interest. He was re-elected in 1802, but in 1806 was defeated. On 23 July 1823 he was returned for Staffordshire, and after the passage of the Reform Act in 1832 he continued to sit for the southern division of the county until 1837, when, his seat begin endangered by the decline of the whig interest, he was advanced to the House of Lords on 11 July 1838 with the title of Baron Wrottesley of Wrottesley. He was a good practical farmer, and his lands at Wrottesley were furnished with the latest improvements in agricultural machinery. While in parliament he procured the exemption of draining tiles from duty. He died at Wrottesley on 16 March 1841, and was buried in the ancestral vault at Tettenhall church on 24 March. He was twice married: first, on 23 Jan. 1795, to Caroline, eldest daughter of Charles Bennet, fourth earl of Tankerville. By her he had five sons and three daughters. She died on 7 March 1818, and he married, secondly, on 19 May 1819, Julia (d. 29 Sept. 1860), daughter of John Conyers of Copt Hall, Essex, and widow of Captain John Astley Bennet, R.N., brother of Wrottesley's first wife. By her he had no issue (Gent. Mag. 1841, i. 650; Greville, Memoirs, 1888, iii. 9, 13).

His eldest son, John, was admitted to Westminster school on 22 Jan. 1810. He left in 1814, and matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 15 May 1816, graduating B.A. in 1819 and M.A. in 1823. He entered Lincoln's Inn on 19 Nov. 1819, and was called to the bar in 1823. He joined the committee of the Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge, of which he continued a member until his death. While practising as an equity lawyer he settled at Blackheath, where between 1829 and 1831 he built and fitted up an astronomical observatory. He especially devoted himself to observing the positions of certain fixed stars of the sixth and seventh magnitudes. He took ten observations of each star, a task which occupied him from 9 May 1831 till 1 July 1835. In 1836 he presented his ‘Catalogue of the Right Ascensions of 1318 Stars’ to the Royal Astronomical Society, which he had assisted to found in 1820, and of which he was secretary from 1831 to 1841, and president from 1841 to 1843. The society printed the ‘Catalogue’ in their ‘Memoirs’ in 1838, and presented Wrottesley with their gold medal on 8 Feb. 1839. On 29 April 1841 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

After his father's death in 1841 Wrottesley transferred his observatory to Wrottesley, and provided it with an equatorial of 129 inches focal length by 73/4 inches aperture. In 1842 and 1854 he issued two supplementary catalogues of stars (Memoirs of the Royal Astron. Soc. vols. xii. and xxiii.). In 1851 he published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of the Royal Society a paper ‘On the Results of Periodical Observations of nineteen Stars favourably situated for the Investigation of Parallax,’ and in 1861 in the ‘Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society’ a ‘Catalogue of the Positions and Distances of 398 Double Stars’ (vol. xxix.).

Wrottesley served on several royal commissions of a scientific nature, and was one of the original poor-law commissioners, publishing in 1834, in conjunction with Charles Hay Cameron [q. v.] and John Welsford Cowell, ‘Two Reports on the Poor Laws’ (London, 8vo). In 1853 he called attention in the House of Lords to Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury's scheme of meteorological observations and discoveries, and advocated the policy of encouraging merchant captains to keep meteorological records of winds and currents during their voyages, a project which has since been extensively adopted by the board of trade. Wrottesley's speech on this subject was published (London, 8vo). In November 1854 he succeeded William Parsons, third earl of Rosse [q. v.], as president of the Royal Society, a post which he resigned in 1857. In 1860 he was elected president of the British Association, and on 2 July received the degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He died at Wrottesley on 27 Oct. 1867. On 28 July 1821 he married Sophia Elizabeth (d. 13 Jan. 1880), third daughter of Thomas Giffard of Chillington in Staffordshire. By her he had five sons and two daughters. His two youngest sons—Henry and Cameron—fell in action. He was succeeded by his eldest son Arthur, third baron Wrottesley.

Besides the ‘Catalogues’ already mentioned, Wrottesley was the author of: 1. ‘Thoughts on Government and Legislation,’ London, 1859, 8vo; German translation, by G. F. Stedefeld, Berlin, 1869, 8vo. 2. ‘An Address on the Recent Application of the Spectrum Analysis to Astronomical Phenomena,’ Wolverhampton, 1865, 8vo. He compiled a treatise on navigation for the ‘Library of Useful Knowledge,’ issued under the auspices of the Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge in the series on ‘Natural Philosophy’ (1854, vol. iii.). He also contributed many papers to the ‘Memoirs’ and ‘Monthly Notices’ of the Royal Astronomical Society, and furnished a paper ‘On the Application of the Calculus of Probabilities to the Results of Measurements of the Positions and Distances of Double Stars’ in the ‘Proceedings’ of the Royal Society (1859).

[Monthly Notices of the Royal Astron. Soc. 1868, xxviii. 64–8; Proceedings of the Royal Soc. 1867–8, vol. xvi. pp. lxiii–lxiv; Gent. Mag. 1867, ii. 820; Burke's Peerage; Simms's Bibliotheca Stafford. 1894; Welch's Alumni Westmonast. 1852; Barker's and Stenning's Westminster School Reg. 1892; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Official Return of Members of Parliament; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Stedefeld's Ueber die naturalistische Auffassung der Engländer vom Staat und vom Christenthum, Berlin, 1869; Records of Lincoln's Inn, 1896, ii. 85.]

E. I. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.286
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
167 i 4 f.e. Wrottesley, Sir John, 2nd Baron Wrottesley: for was defeated read retired before the poll
3 f.e.  for 1825 read 1823
ii 1-3  for his seat being endangered ... the whig interest, read he was defeated at the poll;