Bishop, George (DNB00)

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BISHOP, GEORGE (1785–1861), astronomer, was born at Leicester 21 Aug. 1785. At the age of eighteen he entered a British wine-making business in London, to which he afterwards, as its proprietor, gave such extension that the excise returns were said to exhibit half of all home-made wines as of his manufacture. His scientific career may be said to date from his admission to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1880. The amount and stability of his fortune hy that time permitted the indulgence of tastes hitherto in abeyance. He took lessons in algebra from Professor De Morgan, with a view to reading the ‘Mécanique Céleste,’ and acquired, when near fifty, sufficient mathematical knowledge to enable him to comprehend the scope of its methods. In 1836 he realised a long-cherished desire by erecting an observatory near his residence at South Villa, Regent's Park. No expense was spared in its equipment, and the excellence of the equatorial furnished by Dollond (aperture, seven inches) confirmed his resolve that some higher purpose than mere amusement should be served by the establishment. ‘I am determined,' he said when choosing its site, ‘that this observatory shall do something.' He attained his aim by securing the best observers. The Rev. William Dawes conducted his noted investigations of double stars at South Villa 1839–44; Mr. John Russell Hind began his memorable career there in October of the latter year. From the time that Hencke's detection of Astræa, 8 Dec. 1845, showed a prospect of success in the search for new planets, the resources of Bishop’s observatory were turned in that direction, and with conspicuous results. Between 1847 and 1854 Mr. Hind discovered ten small planets, and Mr. Marth one, making a total of eleven dating from South Villa. The ecliptic charts undertaken by Mr. Hind for the purpose of facilitating the search were continued, after his appointment in 1853 as superintendent of the ‘Nautical Almanac,’ by Pogson, Vogel, Marth, and Talmage successively, under his supervision. They embraced all stars down to the eleventh magnitude inclusive, and extended over a zone of three degrees on each side of the ecliptic. Seventeen of the twenty-four hours were engraved when the observatory was broken up on the death of its owner.

A testimonial was awarded to Bishop by the Astronomical Society, 14 Jan. 1848, ‘for the foundation of an observatory leading to various astronomical discoveries,' and presented, with a warmly commendatory address, by Sir John Herschel, 11 Feb. (Month. Not. R. A. Soc. viii. 105). He acted as secretary to the society 1833–9, as treasurer 1840–57, and was chosen president in two successive years, 1857 and 1858, although the state of his health rendered him unable to take the chair. After a long period of bodily prostration, his mind remaining, however, unclouded, he died 14 June 1861, in his seventy-sixth year. His character, both social and commercial, was of the highest, and his discriminating patronage of science raised him to the front rank of amateurs. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society 9 June 1848, was also a fellow of the Society of Arts, and sat for some years on the council of University College. He published in 1852, in one quarto volume, ‘Astronomical Observations taken at the Observatory, South Villa, Regent's Park, during the years 1839-51,’ including a catalogue of double stars observed by Dawes and Hind, with valuable ‘historical and descriptive notes ’ by the latter, observations of new planets and comets, and of the temporary star discovered by Hind in Ophiuchus 27 April 1848. besides a description of the observatory, &c. After Bishop's death the instruments and dome were removed to the residence of George Bishop, jun., at Twickenham, where the same system of work was pursued.

[Month Not. R. A. Soc. xxii. 104; L’Astronomia Pratique, André et Rayat, i. 95; Ann. Reg. ciii. 402.]

A. M. C.