Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pigott, Nathaniel

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PIGOTT, NATHANIEL (d. 1804), astronomer, born at Whitton, Middlesex, was the son of Ralph Pigott of Whitton by his wife Alethea, daughter of the eighth Viscount Fairfax. He may have been the grandson of Nathaniel Pigott, barrister-at-law (1661–1737), a Roman catholic and intimate friend of Pope, who eulogised him in an epitaph inscribed in the parish church of Twickenham (Cobbett, Memorials of Twickenham, p. 97). The younger Nathaniel Pigott married Anna Mathurina, daughter of Monsieur de Bériol, and spent some years at Caen in Normandy for the education of his children. The Academy of Sciences of Caen chose him a foreign member about 1764, and he observed there, with a Dollond's six-foot achromatic, the partial solar eclipse of 16 Aug. 1765 (Phil. Trans. lvii. 402). His observations of the transit of Venus on 3 June 1769 were transmitted to the Paris Academy of Sciences; his meteorological record at Caen, from 1765 to 1769, to the Royal Society of London, of which body he was elected a fellow on 16 Jan. 1772. He was in friendly relations with Sir William Herschel.

Happening to be in Brussels on his way to Spa in 1772, he undertook, at the request of the government, to determine the geographical positions of the principal towns in the Low Countries. The work occupied five months, and was carried out at his own expense, with the assistance of his son Edward and of his servants. The longitudes were obtained from observations of the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, the latitudes by means of meridian altitudes taken with a Bird's quadrant lent by the Royal Society. Pigott described these operations in a letter to Dr. Maskelyne, dated Louvain, 11 Aug. 1775 (ib. lxvii. 182), and their results were printed at large in the ‘Memoirs of the Brussels Academy of Sciences’ (vol. i. 1777). He was chosen a foreign member of the Brussels Academy on 25 May 1773, and a correspondent of the Paris Academy on 12 June 1776.

Pigott spent part of the summer of 1777 at Lady Widdrington's house, Wickhill, Gloucestershire, of which he determined the longitude, and then took up his residence at Frampton House, Glamorganshire, on his own estate. Here he fitted up an observatory with a transit by Sisson, a six-foot achromatic by Dollond, and several smaller telescopes. He ascertained its latitude, and in 1778–9 discovered some double stars (Phil. Trans. lxxi. 84, 347). In 1783 he sent to the Royal Society an account of a remarkable meteor seen by him while riding across Heworth Common, near York (ib. lxxiv. 457); and observed at the Collège Royal, Louvain, a few days after his arrival from England, the transit of Mercury of 3 May 1786 (ib. lxxvi. 384).

Pigott died abroad in 1804. His son Edward is separately noticed. His second son, Charles Gregory Pigott, assumed the name of Fairfax on succeeding his cousin, Anne Fairfax, in 1793, in the possession of Gilling Castle, Yorkshire; he married in 1794 Mary, sister of Sir Henry Goodricke, and died in 1845.

[Nichols's Herald and Genealogist, vii. 155; Bernoulli's Recueil pour les Astronomies, supplément, cahier iv. 67, vi. 44; Berliner astronomisches Jahrbuch, 1782, p. 146; Notices biographiques et bibliographiques de l'Acad. de Bruxelles, 1887; Conn. des Temps pour l'an 1780, p. 316; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Soc.; Poggendorff's Biogr.-lit. Handwörterbuch; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Wolf's Geschichte der Astronomie, p. 738, where, however, Nathaniel Pigott is confounded with his son.]

A. M. C.