Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rigaud, Stephen Peter

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RIGAUD, STEPHEN PETER (1774–1839), mathematical historian and astronomer, son of Stephen Rigaud, observer to the king at Kew, and his wife Mary Demainbray, was born at Richmond in Surrey on 12 Aug. 1774. He was descended from a French protestant family which fled from France on the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Rigaud was educated at Mr. Delafosse's school at Richmond, and matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, on 14 April 1791. Almost the whole of Rigaud's life was thenceforth spent in Oxford. He owed much to the judicious patronage of his friend Dr. Cyril Jackson, dean of Christ Church. He graduated B.A. on 9 Nov. 1797, and M.A. on 21 Nov. 1799; he had been elected fellow in 1794, and as soon as age permitted was appointed a tutor. He was public examiner in 1801–2, 1804–5, and 1825. He read lectures on experimental philosophy for Dr. Hornsby, the reader in that subject, whom he succeeded on his death in 1810, holding the post for the rest of his life. He was also in 1810 made Savilian professor of geometry. Thereupon he resigned his fellowship and the senior proctorship which he held in that year. On 30 May 1805 he was elected F.R.S., and was vice-president of the Royal Society in 1837–8.

On his father's death in 1814 Rigaud was appointed his successor as observer to the king at Kew, a post held also by his grandfather. He was made delegate of accounts at Oxford in 1824, and of the university press in 1825. In 1827 he succeeded Abraham Robertson [q. v.] as Radcliffe observer and Savilian professor of astronomy, thus vacating the chair of geometry. These posts he held till death. At his recommendation the noble suite of instruments in the Radcliffe observatory was rendered more efficient by the addition of a new transit and circle.

On 8 June 1815 Rigaud married the eldest daughter of Gibbes Walter Jordan, F.R.S., a barrister, and the colonial agent for Barbados. After her death in 1827, a blow from which he never quite recovered, he devoted much of his time to the education of his seven children, the eldest being Stephen Jordan Rigaud [q. v.] He died on 16 March 1839 at the house of his old friend, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, Pall Mall, London, after a short but painful illness. In Exeter College Chapel is a brass monument to Rigaud and his eldest son, and in 1874 a monument to his memory was placed by his surviving children in St. James's, Piccadilly, where he was buried. A silhouette of Rigaud is in the common room at Exeter College.

Arduous in attention to his professional duties, Rigaud was a laborious student, widely read, no mean conversationalist, and a copious correspondent. As an astronomer he was remarkable for his accurate knowledge of the literature and history of the subject. As a mathematical antiquary and bibliographer, he had no rival previous to De Morgan. It is to Rigaud that, in the first instance, we owe much of our information about Newton and the history of his discoveries, and he aided Brewster in his biography (cf. Edinb. Review, Oct. 1843, an article on two of Rigaud's works, probably by De Morgan).

In 1831 he edited in quarto ‘The Miscellaneous Works and Correspondence of Dr. Bradley,’ with a copious memoir, and in 1833 a supplement, including an account of Harriott's astronomical papers. The work was much appreciated on the continent, and the Academy of Sciences of Copenhagen announced in 1832 that the subject of their prize would be the reduction of Bradley's observations for aberration and notation. It was through the instrumentality of Rigaud that William IV caused a monument to be erected to Bradley at Kew.

In 1838 Rigaud published a valuable ‘Historical Essay on the First Publication of Newton's “Principia.”’ This was an admirable exposition of the facts then known, and contained much new and interesting matter about Halley, whose life Rigaud intended to write. The last work on which he was engaged was a publication of ‘The Correspondence of Scientific Men of the Seventeenth Century,’ such as Newton, Barrow, Wallis, Flamsteed, and others. He lived to see only the first volume and the first sheet of the second printed; the whole in two volumes was edited by his son, S. J. Rigaud, in 1841, and re-edited, with an index, by De Morgan in 1862 (Oxford, 8vo). Rigaud copied out all the letters himself. The collection is of great historical interest. Rigaud's valuable papers and letters, which were beautifully arranged, were presented in 1874 to the Savile Library, Oxford, by his sons (Monthly Notices R. A. S. 1875–6, p. 54).

Rigaud published the following papers: 1. ‘On the British MSS. of Pappus's “Mathematicæ Collectiones”’ (‘Edin. Phil. Journ.’ 1822). 2. ‘On Harriott's Papers’ (‘Roy. Instit. Journ.’ 1831). 3. ‘Account of James Stirling’ (Brewster's ‘Journal of Science,’ 2nd ser. vol. v. 1831). 4. ‘On the Discovery of Jupiter's Satellites’ (‘Brit. Ass. Report,’ 1831–2). 5. ‘On the Invention and History of Hadley's Quadrant’ (‘Naut. Mag.’ vols. i–iii. 1831–3). 6. ‘On Harriott's Astronomical Observations in some unpublished Manuscripts’ (‘Roy. Soc. Proc.’ 1832). 7. ‘On a Deposition of Ice on a Stone Wall’ (‘Phil. Mag.’ 1833). 8. ‘An Account of John Hadley and his brothers George and Henry’ (‘Naut. Mag.’ vol. iv. 1834). 9. ‘Some Account of Halley's Astronomiæ Cometicæ Synopsis,’ 1835. 10. ‘On Newton, Whiston, Halley, and Flamsteed’ (‘Phil. Mag.’ 1836). 11. ‘On the Aurora of 18 Nov. 1835’ (‘Phil. Mag.’ 1836). 12. ‘On Pemberton's Translation of Newton's “Principia”’ (‘Phil. Mag.’ 1836). 13. ‘Greenwich Observatory Instruments in Halley's Time’ (‘Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc.’ 1836). 14. ‘On the Rainfall in Different Seasons at Oxford’ (‘Ashmolean Society's Transactions,’ 1835). 15. ‘On the Arenarius of Archimedes’ (ib. 1837). 16. ‘An Account of some early Proposals for Steam Navigation’ (ib. 1838). 17. ‘Captain Savery and his Steam-engine’ (ib. 1839). 18. ‘On the relative Quantities of Land and Water on the Globe’ (‘Cambr. Phil. Soc. Trans.’ 1838). 19. ‘Account of the Radcliffe Observatory, with a notice of the older one used by Bradley’ (ib.) ‘A Defence of the Resolution for omitting Mr. Panizzi's Bibliographical Notes from the Catalogue of the Royal Society’ is ascribed to Rigaud by Sir Anthony Panizzi in his answer, and bears tokens of Rigaud's authorship.

[Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc. xi. 321; Gent. Mag. 1839, i. 542; A Memoir by J. Rigaud, Oxford, 1883 (privately printed), containing much interesting personal detail; Abstracts of the Phil. Trans. 1837–43, p. 175; Abstracts of the Proceedings of the Ashmolean Society; Boase's Reg. Exeter Coll. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), p. 161; Knight's Cyclopædia of Biography; Ball's Essay on Newton's Principia.]

W. F. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.234
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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298 ii 36 Rigaud, Stephen P.: for 1857-8 read 1837-8