Donkin, William Fishburn (DNB00)

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DONKIN, WILLIAM FISHBURN (1814–1869), astronomer, was born at Bishop Burton, Yorkshire, on 15 Feb. 1814. He early showed marked talent for languages, mathematics, and music. He was educated at St. Peter's School, York, and in 1832 entered St. Edmund Hall, Oxford. In 1834 Donkin won a classical scholarship at University College, in 1836 he obtained a double first class in classics and mathematics, and a year later he carried off the mathematical and Johnson mathematical scholarships. He proceeded B.A. 25 May 1836, and M.A. 1839. He was elected as a fellow of University College, and he continued for about six years at St. Edmund Hall in the capacity of mathematical lecturer. During this period he wrote an able ‘Essay on the Theory of the Combination of Observations’ for the Ashmolean Society, and also contributed some excellent papers on Greek music to Dr. Smith's ‘Dictionary of Antiquities.’

In 1842 Donkin was elected Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, in succession to Professor Johnson, a post which he held for the remainder of his life. Soon afterwards he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and also of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1844 he married the third daughter of the Rev. John Hawtrey of Guernsey. Between 1850 and 1860 Donkin contributed several important papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ including one on ‘The Equation of Laplace's Functions,’ and another ‘On a Class of Differential Equations, including those which occur in Dynamical Problems.’ In 1861 he read an important paper to the Royal Astronomical Society on ‘The Secular Acceleration of the Moon's Mean Motion’ (printed in Monthly Notices, R. A. Soc., 1861). Donkin was also a contributor to the ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ his last paper in which, a ‘Note on Certain Statements in Elementary Works concerning the Specific Heat of Gases’ appeared in 1864.

Donkin's acquaintance with practical and theoretical music was very thorough. His work on ‘Acoustics,’ intended to be his opus magnum, was commenced in 1867, and the fragment of it which he completed was published, after his death, in 1870. It is devoted to an inquiry into the vibrations of strings and rods, and gives evidence on every page of the combined musical and mathematical talents of the author.

Donkin's constitution was always delicate, and failing health compelled him to live much abroad during the latter part of his life. He died 15 Nov. 1869. There is a complete list of his papers, sixteen in number, in the ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ published by the Royal Society.

[Monthly Notices, Royal Astron. Society, xxx. 84.]

W. J. H.