Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ellicott, John
ELLICOTT, JOHN (1706?–1772), clock-maker and man of science, son of John Ellicott, clockmaker, by Mary, his wife, was born in or about 1706. The elder Ellicott was apprenticed to John Waters 6 Sept. 1687; made free of the Company of Clockmakers 6 July 1696; chosen on the court of assistants of the company 19 Oct. 1726; and elected junior warden 29 Sept. 1731, and renter warden 29 Sept. 1732 (Overall, Cat. of Library and Museum of Company of Clockmakers, p. 100, where the Ellicotts, father, son, and grandson, are confused; Atkins and Overall, Account of the Company of Clockmakers, p. 87). He died in June 1733, in the parish of Allhallows, London. Wall, administration of his goods being granted in P. C. C. on the 25th of that month to his widow, Mary Ellicott. The son, who. carried on business at 17 Sweeting's Alley, Royal Exchange (Kent, London Directory, 1738, p. 27; Baldwin, Guide to London, 1752, p. 151), gained a great reputation for the beauty and excellence of his workmanship, and was appointed clockmaker to George III. Specimens of his art are much prized. He was also a mathematician of considerable ability. In 1736 he submitted to the Royal Society an improved pyrometer, to be again improved upon by Edward Troughton (Nelthropp, Treatise on Watchwork, p. 224). It is figured and described in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' xxxix. 297-9, with which cf. 'Gent. Mag.' xx. 119-22. He was elected F.R.S. 26 Oct. 1738 (Thomson, Hist. of Royal Soc., appendix iv.) The following year he read to the society two papers giving 'An Account of the Influence which two Pendulum Clocks were observed to have upon each other' (Phil. Trans. vol. xli. pt. i. pp. 126, 128), two editions of which were afterwards published separately, 4to. London, n.d. Another interesting contribution was a series of three 'Essays towards, discovering the Laws of Electricity,' read in 1748, and printed in 'Phil. Trans.' xlv. 195, 203, 213; reissued, with the addition of part of a letter from the Abbé Nollet to Martin Folkes (concerning electricity), 4to, London,1748. In June 1752 he communicated an account of his invention of a compensated pendulum in 'A Description of Two Methods by which the Irregularities in the Motion of a Clock, arising from the Influence of Heat and Cold upon the Rod of the Pendulum, may be prevented' (Phil. Trans. xlvii. 479-494; cf. Gent Mag. xxiii. 429-30); reprinted separately, 4to, London, 1753. It is a bad but very scientific-looking pendulum, and 'is still used in small French clocks made to show and to sell, though it has long ago been abandoned in England' (Beckett, Rudimentary Treatise on Clocks and Watches and Bells, 7th edit. pp. 64-5). His other papers are 'On the Specific Gravity of Diamonds' (Phil. Trans. xliii. 468-72; cf. ib. xlv. 433-4, 453), and 'Experiments in order to discover the Height to which Rockets may be made to ascend and to what Distance their Height may be seen' (ib. xlvi. 578-84; cf. Stukeley, Diaries and Letters, Surtees Soc., ii. 374). Some observations by Charles Mason for proving the going of Ellicott's clock at St. Helena, accompanied with remarks by James Short, appeared in the 'Phil. Trans.' for 1762 (lii. 534-42; also Stukeley, loc. cit. iii. 466. Ellicott had made a delineation of the complex line of the moon's motion about the same time as James Ferguson, but he at once acknowledged Ferguson's equal title to the scheme (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 423).
By 1761 he had taken a house at Hackney, where he made observations of the transit of Venus (Gent. Mag. xxxi. 318). He died suddenly at Hackney in 1772, aged 67 (Prohate Act Book, P. C. C., 1772; Bromley, Cat. of Engraved Portraits. p. 401). In his will dated l8 Oct. 1771, and proved at London 26 March 1772, he described himself as 'of the parish of St. John, Hackney, watchmaker,' and desired burial 'in the same vault with my late dear wife' (registered in P. C. C, 91, Tavernor). He left issue two sons, Edward and John, and three unmarried daughters, Deborah, Mary, and Elizabeth. A daughter died at Hackney, aged 50, in May 1790 (Gent. Mag. vol. Ix. pt. i. p. 477). Ellicott was a nonconformist, and he bequeathed 20l. to the pastor (Palmer), and 10l. to the poor of the dissenters' meeting-house in Mare Street, Hackney. A mezzotinto three-quarter length portrait of Ellicott, at the age of sixty-seven, engraved by Robert Dunkarton after Nathaniel Dance, was published in 1772, the year of his death. He is represented sitting. A fine impression, presented to the Clockmakers' Company by his grandson, Edward Ellicott, in 1821, is now at the Guildhall (Overall, loc. cit.) Four of his letters to Dr. Thomas Birch, 1752-16, are preserved in the British Museum, Addit. (Birch) MS. 4305, ff. 139-44; another letter dated 1757 is Addit. MS. 28104, f. 36; see also Addit. MS. 6209, f. 217.
Edward Ellicott, the eldest son, having been admitted to partnership about 1769 (Baldwin, Guide to London, 1770, p. 113), succeeded to his father's business, and was likewise appointed clockmaker to the king (Gent. Mag. xliv. 537, 538). He died in Great Queen Street, London, 3 Feb. 1791 (ib. vol. lxi. pt. i. pp. 187, 277, 379). One of his sons, Edward Ellicott, carried on the business at Sweeting's Alley, and became an active member of his company, being elected junior warden in 1828 and 1829, renter warden in 1830-2, senior warden in 1833, and master in 1834, an office he continued to fill until his death 8 July 1836, at the age of sixty-three (Atkins and Overall, p. 89; Gent. Mag. new ser. vi. 219).
[Authorities as above; Atkins and Overall's Some Account of the Company of Clockmakers, p. 165; Nouvelle Biographie Générale, xv. 892, where French authorities are cited; Wood's Curiosities of Clocks and Watches, pp. 137, 138, 347; Nelthropp's Treatise on Watch-work, pp. 92, 100, 224.]