Lawson, Henry (DNB00)

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LAWSON, HENRY (1774–1855), astronomer, was the second son of Johnson Lawson, dean of Battle in Sussex, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Wright of Bath. He was born at Greenwich on 23 March 1774, was a pupil of Dr. Burney, and entered as an apprentice the optical establishment of his stepfather, Edward Nairne [q. v.] of Cornhill. He, however, never engaged in business, but devoted himself to private scientific study. He lived with his mother until her death in 1823, when he married Amelia, daughter of Thomas Jennings, vicar of St. Peter's, Hereford. Fixing his residence in that town, he equipped an observatory with a five-foot refractor in 1826, and with one of eleven feet in 1834, considered by Dollond the finest telescope he had ever made. He observed there an occultation of Saturn on 8 May 1832 (Monthly Notices, ii. 111), Galle's first comet in December 1839 and January 1840 (ib. v. 9), and recorded the falling stars of 12-13 Nov. 1841 (ib. p. 173). A relative having left him a fortune, he removed to Bath in 1841, and mounted his instruments on the roof of his house at No. 7 Lansdowne Crescent. He published in 1844 a paper 'On the Arrangement of an Observatory for Practical Astronomy and Meteorology, and in 1847 a brief 'History of the New Planets.' The Society of Arts, of which he was a member, voted him a silver medal for the invention of an observing-chair called 'Reclinea.' and awarded him a prize for a new thermometer-stand, described before the British Association in 1845 (Report, ii. 17). He made communications to the same body in 1846 and 1847 on solar telescopic work (ib. ii. 9), and published in 1853 accounts of a 'lifting apparatus' for invalids, and of a 'surgical transferrer,' both contrived by himself. Lawson offered in December 1851 the whole of his astronomical apparatus, with a thousand guineas, to the town of Nottingham, on condition of money enough being raised to build an observatory and endow it with 200l. a year; but the plan failed of realisation through disputes about the valuation of the instruments. His eleven-foot telescope was later presented to the Royal Naval School at Greenwich, that of five feet to Mr. W. G. Lettsom, and his meteorological appliances to Mr. E. J. Lowe of Beeston, Nottinghamshire. Lawson devoted much time to promoting the scientific pursuits of young people, and dispensed liberal and unostentatious charity. He died at Bath in his eighty-second year, a few weeks after his wife, on 22 Aug. 1855, and was buried at Weston. The last of his family, he bequeathed to Miss Agnes Strickland several relics of his probable ancestress, Catherine Parr, which had been handed down as heirlooms for nearly two centuries (Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, iii. 295, ed. 1851). Lawson became a member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1833, of the Royal Society in 1840, and of the British Meteorological Society in 1850, and left to each of these bodies a sum of 200l. His large fortune was divided by will among 139 persons, besides charitable institutions.

[Monthly Notices, Roy. Astr. Society, xvi. 86; Ann. Reg. 1856, p. 226.]

A. M. C.