Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phelps, Thomas

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PHELPS, THOMAS (fl. 1750), astronomer, was born at Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, in January 1694. In 1718 he was a stableman in the service of Lord-chancellor Thomas Parker (afterwards Earl of Macclesfield) [q. v.], but rose to higher employments through his good conduct and ability. George Parker, second earl of Macclesfield [q. v.], took him into his observatory in 1742, and he was the first in England to detect the great comet of 1743. His observations of it on 23 Dec. were published without his name in the 'Philosophical Transactions' (xliii. 91). A curious engraving, preserved in the council-room of the Royal Astronomical Society, represents Phelps as just about to make an observation with the Shirburn Castle five-foot transit, which John Bartlett, originally a shepherd, prepares to record. The print dates from 1776, when Phelps was 82, Bartlett 54 years of age.

[Scattered Notices of Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, by Mary Frances, Countess of Macclesfield, 1887; Rigaud's Memoirs of Bradley, pp. lxxxiii-iv; Weld's Hist. of the Royal Soc.ii. 3.]

A. M. C.