William E. Wilson (1851-1908), the Work and Family of a Westmeath Astronomer

5 December 2017

Many members of the Institute of Physics in Ireland will remember the astrophysicist and historian of Irish astronomy, Dr Ian Elliott.

He was working on a biography of William E. Wilson, but sadly died before he could complete it. The biography has now been completed and is published by Charles Mollan with support from the IOP.

The book gives details of the scientific work of Wilson, who was elected FRS and who was awarded an honorary D.Sc. from Dublin University. He built and equipped a fine observatory at Daramona House, Streete, Co. Westmeath and among his accomplishments were the first nearly correct estimate of the heat of the sun; the first photo-electric measurements of the brightness of stars; superb celestial photographs; the first use of cinematography in solar physics; and he was one of the first to suggest that radioactivity might keep the stars shining. As well as covering his scientific work, the book highlights his diary, which gives colourful details of the privileged life of an Irish gentleman, who actually stayed in his estate and treated his tenants fairly.

The book also has a chapter about William’s father, John (1826-1906), who published a controversial book which, among other things, criticised the practice of religious observance at the time (and indeed since).

Wilson was related to the Edgeworth family, and the book includes brief biographies of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), father of Maria, and inventor extraordinary, and Kenneth Edgeworth (1880-1972) who has some claim to have been the first to explain the origins of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud in our solar system.
The book is written to appeal to the general public, and no previous knowledge of astronomy or science is required.

Published as a Memorial to the late Dr Ian Elliott (1936-2015):

William E. Wilson (1851-1908), the Work and Family of a Westmeath Astronomer
by the late Dr Ian Elliott and Dr Charles Mollan
Published by Charles Mollan, 17 Pine Lawn, Blackrock, County Dublin, A94 X956
Typeset, Printed and Bound in Ireland - a sewn, hardback volume
Pages xvi +184; includes a 16-page ‘Wilson Photographic Album’
ISBN 978-1-5272-1226-8; Retail price €30
Special price to IOPI (or IOP) Members €20 if collected from the RDS Library

(or €28 if ordered by post from Charles Mollan)

Further details from: Charles Mollan, 17 Pine Lawn, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, A94 X956; Tel: 01-2896186, 086-8144570; email: charlesmollan@gmail.com