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Horrocks, Jeremiah

1. Dates
Born: Toxteth, near Liverpool, 1619 Some sources say 1618, on the basis of information (which is not conclusive) that Horrocks had passed his twenty-second birthday.
Died: Toxteth, 3 Jan. 1641
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 22
2. Father
Occupation: Peasant/Small Farmer
The father was a small farmer.
Horrocks went to Cambridge as a sizar. He was impoverished all of his brief life. I think we have to say that the father was poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge
Cambridge University, Emmanuel College, 1632-5; no degree.
By his own testimony Horrocks found no instruction in mathematics at Cambridge, and had to teach himself.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
The connection with Emmanuel certainly suggests a Puritan.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy
Horrocks managed to obtain a small telescope. His observations convinced him that Lansberg's tables were incorrect. He accepted Kepler's elliptical orbits, and in working on the moon he applied an elliptical orbit to it and established that the line of apsides precessed, an effect which he ascribed to the influence of the sun.
Horrocks predicted and observed a transit of Venus in 1639, the first one ever observed, and from the observation he corrected the solar parallax, indicating a much greater distance of the sun than anyone before him had admitted.
He developed a celestial dynamics, related to Kepler's but not identical to it, which employed concepts from terrestrial dynamics.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Probably he held a curacy in Hoole, 1639-40. This information, itself uncertain, is all we known about his life after he left Cambridge.
8. Patronage
Type: None
No evidence has been found. It is probable that the curacy in Hoole involved patronage, but we know nothing about it.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
Apparently Horrocks made his own telescope, and he developed projection techniques that enabled him to view the sun.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: intimate friendship and correspondence with William Crabtree.
  1. S.B. Gaythorpe, "Horrocks' Observations of the Transit of Venus, 1639 November 24 (O.S.)," Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 47 (1936-7), 60-8; 64 (1953-4), 309-15.
  2. Rigaud, Correspondence of Scientific Men of the 17th Century, the letters of Wallis, Flamsteed and Newton on Horrocks, 2, 108-20, 338.
  3. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 9, 1267-9. Allan Chapman, Three North Country Astronomers, (Manchester, 1982). V. Barocas, "Jeremiah Horrocks (1619-1641)," Journal of the Britian Astronomical Association, 79 (1968-9), 223-6.
  4. H.C. Plummer, "Jeremiah Horrocks and his Opera posthuma," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 3 (1940-1), 39-52.
  5. W.F. Spaulding, "A Country Curate," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 12 (1971), 179-82.
  6. E.C. Watson, "An Interesting Tercentenary," Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 51 (1939), 305-14.
  7. Mostly a long quotation from Horrocks' Venus in sole visa.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. A.B. Whatton, "Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Reverend Jeremiah Horrocks," in Horrocks, Transit of Venus across the Sun, tr. Arundell B. Whatton, (London, 1859).
  2. S.B. Gaythorpe, "Jeremiah Horrocks: Date of Birth, Parentage and Family Associations," Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 106 (1954), 23-33.
  3. Allan Chapman, "Jeremiah Horrocks, the Transit of Venus, and the "New Astronomy" in Early 17th-Century England," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 31 (1990), 333- 57.
  4. There is extremely little information about Horrocks' life, and I wasted my time in reading all of these accounts which repeat the same meager budget from each other. If you can get hold of Chapman, Three North Country Astronomers, it is by far the best.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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