History

Jeremiah Horrocks

Just by the west door in the nave of Westminster Abbey is a memorial to astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks (1617?-1641). The inscription was set into a plain piece of white marble on the monument to John Conduitt, nephew of Sir Isaac Newton. The inscription includes words of Horrocks himself at the beginning in Latin, which can be roughly translated "Called away to greater things which it is not seemly should be neglected on account of these embellishments", referring to his duties as a clergyman which were his priority. The rest of the words were composed by Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster and the memorial was unveiled in 1874:

"AD MAJORA AVOCATUS QUÆ OB HÆC PARERGA NEGLIGI NON DECUIT". IN MEMORY OF JEREMIAH HORROCKS, CURATE OF HOOLE, IN LANCASHIRE, WHO DIED ON THE 3rd OF JANUARY 1641, IN OR NEAR HIS 22nd YEAR; HAVING IN SO SHORT A LIFE DETECTED THE LONG INEQUALITY IN THE MEAN MOTION OF JUPITER AND SATURN; DISCOVERED THE ORBIT OF THE MOON TO BE AN ELLIPSE; DETERMINED THE MOTION OF THE LUNAR APSE; SUGGESTED THE PHYSICAL CAUSE OF ITS REVOLUTION; AND PREDICTED FROM HIS OWN OBSERVATIONS THE TRANSIT OF VENUS, WHICH WAS SEEN BY HIMSELF AND HIS FRIEND, WILLIAM CRABTREE, ON SUNDAY THE 24th OF NOVEMBER [O.S.] 1639; THIS TABLET, FACING THE MONUMENT OF NEWTON, WAS RAISED AFTER THE LAPSE OF MORE THAN TWO CENTURIES, DECEMBER 9th 1874.

Jeremiah was born at Toxteth Park near Liverpool, son of a farmer, William, and had a brother called Jonas. He left Cambridge University without a degree but was ordained curate at Hoole near Preston. He instructed himself in science and was the first to observe the transit of Venus across the sun by throwing an image of the sun from his telescope onto a screen in a darkened room. Between taking the Sunday services at his church he was able to view it clearly. He was also the first to begin to take a series of tidal observations. Ill health caused him to resign his curacy and he died suddenly on 3 January 1641 and was buried in Toxteth church. He was unmarried. Sir John Herschel called him "the pride and boast of British astronomy".

A photograph of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

© Dean and Chapter of Westminster