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William & John Herschel

A small stone in memory of Sir William Herschel, astronomer and musician, was unveiled in the nave of Westminster Abbey on 8th November 1954. The memorial was renewed in cast iron in 1986. The inscription reads:

Coelorum Perrupit Claustra 1738 William Herschel 1822 Alibi Sepultus

The Latin translates as:

He broke through the confines of the heavens. Buried elsewhere.

He lies at St Laurences church, Upton, near Slough, Buckinghamshire.

Nearby is the grave of his son Sir John Frederick William Herschel, mathematician and astronomer. The Latin inscription on the stone can be translated:

John Herschel, of William Herschel the only son by birth, in work and in fame; having explored the Heavens, he rests here near Newton. One generation shall laud thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts Psalm 145. 4-5. He lived 79 years, and died 11 May 1871.

William was born at Hanover in Germany on 15th November 1738, son of Isaac and Anna. Like his father he played in a military band. He settled in England and worked as a musician and organist and became a gifted amateur astronomer and a telescope maker. His sister Caroline assisted him. In 1781 he discovered the planet Uranus. This brought him worldwide recognition and a Fellowship of the Royal Society, and he is known as the father of modern stellar astronomy. He was knighted in 1816. He married widow Mary Pitt in 1788 and their only son, John Frederick William, was born on 7th March 1792. John attended St John's College, Cambridge and was a mathematician, chemist and astronomer. While living in Africa he established the first observatory in the southern hemisphere. He married Margaret Stewart in 1829 and had 3 sons and 9 daughters. Their eldest son, William James, was a judge and developed fingerprinting. As the most eminent scientist in Britain John was accorded burial in the Abbey. A decade later Charles Darwin was buried next to him.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Sir John Frederick William Herschel

Herschel Museum of Astronomy is in the city of Bath

Family portraits can be viewed on the website of the National Portrait Gallery, London

Occupation

Scientist; musician; mathematician; astronomer

Location

Nave

Memorial Type

Grave; stone

William & John Herschel
William Herschel memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

William & John Herschel
John Herschel grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Related commemorations

At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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