1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Herschel, Caroline Lucretia

17304921911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — Herschel, Caroline Lucretia

HERSCHEL, CAROLINE LUCRETIA (1750–1848), English astronomer, sister of Sir William Herschel, the eighth child and fourth daughter of her parents, was born at Hanover on the 16th of March 1750. On account of the prejudices of her mother, who did not desire her to know more than was necessary for being useful in the family, she received, in youth only the first elements of education. After the death of her father in 1767 she obtained permission to learn millinery and dressmaking with a view to earning her bread, but continued to assist her mother in the management of the household until the autumn of 1772, when she joined her brother William, who had established himself as a teacher of music at Bath. At once she became a valuable co-operator with him both in his professional duties and in the astronomical researches to which he had already begun to devote all his spare time. She was the principal singer at his oratorio concerts, and acquired such a reputation as a vocalist that she was offered an engagement for the Birmingham festival, which, however, she declined. When her brother accepted the office of astronomer to George III., she became his constant assistant in his observations, and also executed the laborious calculations which were connected with them. For these services she received from the king in 1787 a salary of £50 a year. Her chief amusement during her leisure hours was sweeping the heavens with a small Newtonian telescope. By this means she detected in 1783 three remarkable nebulae, and during the eleven years 1786–1797 eight comets, five of them with unquestioned priority. In 1797 she presented to the Royal Society an Index to Flamsteed’s observations, together with a catalogue of 561 stars accidentally omitted from the “British Catalogue,” and a list of the errata in that publication. Though she returned to Hanover in 1822 she did not abandon her astronomical studies, and in 1828 she completed the reduction, to January 1800, of 2500 nebulae discovered by her brother. In 1828 the Astronomical Society, to mark their sense of the benefits conferred on science by such a series of laborious exertions, unanimously resolved to present her with their gold medal, and in 1835 elected her an honorary member of the society. In 1846 she received a gold medal from the king of Prussia. She died on the 9th of January 1848.

See The Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel, by Mrs John Herschel (1876).