Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Webb, Thomas William

WEBB, THOMAS WILLIAM (1806–1885), astronomer, born at Ross in Herefordshire, on 14 Dec. 1806, was the only son of John Webb (1776–1869) [q. v.] He matriculated from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 8 March 1826, graduated B.A. in 1829 with mathematical honours, and M.A. in 1832. In 1830 he was ordained deacon at Hereford, and licensed to the curacy of Pencoyd. He was admitted to priest's orders in the following year by George Isaac Huntingford, bishop of Hereford. After twenty-five years of diligent though unostentatious labour in this and other parishes (including a lengthy term as precentor and minor canon of Gloucester Cathedral), he was presented in 1856 to the scattered living of Hardwick, Herefordshire, which he filled with the utmost conscientiousness until his death on 19 May 1885. He was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and had a profound and accurate knowledge, practical and theoretical, of astronomy and optics. From an early age Webb took a deep interest in the former science, and as far back as 1825 was making useful observations, precursors of a long, painstaking, and most accurate series. His first telescope was a 4-inch fluid achromatic, after which he observed in succession with a 37/10-inch Tulley, a 5½-inch Alvan Clark, and a 91/3-inch With reflector. In 1859 he issued ‘Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes’ (London, 16mo), a work which reached its fifth edition in 1899, and has done more than any other to advance the cause of amateur observation. Besides this book Webb published ‘Optics without Mathematics’ (London, 1883, 8vo), ‘The Sun’ (London, 1885, 12mo), and a little work on ‘Chrismas and Easter Carols.’ He also contributed largely to such publications as ‘The Student,’ ‘The Intellectual Observer,’ ‘The London Review,’ ‘Nature,’ ‘Knowledge,’ ‘The Argonaut,’ and ‘The English Mechanic.’ He ‘edited and completed’ his father's ‘Memorials of the Civil War’ (London, 1879, 2 vols.). Webb was an observer of great ability. He took a special interest in the study of the moon, was a member of the moon committee of the British Association, and an active supporter of the now defunct Selenographical Society. After his father's death he finished editing the ‘Military Memoirs of Colonel John Birch,’ for the Camden Society, and in 1879 published a new and enlarged edition of John Webb's ‘Civil War in Herefordshire.’ In 1882 he became prebendary of Hereford Cathedral. On the death of Sir Henry Webb, seventh baronet, of Odstock, Wiltshire, he succeeded in 1874 as head of that family. He died on 19 May 1885, and was buried beside his wife Henrietta (d. 1884), daughter of Arthur Wyatt of Troy House, Monmouth, in the cemetery of Mitchel Troy. He bequeathed the family estate in Herefordshire to his cousin, J. G. H. Webb, and left a sum of over 20,000l. to Herefordshire charities.

There is a watercolour portrait of Webb in the possession of F. E. Webb, esq., at 113 Maida Vale, London, and a good portrait is prefixed to the fifth edition of ‘Celestial Objects.’ By his will he bequeathed certain pictures and articles of plate to the trustees of the South Kensington Museum.

[Memoir in the Monthly Notices of the R.A.S.; Nature; Mee's Observational Astronomy; and the biographical note prefixed by the Rev. T. E. Espin to the fifth edition of Celestial Objects; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Works in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Burke's Landed Gentry. A detailed memoir is in preparation from the pen of Mr. S. Maitland Baird Gemmill.]

A. M.-e.