Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Piddington, Henry

PIDDINGTON, HENRY (1797–1858), meteorologist, second son of James Piddington of Uckfield, was bred in the mercantile marine, apparently in the East India and China trade, and was for some time commander of a ship. About 1830 he retired from the sea, being appointed curator of the Museum of Economic Geology in Calcutta, and sub-secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In 1831 and the following years he published several short geological or mineralogical notes in the ‘Journal’ of the society, and in 1839 began a series of memoirs on the storms of the Indian seas, which was to lead to very positive results. His attention had been forcibly called to the subject while at sea, by the ship he commanded being dismasted in a storm, and saved only by the fortunate veering of the wind; and the publication in 1838 of Colonel (afterwards Sir) William Reid's ‘Law of Storms’ gave him the clue for which he had been seeking [see Reid, Sir William]. He immediately began collecting logs and information from different ship-captains, who, as yet unable to understand his aims, were not always complaisant or even civil. His labours, however, received a semi-official recognition from the government of India, which, on 11 Sept. 1839, issued a formal notice inviting observations on ‘any hurricane, gale, or other storm of more violence than usual.’ ‘A scientific gentleman in Calcutta,’ it continued, ‘has obligingly undertaken to combine all reports that may be so received into a synopsis for exhibition of the results;’ and such reports, marked ‘Storm Report,’ might be sent, post free, to the secretary of the government.

Piddington accumulated a vast amount of detailed information, the discussion of which was from time to time published in the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society.’ In 1844 he collected the results in a small book, little more than a pamphlet, entitled ‘The Horn-book for the Law of Storms for the Indian and China Seas.’ Written by a seaman for seamen, it dealt with the subject in a thoroughly practical way, which won the confidence of the shipping world, and probably obtained for its author the appointment of president of the marine court of inquiry at Calcutta. In 1848 he published ‘The Sailor's Horn-Book for the Law of Storms,’ on essentially the same lines as the preceding pamphlet, but much enlarged, and with fuller details. As a practical manual it had a great and deserved success, ran through six editions, and continued to be, within its limitations, the recognised text-book on the subject for over thirty years. It was in the first edition of this book (1848) that Piddington proposed the word ‘cyclone’ as a name for whirling storms; not, he said, ‘as affirming the circle to be a true one, though the circuit may be complete, yet expressing sufficiently the tendency to circular motion in these meteors’ (p. 8). The name was accepted by meteorologists. Piddington received an appointment as coroner, which he held till his death, at Calcutta, on 7 April 1858, aged 61.

[Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 89; Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1839 pp. 559, 563, 564, 1859 p. 64; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers; British Museum Catalogue.]

J. K. L.