Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

2014 Edition
| Editors: Thomas Hockey, Virginia Trimble, Thomas R. Williams, Katherine Bracher, Richard A. Jarrell, Jordan D. MarchéII, JoAnn Palmeri, Daniel W. E. Green

Derham, William

  • Richard Baum
Reference work entry

Born Stoulton, Worcester, England, 26 November 1657

Died Upminster, (London), England, 5 April 1735

William Derham was one of the minor but not insignificant physico-theologians who endeavored to bolster conventional theology by associating it with the scientific interests of the half century or so that followed the founding of the Royal Society in 1660. Educated at Blockley Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford, he was ordained deacon (1681) and priest the following year. As an Anglican clergyman, he served as Vicar of Upminster for the greater part of his life, a living he took up in August 1689. Derham’s first book, The Artificial Clock-Maker, was published in 1696. He was later installed as Canon of Windsor in 1716. A friend of   Isaac Newton and an active fellow of the Royal Society during the latter’s presidency, Derham was acquainted with   Edmond Halley ,   John Pound ,   James Bradley , the naturalist John Ray (whose papers he edited), and others of eminence. He was Boyle Lecturer (1711/1712).

Derham had a passionate interest in the natural sciences, and was a very enthusiastic astronomer. He observed with a large telescope left to the Royal Society by   Christiaan Huygens . In 1700, Derham began a long series of observations of Jupiter. He also studied the Moon and other planets, being among the first to record the so-called ashen light of Venus. He observed lunar eclipses, and on 20 March 1706 described “a Glade of Light” he saw in the heavens, and yet, again, in April 1707 “a Pyramidal Appearance” in the sky at sunset, as he rode home. His ideas about an inhabited Moon are rationalized in his celebrated Astro-Theology(1715), a corollary to the Boyle lectures. This appears to be a continuation of the argument he set out in its companion volume Physico-Theology(1713), namely to reason through science to God.

At Upminster, Derham made a special study of the Sun and his results, published in the Philosophical Transactions, have been cited in modern investigations of the so called Maunder minimum, that period from about 1645 to 1715 when, so the record suggests, sunspot activity went into unusual decline. In addition, Derham regularly contributed papers to the Philosophical Transactions, writing on topics as varied as the migration of birds, botanical observations, the great storm of 1703, the weather, and the barometer. Most of these essays include references to astronomical affairs.

Selected References

  1. Atkinson, A. D. (1952). “William Derham, F. R. S. (1657–1735).” Annals of Science8: 368–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Jacob, Margaret (1976). Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689–1720. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Moseley, James (1979). “Derham’s Astro-Theology.” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society32: 396–400.ADSGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ChesterUK