Charles Piazzi Smyth
Uncle of
Baden-Powell

Charles Piazzi Smyth


Admiral Smyth (B-P's maternal grandfather) and his wife, Annarella, named one of their sons Piazzi in honor of the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Piazzi (1746-1826). Charles Piazzi Smyth was to become Astronomer Royal of Scotland. For an in-depth review of his career and contributions, see the Report of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society published following his death in 1900.


From the 11th Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910-1911:

SMYTH, CHARLES PIAZZI (1819-1900), British astronomer, was born at Naples on the 3rd of January 1819. He was called Piazzi after his godfather, the Italian astronomer of that name, whose acquaintance his father, Admiral Smyth, had made at Palermo when on the Mediterranean station. His father subsequently settled at Bedford and equipped there an observatory, at which Piazzi Smyth received his first lessons in astronomy. At the age of sixteen he went out as assistant to Sir Thomas Maclear at the Cape of Good Hope, where he observed Halley's comet and the great comet of 1843, and took an active part in the verification and extension of La Caille's arc of the meridian. In 1845 he was appointed astronomer royal for Scotland and professor of astronomy in the university of Edinburgh. Here he completed the reduction, and continued the series, of the observations made by his predecessor, Thomas Henderson (see Edinburgh Observations, vols. xi.-xv.). In 1856 he made experimental observations on the Peak of Teneriffe with a view to testing the astronomical advantages of a mountain station. The Admiralty made him a grant of £500 for the purpose, and a yacht—the "Titania"—of 140 tons and a fine 74 in. equatorial telescope were placed at his disposal by friends. The upshot of the expedition was to verify Newton's surmise, that a "most serene and quiet air . . . may perhaps be found on the tops of the highest mountains above the grosser clouds." The scientific results were detailed in a Report addressed to the lords commissioners of the admiralty, 1858, in a communication to the Royal Society (Phil. Trails. cxlviii. 465) and in the Edinburgh Observations, vol. xii. A popular account of the voyage is contained in Teneriffe, An Astronomer's Experiment, 1858. In 1871-1872 Piazzi Smyth investigated the spectra of the aurora, and zodiacal light. He recommended the use of the "rainband" for weather prediction (Jour. Scottish Meteor. Society, v. S4), and discovered, in conjunction with Professor A. S. Herschel, the harmonic relation between the rays emitted by carbon monoxide. In 1877-1878 be constructed at Lisbon a map of the solar≠spectrum (Edin. Phil. Trails. xxix. 285), for which he received the Macdougall-Brisbane prize in 1880. Further spectroscopic researches were carried out by him at Madeira in 1880 (Madeira Spectroscopic, 1882), and at Winchester in 1884 (Edin. Phil. Trans. vol. xxxii. pt. ii.). He published besides Three Cities in Russia (1862), Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid (1864), Life and Work at the Great Pyramid (1867), and a volume On the Antiquity of Intellectual Man (1868).  In 1888 he resigned his official position and retired to the neighbourhood of Ripon, where he died on the 21st of February 1900.

From the 11th Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910-1911


  In February, 1901, the Royal Astronomical Society published an in depth biographical sketch and memorial of the life of Charles Piazzi Smyth as part of the Report of the Council of the Eighty-First General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society.
  In 1865 Charles Piazzi Smyth traveled to Egypt to produce accurate measurements of the Great Pyramid. The photographs he took inside the Great Pyramid are amongst the earliest known. The Plates reproduced here are from an original 1877 copy of Smyth's Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid. Plate Index.
 

Small Coincidences. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie is known as a pioneer in the field of archaeology and Egyptology. In his autobiography, Seventy Years in Archaeology, he wrote of an interesting connection between the Petrie, Smyth and Baden-Powell families and of the influence of Piazzi Smyth's work on his career.

  The website of St. John's Church, Sharow provides a photo and the story of the unusual tombstone marking the last resting place of Charles Piazzi Smyth and his wife Jessica "Jessie" Piazzi Smyth.  It also presents a photo of the Piazzi Smyth home, "Clova" at Ripon as well as some interesting details of Piazzi Smyth's life.
  The Bedford School attended by Charles Piazzi Smyth and his two brothers, Warington Wilkerson Smyth and Henry Augustus Smyth, now hosts the Piazzi Smyth Observatory named in commemoration of one of its most famous alumni. The Bedford Astronomical Society also recalls the honor received by both Piazzi Smyth and his father, the pioneering astronomer, Admiral William Henry Smyth as they both had lunar features named for them providing the school and these historical astronomers with a "Lunar Legacy."
  The Smithsonian Institutions exhibit on "Voyages of the Mind" featured Piazzi Smyth's early work on improved results from higher altitude observatories reported in The Teneriffe Astronomical Experiment of 1856 in the Smithsonian Library Collection.
 

A short biography of "the brilliant but eccentric" Charles Piazzi Smyth is found in the website of The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh and the City Observatory Edinburgh.

  While in Cape Town, Charles Piazzi Smyth established a reputation for astronomical drawing and an early use of the medium of photography. In 1846, the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society reported on his early progress.
  Some background on Charles Piazzi Smyth's early days is found in a review of Brian Warner, Charles Piazzi Smyth, astronomer-artist: his Cape years 1835-1845 from an article from the Canberra Astronomical Society's journal, "The Southern Cross."
  The firing of a gun at one o'clock every day started as a means of giving the sailing ships in Leith Harbour an accurate time check to assist them their navigation. 
Giuseppe Piazzi   For background and biography of Admiral Smyth's friend and Piazzi Smyth's godfather, see the article in Wikipedia on Giuseppe Piazzi. Piazzi was a monk, a mathematician and an astronomer.  He is credited with the discovery of Ceres, the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links starting with the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. These links are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P's brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell, to members of his extended family, and to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.

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