Tag Archives: John Bevis

Joshua Kirby, F.R.S.

Joshua Kirby was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 26 March 1767. His election card is now, as the Royal Society says on its web page, barely legible, but they do manage a transcription of his citation:

Joshua Kirby of Kew in the County of Surry [sic] Esq. Designer in Perspective to their Majesties, & Author of Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective made easy, &c & of other considerable Improvements in that Science, being very desirous of the honor of Election into the Royal Society; We whose names are underwritten, recommend him on our personal Knowledge, as a Gentleman likely to prove a useful Member

How useful a member he was is unclear, as he seems to have had little to do with the Society, although he did sponsor two Fellows, Andrew Joseph Planta, and John Lodge Cowley. Kirby himself was proposed by:



Andreas Planta

Rev. Andreas Joseph Planta (1717—1773) had an interesting background. His family was prominent in the Grisons region of Switzerland/Italy (depending on your period), tracing their lineage back to the twelfth century, and a family of the same name and locale was also prominent in Imperial Rome. Andreas himself became a pastor in Castasegna, a rare example of an Italian-speaking Protestant parish. After a period as Professor of Mathematics at Erlangen, in 1752 or 1753 he came to London as pastor to the German Reformed Church at Savoy. In 1758 he was also appointed as a part-time assistant librarian at the British Museum and in the 1760s was engaged as a tutor in Italian to Queen Charlotte.  One of the duties of the British Museum staff was to escort visitors around the collection, and in 1765 Planta showed the Museum to the Mozart family, resulting in a gift of manuscripts of several of the young Wolfgang’s works to the collection.

In 1770 Andreas, or Andrew as he went by in England, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, his citation reading,

Andrew Joseph Planta of the British Museum MA, & Minister of the German Reformed Church at the Savoy, a Gentleman of good learning, and well versed in natural knowledge, being desirous of becoming a member of the Royal Society; we recommend him, of our Personal acquaintance, as likely to be a valuable & useful member.

His proposers, several of whom had connections to the British Museum, were:

  • Rev. Gregory Sharpe (1713—1771);
  • Gowin Knight (1713—1772), First Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Henry Baker (1698—1774);
  • Jerome De Salis (1709—1794) (the De Salis family was equally prominent in Grisons);
  • Joseph Ayloffe (1709—1781);
  • Matthew Duane (1707—1785), trustee of the British Museum;
  • Charles Morton (1716—1799), Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Samuel Harper (c. 1732—1803), under-librarian at the British Museum;
  • Mathew Maty (1718—1776), librarian at the British Museum;
  • Richard Penneck (1728—1803), Keeper of the Reading Room at the British Museum;
  • Rev. Henry Putman (1725—1797);
  • Joshua Kirby (1716—1774), and;
  • John Bevis (1695—1771).

Andreas Planta married Margarete Scartazzini Debolziani when a pastor in Castasegna. Of their children, son Joseph in turn became Librarian at the British Museum (and his son Joseph a prominent diplomat), Elizabeth was governess to the notorious Mary Bowes, and Margaret and Frederica were English tutors to the princesses.

John Bevis

John Bevis (1695—1771) was a doctor and astronomer. He was a long-time friend of Edmund Halley, took a keen interest in John Harrison’s development of the chronometer, was a friend of the mathematical instrument maker George Graham and worked closely with Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal.

Bevis went up to Christ Church Oxford in 1712, gaining his BA in 1715 and MA in 1718. He then travelled on the Continent and acquired his medical degree. He practiced as a doctor periodically, but it seems that his real love was astronomy. He was the first person to observe the Crab Nebula and last to see one planet occulting another when he witnessed Venus eclipse Mercury.

He published numerous papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society from 1737 until his death, starting with observations on a comet. He set up a personal observatory at Stoke Newington, outside London and in the late 1730s he had an intense period of observation, filling three folio notebooks with observations in one year. Bevis prepared Halley astronomical tables for publication in the late 1740s, while also working on his gorgeous, but ill-fated, star atlas, the Uranographia. The book had 51 high-quality engraved star charts, each dedicated to a notable personage (the Princess of Wales got Virgo, Nathaniel Bliss, Professor of Geometry at Oxford, got the Triangles). Alas, it was never published as the publisher went bankrupt. Some impression were taken of the plates and a few copies exist. The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City has a fine digital reproduction of their copy. The publisher had taken (expensive) subscriptions in for several years and the fact that nothing came of the project was a sore point for Bevis for the rest of his life.

After the famous Lisbon earthquake, he prepared a compendium on The History and Philosophy of Earthquakes, and in 1759 was one of only two people known to have observed Halley’s Comet on its first predicted return. In the 1760s, he was one of the people asked to do the computations related to the test of Harrison’s chronometer after its trip to Barbados, and in 1765 he was (finally) elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, becoming its foreign secretary the following year. He was appointed to the Royal Society’s committee to plan for the Transit of Venus in 1769, and was a proponent of Captain Cook. He himself observed the transit from Joshua Kirby’s house in Kew with Kirby acting as time-keeper, publishing his observations in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He is said to have died as a result of a fall from his telescope when checking the time after observing a transit.

See also:

Transits of Venus


Ashworth, W.B. “John Bevis and His “Uranographia” (ca. 1750)”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 125 (1) (1981), 52—73.

Wallis, R. “John Bevis, M.D., F.R.S. (1695-1771): Astronomer Loyal”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London
36 (2) (1982), 211—225.