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NATHANIEL   PIGOTT   (1725-1804)
EDWARD   PIGOTT   (1753-1825)


Nathaniel Pigott and his son Edward Pigott were noted observers of the late eighteenth century. They lived in several places, including in England, France and Wales. They observed astronomical phenomena such as eclipses, a transit of Venus and comets. Edward Pigott is remembered as the discoverer of variable stars, including Eta Aquilae (in 1784, when fewer than a dozen variable stars were known), R Scuti and R Coronae Borealis (in 1795).

They find a place in our survey of Welsh astronomy because they settled for several years in the 1770's at Frampton House, a few miles north of Llantwit Major (Llanilltud Fawr) in the Vale of Glamorgan. At his estate at Frampton, Nathaniel Pigott erected an observatory with a a six-foot focal-length achromatic refractor, a transit circle and a number of other telescopes. He discovered some double stars there.

Accounts in the Dictionary of National Biography

Biographical articles appeared in the Dictionary of National Biography, the extensive multi-volume encyclopaedia of the lives of people from Britain produced at the end of the nineteenth century. Both articles were written by the amateur astronomer and historian of science Agnes M. Clerke (A.M.C.). They appeared in Volume XLV, pages 283 and 284, of the Dictionary, which was edited by Sir Sydney Lee and published by Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1896.

The article about Nathaniel Pigott (page 284) reads:

PIGOTT, NATHANIEL (d. 1804), astronomer, born at Whitton, Middlesex, was the son of Ralph Pigott of Whitton by his wife Alethea, daughter of the eighth Viscount Fairfax. He may have been the grandson of Nathaniel Pigott, barrister-at-law (1661-1737), a Roman catholic and intimate friend of Pope, who eulogised him in an epitaph inscribed in the parish church of Twickenham (COBBETT, Memorials of Twickenham, p. 97). The younger Nathaniel Pigott married Anna Mathurina, daughter of Monsieur de Bériol, and spent some years at Caen in Normandy for the education of his children. The Academy of Sciences of Caen chose him a foreign member about 1764, and he observed there, with Dollond's six-foot achromatic, the partial solar eclipse of 16 Aug. 1765 (Phil. Trans. lvii. 402). His observations of the transit of Venus on 3 Jun 1769 were transmitted to the Paris Academy of Sciences; his meteorological record at Caen, from 1765 to 1769, to the Royal Society of London, of which body he was elected a fellow on 16 Jan. 1772. He was in friendly relations with Sir William Herschel.

Happening to be in Brussels on his way to Spa in 1772, he undertook, at the request of the government, to determine the geographical positions of the principal towns of the Low Countries. The work occupied five months, and was carried out at his own expense, with the assistance of his son Edward and of his servants. The longitudes were obtained from observations of the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, the latitudes by means of meridian altitudes taken with a Bird's quadrant lent by the Royal Society. Pigott described these operations in a letter to Dr Maskelyne, dated Louvain, 11 Aug. 1775 (ib. lxvii. 182), and their results were printed at large in the `Memoirs of the Brussels Academy of Sciences' (vol. i. 1777). He was chosen a foreign member of the Brussels Academy on 25 May 1773, and a correspondent of the Paris Academy on 12 June 1776.

Pigott spent part of the summer of 1777 at Lady Widdrington's house, Wickhill, Gloucestershire, of which he determined the longitude, and then took up his residence at Frampton House, Glamorganshire, on his own estate. Here he fitted up an observatory with a transit by Sisson, a six-foot achromatic by Dollond, and several smaller telescopes. He ascertained its latitude, and in 1778-9 discovered some double stars (Phil. Trans. lxxi. 84, 347). In 1783 he sent to the Royal Society an account of a remarkable meteor seen by him while riding across Hewit Common, near York (ib. lxxiv. 457); and observed at the Collège Royal, Louvain, a few days after his arrival from England, the transit of Mercury of 3 May 1786 (ib. lxxvi. 384).

Pigott died abroad in 1804. His son Edward is separately noticed. His second son, Charles Gregory Pigott, asssumed the name Fairfax on succeeding his cousin, Anne Fairfax, in 1793, in the possession of Gilling Castle, Yorkshire; he married in 1794 Mary, sister of Sir Henry Goodricke, and died in 1845.

(Nichols's Herald and Genealogist, vii. 155; Bernoulli's Recueil pour les Astronomes, supplément, cahier iv. 67, vi. 44; Berliner astronomisches Jahrbuch, 1782, p. 146; Notices biographiques et bibliographiques de l'Acad. de Bruxelles, 1887; Conn. des Temps pour l'an 1780, p. 316; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Soc.; Poggendorffs Biogr.-lit. Handwörterbuch; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Wolf's Geschichte der Astronomie, p. 738, where, however, Nathaniel Pigott is confounded with his son.)


The article about Edward Pigott (page 284) reads:

PIGOTT, EDWARD (fl. 1767-1807), astronomer, was the son, probably the eldest son, of Nathaniel Pigott (q.v.) of Whitton, Middlesex. The phenomena of Jupiter's satellites were observed by him with a view to longitude-determinations from 1768; and he watched, at a station near Caen, the transit of Venus of 3 June 1769. He aided his father's geodetical operations in Flanders in 1772, and surveyed the country near the mouth of the Severn in 1778-9 (Phil. Trans. lxxx. 385). On 23 March 1779 he discovered at Frampton House, Glamorganshire, a nebula in Coma Berenices (ib. lxxi. 82), and at York, on 22 Nov. 1783, the comet which bears his name (ib. lxxiv. 20, 460). But although its period has since been computed at 5.8 years, it has not reappeared. His deaf and dumb friend John Goodricke (q.v.), introduced by him to astronomy, co-operated with him in observing it.

The variability in light of Eta Aquilæ was detected by Pigott on 10 Sept. 1784, and on 5 Dec. he assigned to its changes a period (about 26 minutes too long) of 7 days 4 hours 38 minutes (ib. lxxv. 127). He also essayed the establishment of an artificial system of photometry. A catalogue of fifty variable or suspected stars was published by him in 1786 (ib. lxxvi. 189), with the remark that `these discoveries may, at some future period, throw fresh light on astronomy.' In a paper on the geographical co-ordinates of York he gave, in the same year, the first practical application of the method of longitudes by lunar transits, independently struck out by him (ib. p. 409). On 3 May 1786 he observed the transit of Mercury at Louvain (ib. p. 389), and after his return to England sent to the Royal Society an account of an auroral display viewed at Kensington on 23 Feb. 1789 (ib. lxxx. 47). His next residence was apparently at Bath, where he discovered the fluctuations of R Coronæ and R Scuti (ib. lxxxvii. 133). Six years later he gave a further discussion, from fresh materials, of the latter star's period (ib. xcv. 131). The conclusion of this paper was written at Fontainebleau in 1803. In it he strove to account for the observed irregular waxings and wanings of stellar brightness by the rotation of globes illuminated in patches. He inferred, moreover, the existence of multitudes of `dark stars' and surmised that the `coal-sacks' in the Milky Way might be due to their aggregations. Pigott is said by Mädler to have been an early observer of the great comet of 1807. This is the last we hear of him.

(Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Mädler Geschichte der Astronomie, ii. 21, 265; Berliner astr. Jahrbuch, 1782 p. 146. 1788 p. 161; cf. Herschel's Memoir of Caroline Herschel, 1876, p. 103.)    A.M.C.

Publications list

The following list of publications by Nathaniel and Edward Pigott has been compiled by searching for contributions in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It has not been possible to search through the publications of the Academies of Paris, Brussels or Caen.

  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Observations on the Sun's Eclipse, 16th August, 1765, taken at Caën in Normandy.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 57, 402-403, 1767.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   On the late Transit of Venus.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 60, 257-267, 1770.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Meteorological Observations at Caën in Normandy; for 1765, 1766, 1767, 1768, 1769.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 61, 274, 1771.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Astronomical Observations made in the Austrian Netherlands in 1772 and 1773.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 66, 182-195, 1776.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Astronomical Observations made in the Austrian Netherlands in the Years 1773, 1774, and 1775.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 68, 637, 1778.
  • Edward Pigott.   Account of a Nebula in Coma Berenices.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 71, 82-83, 1781.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Double Stars discovered in 1779, at Frampton-house, Glamorganshire.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 71, 84-86, 1781.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Astronomical Observations made by Nathaniel Pigott, Esq. F.R.S. Foreign Member of the Academies of Brussels and Caen, and Correspondent of the Academy of Sciences at Paris.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 71, 347-350, 1781.
  • Edward Pigott.   Extract of a Letter from Edward Pigott, Esq. to M. de Magellan, F.R.S.; containing the Discovery of a Comet.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 74, 20, 1784.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   An Account of an Observation of the Meteor of August 18th, 1783, made on Hewitt Common near York.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 74, 457-459, 1784.
  • Edward Pigott.   Observations of the Comet of 1783.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 74, 460-462, 1784.
  • Edward Pigott.   Observations of a new variable Star.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 75, 127-136, 1785.
  • Edward Pigott.   Observations and Remarks on those Stars which the Astronomers of the last Century suspected to be changeable.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 76, 189-219, 1786.
  • Nathaniel Pigott.   Observation of the Transit of Mercury over the Sun's Disc, made at Louvain, in the Netherlands, May 3, 1786.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 76, 384-388, 1784.
  • Edward Pigott.   Observation of the late Transit of Mercury over the Sun, observed by Edward Pigott, Esq. at Louvain in the Netherlands.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 76, 389, 1786.
  • Edward Pigott.   The Latitude and Longitude of York determined from a Variety of Astronomical Observations, together with a Recommendation of the Method of determining the Longitude of Places by Observations of the Moon's Transit over the Meridian.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 76, 409-425, 1786.
  • Edward Pigott.   An Account of some luminous Arches.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 80, 47-50, 1790.
  • Edward Pigott.   Determination of the Longitudes and Latitudes of some remarkable Places near the Severn.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 80, 385-390, 1790.
  • Edward Pigott.   On the periodical Changes of Brightness of two fixed Stars.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 87, 133-141, 1797.
  • Edward Pigott.   An Investigation of all the Changes in the variable Star in Sobieski's Shield, from five Year's Observations, exhibiting its proportional illuminated Parts, and its Irregularities of Rotation; with Conjectures respecting unenlightened heavenly Bodies.   Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 95, 131-154, 1805.
A list of publications was also given by Zdenek Kopal in his article in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (edited by C. Gillispie, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York). The list on this page is slightly more extensive.

The Discovery of the Galaxy M64

While living near Llantwit Major, Edward Pigott observed a nebula in the constellation of Coma which he did not recognise. He found that the object was not listed in available catalogues of clusters and nebulae, in particular the catalogue of the French astronomer Charles Messier. At that time Messier's list was the largest available, but then contained only about half of the number of objects that it would eventually include.

Edward Pigott described the nebula in a letter dated 3rd September, 1779, that he sent to the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Maskelyne subsequently read the letter as a scientific paper before the Royal Society in London, doing so on 3rd September, 1781. The paper was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (71, 82-83, 1781). In the paper, Pigott reported first observing the nebula on 23rd March, 1779. The text of this paper from the Philosophical Transactions is given below (but in a modern typeface).

We can compare Pigott's coordinates with modern catalogues, providing that we allow for the effects of precession. Pigott's declination appears to have been misprinted. If we adopt a declination of +22 degrees 53.25 minutes, we find that Pigott's coordinates coincide almost exactly with the spiral galaxy M64, also known as NGC4826 and popularly as the Black-Eye Galaxy. M64 is today understood to be a relatively nearby spiral galaxy, lying considerably beyond the Local Group, but closer than the Virgo Cluster of galaxies which appears fairly close to M64 in the sky, and much closer than the Coma Cluster of galaxies.

The discovery of M64 has usually been credited to Johan Elert Bode who first saw it from Germany on 4th April, 1779. Edward Pigott first observed it on 23rd March, 1779, twelve nights before Bode. Pigott and Bode can therefore be regarded as co-discoverers. Charles Messier first observed it on 1st March, 1780, and gave it number 64 in his catalogue: the galaxy is universely known as M64 today.

The discovery of M64 is discussed by Hartmut Frommert, who also provides a short biography of Edward Pigott.

Further reading

An article about the Pigotts appears in the multi-volumed Dictionary of Scientific Biography (edited by C. Gillispie, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York) written by the Zdenek Kopal.

Zdenek Kopal briefly discussed Edward Pigott in his book Of Stars and Men: Reminiscences of an Astronomer (published by Adam Hilger, Bristol and Boston, 1986, pages 411-412). The book includes a reproduction of a portrait of Edward Pigott as a child.

An article Nathaniel Pigott and Edward Pigott, itinerant astronomers was published by A. McConnell & A. Brech in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 53, pages 305-318, September 1999.

An article by Anita McConnell about Nathaniel Pigott and his son appeared in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (publ. Oxford University Press, 2004).

Hartmut Frommert provides a short biography of Edward Pigott at the Messier Catalogue website of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. Further information is given at that website relating to the discovery of M64, including the observations of Bode and Messier.

Scanned images of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society are available at the Gallica electronic library at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and for the years 1757 to 1777 (volumes 50 to 67) at the Internet Library of Early Journals at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.


The records of the Royal Society state that Nathaniel Pigott was born in 1725 and that he died on 30th May, 1804 (see the summary information about membership of the Royal Society provided by the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Archive Resource at the web pages of the Library of the Royal Society). This is the source of the dates used for Nathaniel Pigott in the title of this page.

The dates for Edward Pigott are those quoted in the Kopal article in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. The dates in the Dictionary of National Biography indicate only that Edward Pigott was alive in the period 1767-1807 but nothing is given there about his actual date of birth or death.

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