Dawes, William Rutter

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Dawes, William Rutter

(b. London, England, 19 March 1799; d. Haddenham, near Thame, Oxfordshire, England, 15 February 1868)


Dawes’s mother died when he was very young, and since his father was often abroad on colonial service, he was brought up by relatives and friends and his schooling was several times interrupted. At first he intended to become a clergyman, but instead he studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and afterward worked a country practice in Berkshire. In 1826, following the death of a sister, Dawes moved to Liverpool, and there he came under the influence of a Dissenting minister who persuaded him to take charge of a small congregation in Ormskirk.

Dawes had been interested in astronomy as a boy, and while at Liverpool he often observed the stars through an open window with a small but excellent refracting telescope. This refractor aroused his interest in double stars, and at Ormskirk he constructed an observatory with a five-foot Dollond refractor that had an aperture of 3.8 inches, which he used to make careful micrometrical measurements of double stars. His measures of 121 double stars made in the period 1830–1833 were published in 1835, and those of 100 double stars in the period 1834–1839 were published in 1851. Chronic ill health forced Dawes to give up his pastoral work, and in 1839 he left Ormskirk to take charge of George Bishop’s observatory in Regent’s Park. There he continued to devote himself to double stars, and his measurements of about 250 such stars were published in 1852 in Bishop’s Astronomical Observations at South Villa. His results included the detection of orbital motion in ∈ Hydrae and of third components of γ Andromedae and Σ 3022.

In 1844 Dawes left Bishop’s observatory and went to live near Cranbrook, Kent. There he equipped himself with a transit circle by William Simms that was two feet in diameter and an equatorial telescope by Georg Merz of 8½-foot focus and six-inch aperture with a delicate clockwork movement. Unfortunately his headaches and asthma continued, and these forced him for a time to live at the seaside resort of Torquay. In 1850 Dawes felt well enough to move to Maidstone, Kent, and there he observed the crape ring of Saturn on 25 and 29 November, losing priority to the Bonds by only ten days. At this period “the eagle-eyed Dawes” was establishing himself as a leading observer of Saturn through numerous meticulous observations of the planet and especially of the various rings. These observations and his double-star measurements led to the award of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1855.

In 1857 Dawes moved to Haddenham, near Thame, Oxfordshire, where he continued his observations despite rapidly deteriorating health. His second wife, whom he had married in 1842, died in 1860. Dawes was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1865 and continued to observe at intervals until 1867. He died at Haddenham, 15 February 1868.


I. Original Works. Dawes’s scientific publications are contained in George Bishop, Astronomical Observations at South Villa (London, 1852), and in numerous papers in the Memoirs and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The most important are “Micrometrical Measurements of the Positions and Distances of 121 Double Stars, Taken at Ormskirk, During the Years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833,” in Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, 8 (1835), 61–94; “Micrometrical Measurements of Double Stars, Made at Ormskirk Between 1834.0 and 1839.4,” ibid., 19 (1851). 191–212; and “Catalogue of Micrometrical Measurements of Double Stars,: ibid., 35 (1867), 137–502.

II. Secondary Literature. See the following, listed chronologically: obituary notice in “Report of the Council to the Forty-ninth Annual General Meeting,” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 29 (1868–1869), 116–120; Agnes Clerke, “William Rutter Dawes,” in Dictionary of National Biography, V, 667–669; and A. F. O’D. Alexander, The Planet Saturn (London, 1962), chs. 10–12, 14, passim.

Michael Hoskin

Dawes, William

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Dawes, William

DAWES, WILLIAM. (?–?). Fellow courier of Paul Revere. On the night of 18 April 1775, he set off earlier than Revere, taking the longer route via Boston Neck, Cambridge, and Menotomy to Lexington, where he joined him. While Revere was caught shortly afterwards, Dawes escaped.

SEE ALSO Revere, Paul.

                              revised by John Oliphant

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