Phillips, Theodore Evelyn Reece

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(b. Kibworth, Leicesterchire, England, 28 March 1868; d. Headley, Surrey, England, 13 May 1942)


Phillips was the son of the Reverend Abel Phillips, formerly of Barbados and a missionary in West Africa. He was educated at Yeovil Grammar School and in 1891 graduated B.A. from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford. He was ordained in the same year and became curate at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Taunton.

In 1896, while curate at Hendford (near Yeovil), Phillips began systematic observation of the planets, especially Jupiter and Mars, with a nine-and-a-quarterinch altazimuth reflector. He continued his observations, with that instrument when he moved to Croydon and later, in Ashstead, when he acquired a twelve-and-a-quarter-inch equatorial reflector. From 1911 he used an eight-inch reflector loaned by the Royal Astronomical Society; and when he became rector of Headley in 1916, he used an eighteen-inch reflector loaned by the British Astronomical Association, of which he had been president from 1914 to 1916.

Phillips directed the Jupiter section of the association from 1900 to 1933 and the Saturn section from 1935 to 1940. From 1896 to 1941 he submitted more than 400 drawings to the Mars section.

Phillips’ work on Jupiter followed that of A. S. Williams, W. F. Denning, and others who had observed the drift of the surface markings of Jupiter in different latitudes. These markings were charted by timing their passage over the central meridian; the Memoirs of the British Astronomical Association (1897-1898) included Phillips’ tables with deduced rotation periods for different latitudes. The Memoirs for 1932-1933, which were not published until 1939, recorded his last observations.

The observations published under Phillips’ care are perhaps the only satisfactory continuous records of the movements of Jupiter during his career. They include a complete history of the appearance and movement of the red spot and the south tropical disturbance, heralding the return (1920, 1928) of the south equatorial belt and other south tropical characteristics. Phillips is known to have recorded more than 30,000 spot transits.

Following a suggestion by H. H. Turner, Phillips conducted a harmonic analysis of the light curves of about eighty stars; and he made protracted observations of double stars. He was the president of the International Astronomical Union, Commission Sixteen; and he represented the Church of England at Geneva in 1922, when it was proposed that Easter become a fixed, rather than a movable, feast. He was president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1927 to 1929. Among his many observational records is a continuous set of rainfall records for Headley that covers twenty-five years; and he made a harmonic analysis of annual temperature curves for several places in Great Britain. Phillips was also an amateur botanist and a university extension lecturer for many years. He received an honorary D.Sc. from Oxford University shortly before his death. In 1906 he married Mellient Kynaston of Croydon. Their only son, the Reverend John E. T. Phillips, became an amateur astronomer.


Phillips was a regular contributor to the publications of the British Astronomical Association. He also contributed the articles “Jupiter,” “Mercury,” “Neptune”, (in part), “Saturn,” and“Venus,” in the 14th ed. of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1929); revised R. S. Ball’s A Popular Guide to the Heavens, 4th ed. (London, 1925); and collaborated with W. H. Steavenson in editing Hutchinson’s Splendour of the Heavens, 2 vols. (London, 1923-1926).

For brief accounts of his life, see the obituary by B. M. Peek in Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 52 (1942), 203-208. See also M. Davidson, “Honour for Rev. T. E. R. Phillips,” in Observatory, 64 (1942), 228-231, written shortly before Phillips’ death.

J. D. North

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Phillips, Theodore Evelyn Reece

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