Rooke, Lawrence

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(b. Deptford [now part of London], England, 23 March 1622; d. London, England, 7 July 1662)

astronomy, natural philosophy.

Rooke was educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, receiving the B.A. in 1643 and the M.A. in 1647. In 1650 lie became a fellow-commoner of Wadham College, Oxford, in order to enjoy the company and instruction of John Wilkins, Seth Ward, and the circle of virtuosi gathered about them. While at Oxford he occasionally assisted Robert Boyle in his chemical experiments. In 1652 Rooke was named professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London, exchanging his position in 1657 for the professorship of geometry. After 1658 many of his Oxford associates joined him at regular meetings in his and Christopher Wren’s rooms after their respective weekly Gresham lectures. It was in his room that the organization was founded that, shortly after his death, became the Royal Society.

Although universally esteemed for the breadth and solidity of his learning, Rooke wrote no systematic treatises and his work was primarily empirical and practical. He observed the comet of 1652 and performed a series of experiments with Wren on the collision of elastic bodies and, with Jonathan Goddard, on the effect of radiant heat on oil in a tube. His interest in practical maritime problems led him to draw up a list of systematic observations to be made by seamen that would be useful for the improvement of navigation. To help solve the problem of determining longitude at sea, he undertook a series of observations of the eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites and proposed the systematic telescopic observation of lunar eclipses. Rooke suggested that several of Hevelius’ lunar landmarks be accepted as a general standard against which to measure the position of the earth’s shadow and that the altitudes of certain especially bright stars be taken as a standard measure of time for the observations.


I. Original Works. Rooke’s writings include “Directions for Sea-Men, Bound for Far Voyages,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1 (1666), 140–143; “A Method for Observing the Eclipses of the Moon,” ibid., 388–390, repr. in Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society of London (London, 1667), 180–182; “Discourse Concerning the Observations of the Eclipses of the Satellites of Jupiter,” in Sprat, op. cit., 183–189; and “Observationes in cometam qui mense Decembri anno 1652 apparuit,” in Seth Ward, De Cometis … (Oxford, 1653), 39.

II. Secondary Literature. See John Ward, Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (London, 1740), 90–95; and Colin A. Ronan, “Laurence Rooke (1622–1662),” in Notes and Records Royal Society of London, 15 (1960), 113–118.

Wilbur Applebaum