David Gill (astronomer)

Sir David Gill KCB FRS FRSE FRAS LLD (12 June 1843 – 24 January 1914) was a Scottish astronomer who is known for measuring astronomical distances, for astrophotography, and for geodesy. He spent much of his career in South Africa.


David Gill

Portrait photo of Sir David Gill
Born12 June 1843
Aberdeen, Scotland
Died24 January 1914 (aged 70)
London, England
Resting placeAberdeen
AwardsBruce Medal (1900)
Valz Prize
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
James Craig Watson Medal (1899)
Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur[1]
Pour le Mérite[1]

Life and work

David Gill was born at 48 Skene Terrace in Aberdeen the son of David Gill, watchmaker and his wife Margaret Mitchell. He was educated first at Bellevue Academy in Aberdeen then at Dollar Academy.[2] He spent two years at Aberdeen University, where he was taught by James Clerk Maxwell,[3] and then joined his father's clock-making business. It would seem that Gill's interests lay elsewhere since after a few years he sold the business, and then spent time equipping Lord Lindsay's private observatory at Dun Echt, Aberdeenshire. In 1874, Gill joined the expedition to Mauritius to observe the transit of Venus. Three years later he went to Ascension Island to observe a near approach of Mars and to calculate its distance. While carrying out these laborious calculations, he was notified of his appointment to the Cape Observatory, which, over the following 27 years he was to refurbish completely, turning it into a first-rate institution. Gill was a meticulous observer and had a flair for getting the best out of his instruments. His solar parallax observations with a heliometer and his calculations of distances to the nearer stars, are testimony to his outstanding work. He recruited Robert Innes to the Cape Observatory.[4]

Gill used the parallax of Mars to determine the distance to the Sun,[5] and also measured distances to the stars. He perfected the use of the heliometer. He was Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope from 1879 to 1906. He was a pioneer in the use of astrophotography, making the first photograph of the Great Comet of 1882, and one of the early proponents of the Carte du Ciel project.

The invention of dry plate photography by Richard Leach Maddox made Gill realise that the process could be used to create images of the stars and to more easily determine their relative positions and brightness. This led to a massive project in collaboration with the Dutch astronomer J.C. Kapteyn, and the compiling of an index of brightness and position for some half a million southern stars. The work was published as Cape Photographic Durchmusterung in 3 volumes between 1896 and 1900. Gill also played a leading role in the organising of the Carte du Ciel, an ambitious international venture aimed at mapping the entire sky. He initiated the idea of a geodetic survey along the 30th east meridian stretching from South Africa to Norway, resulting in the longest meridian yet measured on Earth.

Gill married Isobel Black in 1870, and she accompanied him to Ascension Island for his Mars observations.[6] On Gill's retirement in 1906, the couple moved to London, where Gill served for two years (1909–1911) as president of the Royal Astronomical Society before his death in 1914. He was buried in the grounds of St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen.[7][8]

Selected writings

His writings include:

  • "Heliometer Determination of Stellar Parallax in the Southern Hemisphere" and "A Determination of the Solar Parallax and Mass of the Moon from Heliometer Observations of Victoria and Sappho" (in Annals of the Cape Observatory, volumes vi and vii, 1896).
  • "A Determination of the Solar Parallax from Observations of Mars at the Island of Ascension" (in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, volumes xlvi and xlviii, 1881 and 1885). New International Encyclopedia
  • A History and Description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. 1913.[9]
  • Heliometer observations for determination of stellar parallax made at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. 1893.



In 1909 he was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Astronomy, Old and New.


Named after him


  1. ^ a b c d e Jaff, Fay (1963). "David Gill – Watchmaker to Astronomer Royal". They Came to South Africa. Cape Town: H. Timmins. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  3. ^ Kapteyn, J. C. (1914). "Sir David Gill". The Astrophysical Journal. 40: 161–171. Bibcode:1914ApJ....40..161K. doi:10.1086/142107. Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  4. ^ Davidson, M. (1933). "Anzeige des Todes von Robert Thorburn Ayton Innes". Astronomische Nachrichten (in German). 249: 51. Bibcode:1933AN....249...51D. doi:10.1002/asna.19332490203.
  5. ^ "Gill's Work on the Determination of the Solar Parallax". Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa. 2: 85–88. 1943. Bibcode:1943MNSSA...2...85.
  6. ^ For her description of the expedition, see Gill, Isabel Sarah B. (1878). Six Months in Ascension: An Unscientific Account of a Scientific Expedition. London: John Murray.
  7. ^ "Sir David Gill". The Observatory. 37: 115–117. 1914. Bibcode:1914Obs....37..115. Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  8. ^ Hughes, Stefan (2012). Catchers of the Light: The Forgotten Lives of the Men and Women Who First Photographed the Heavens. p. 1016.
  9. ^ Forbes, George (July 1914). "Review of A History and Description of the Royal Observation, Cape of Good Hope by Sir David Gill". The Quarterly Review. 221: 174–199. (Subscription required (help)).
  10. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  11. ^ "No. 27200". The London Gazette. 8 June 1900. pp. 3629–3630.
  12. ^ Norman Lockyer, ed. (February 16, 1882). "Our Astronomical Column". Nature. p. 375.
  13. ^ "James Craig Watson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 15 February 2011.

External links


1843 in Scotland

Events from the year 1843 in Scotland.

David Gill

David Gill or Dave Gill may refer to:

Dave Gill (1886-1959), Canadian ice hockey coach

David Gill (astronomer) (1843–1914), Scottish astronomer

David Gill (civil servant), (born 1966), German civil servant

David Gill (executive) (born 1957), British football executive

David Gill (film historian) (1928–1997)

David Gill (politician), candidate in the United States House of Representatives elections in Illinois, 2010

David Macinnis Gill (born 1963), American author

Dollar Academy

Dollar Academy, founded in 1818 by benefaction of trader John McNabb, is an independent co-educational day and boarding school in Scotland. The open campus occupies a 70-acre (280,000 m2) site in the centre of the town of Dollar in Central Scotland. The school is at the foot of the Ochil Hills and is surrounded by Clackmannanshire countryside.

Edmund Neville Nevill

Edmund Neison FRS (27 August 1849 – 14 January 1940), whose real name was Edmund Neville Nevill, wrote a key text in selenography called The Moon and the Condition and Configuration of its Surface in 1876 and later set up the Natal Observatory in Durban, Natal Province. He also wrote a popular book on astronomy some years after immigrating to Durban.

Gill (Martian crater)

Gill Crater is an impact crater in the Arabia quadrangle of Mars, located at 15.9°N latitude and 354.6°W longitude. It is 83.0 km in diameter and was named after David Gill (astronomer), and the name was approved in 1973 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN).

Gill (name)

Gill may be a surname or given name, derived from a number of unrelated sources:

in English, Gill may be a hypocorism of a number of given names, including Giles, Julian, William (Guillaume), Gillian, etc.

the Dutch form of the given namen Giles

in Northern English, Scots and Norwegian, it may be a topographic name, ultimately derived from Old Norse gil "ravine"; cf. Lord Gill

as a surname, an anglicization of the Scottish or Irish patronymic McGill (or Mac Gille, Mac An Ghoill and variants)

in Hebrew, a masculine given name or byname meaning "joy, gladness" (feminine form Gilla)

in Punjabi, a common last name in Punjab.

List of people on the postage stamps of Ascension Island

This is a list of people on the postage stamps of Ascension Island.

The list is complete through 1987.

The Prince Andrew (1984)

The Princess Anne (1972)

The Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting (1982)

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1937)

Sir Winston Churchill, British prime minister (1966)

James Cook, explorer (1979)

Charles Darwin, scientist (1982)

The Princess of Wales (1981)

The Duke of Edinburgh (1972)

Elizabeth II (1953)

The Duchess of York (1986)

Galilei Galileo, Italian astronomer (1971)

George V (1922)

George VI (1937)

David Gill, astronomer (1977)

Sir Rowland Hill, postal reformer (1979)

Sir Isaac Newton, scientist (1971)

Capt Mark Phillips, husband of Princess Anne (1973)

Ernest Shackleton, explorer (1972)

The Prince of Wales (1981)

List of recipients of the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts

This is a list of recipients of the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts (German: Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste), a German and formerly Prussian honor given since 1842 for achievement in the humanities, sciences, or arts.

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