People: Thomas Firminger

Name Firminger, Thomas
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
Mar 1799 – 1 July 1807

Posts 1799–1807

Born 1775, Feb 5


Died 1861, Nov 24


All Saints Churchyard, Edmonton

Known addresses 1799–1807
Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Meridian Building)

Born in Egerton Kent, Thomas Firminger was Nevil Maskelyne’s longest serving assistant. He was a replacement for Francis Nisbet and was himself replaced by Thomas Taylor. Nisbet made his last transit observation on 20 March 1799 and Firminger his first a few days later on 24 March. Although Firminger left the Observatory on 1 July 1807 (confirmed by him in a letter to Airy), his tombstone apparently records/recorded that he was assistant until 1808.

Fenton in his book A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (1810), records that Firminger was appointed Astronomer at the Hakin Observatory which was being built near Milford Haven in Wales– a project that was abandoned at the end of April 1809. It was presumably (at least partly) though Firminger’s acquaintance with  Pond that the Westbury Circle ended up at Hakin.

In 1811, Firminger was giving private lessons in Somerstown. By the 1820s, he was living in Bury Road in Edmonton where had become Dr Thomas Firminger and was ‘Master of an Academy for the instruction of a limited number of young Gentlemen, in the theory and practice of Mathematics and Mathematical Science’. He took advantage of his Greenwich connection and when communicating on astronomical matters, would sign himself off with the words ‘Many Years Assistant Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich’.


Family matters

His wife Elizabeth Sheppard whom he married on 27 April 1811 was Purton born, suggesting that he met her through Maskelyne who had family estates there. (Maskelyne died on 9 Feb 1811 and is buried in Purton Churchyard). According to the 1861 census, his coachman and servant were also born in Purton. His servant in 1826–7 was Catherine Gray, also from Purton. One of his grandsons, Sir William Thiselton Dyer, was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (1885–1905).


Further reading

Jerimiah Dixon and others. H.P.Hollis, The Observatory, Vol. 49, p. 330-333 (1926)