People: John Brinkley

Name Brinkley, John
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
23 Jun – 9 Nov 1787  &  27 Jan – 25 Mar 1788

Posts Assistant

Born c.1763


Died 1835, Sep 14


Trinity College chapel, Dublin

Known addresses 1787 & 1788

Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Meridian Building)

Born in Woodbridge Suffolk, John Brinkley served two spells in 1787 and 1788 as Assistant to the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne. In 1787 he took over from William Malachy Hitchins and was replaced by John Burnstead. In 1788, he took over from Joshua Moore and was replaced by William Garrard. Although his periods of service were short, they were not untypical of the time, as in the four years from 1786 and 1789 (counting Brinkley twice) no less than twelve individuals filled the post in quick succession.

Brinkley’s spells at Greenwich were carried out while he was still an undergraduate at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he had begun his studies in 1783. He graduated in 1788 as Senior Wrangler (top of the year in Mathematics), and Smith’s Prizeman, becoming a fellow of his college. Highly rated by Maskelyne, he was ordained in 1791. In 1792, he secured, on Maskelyne’s recommendation, the post of Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College Dublin where he became responsible for the Dunsink Observatory. Shortly afterwards he became the first Royal Astronomer of Ireland. In 1803 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, Maskelyne being one of those who signed his nomination paper. He was one of two of Maskelyne’s assistants to be so honoured. The other was John Hellins.

In 1815, Brinkley became involved in a ferocious argument with John Pond, (Maskelyne’s successor), as to whether or not he had had successfully measured a parallax for α Aquilae (Altair), α Cygni (Deneb) and a small selection of other bright stars. It was to try and settle the argument that in 1816, Pond had the α Aquilae and α Cygni Telescopes constructed. Following his appointment as Bishop of Cloyne in 1826, Brinkley resigned his post as Andrews Professor in 1827 and with it the post of Royal Astronomer.

Brinkley was President of the Royal Irish Academy (1822-35) and President of the Royal Astronomical Society (1831-33). In the latter capacity he automatically became a member of the Royal Observatory’s Board of Visitors from then until his death in 1835. During that time, he did not attend a single meeting.


Further Reading

Astronomical Labourers: Maskelyne's Assistants at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1761–1811. Mary Croarken, Notes Rec. R. Soc Lond. 57(3), 285–298 (2003)

Brinkley, John (1766/7–1835), P. A. Wayman, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

John Brinkley (Astronomer), (from Wikipedia)