William Scoresby

William Scoresby

Infobox Scientist
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birth_date = 5 october 1789
birth_place = Whitby , Yorkshire
death_date = 21 March 1857
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nationality = United Kingdom
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field = Exploration
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alma_mater = Edinburgh University
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known_for = Arctic
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William Scoresby (5 october 1789 - 21 March 1857), English Arctic explorer, scientist and divine, was born near Whitby in Yorkshire. His father, William Scoresby (1760 - 1829), made a fortune in the Arctic whale fishery. The son made his first voyage with his father at the age of eleven, but on his return returned to school, where he remained till 1803. After this he became his father's constant companion, and accompanied him as chief officer of the whaler "Resolution" when on 25 May 1806, he succeeded in reaching 81° 30’ N. lat. (19 E. long), for twenty-one years the highest northern latitude attained in the eastern hemisphere. During the following winter, Scoresby attended the natural philosophy and chemistry classes at Edinburgh University, and again in 1809.

In his voyage of 1807 Scoresby began the study of the meteorology and natural history of the polar regions. Earlier results included his original observations on snow and crystals; and in 1809 Robert Jameson brought certain Arctic papers of his before the Wernerian Society of Edinburgh, which at once elected him to its membership.

In 1811, Scoresby's father resigned to him the command of the "Resolution", and, in the same year, he married the daughter of a Whitby shipbroker. In his voyage of 1813, he established for the first time the fact that the polar ocean has a warmer temperature at considerable depths than it has on the surface, and each subsequent voyage in search of whales found him no less eager of fresh additions to scientific knowledge. His letters of this period to Sir Joseph Banks, whose acquaintance he had made a few years earlier, no doubt gave the first impulse to the search for the North-West Passage which followed. 29 June 1816, commanding the "Esk" on his fifteenth whaling voyage from Whitby, Scoresby encountered grave problems when ice damaged his ship. With the aid of his brother-in-law's crew on board the "John", and after agreeing to surrendering much of their catch, the "Esk" was repaired, of which Scoresby recounted in his 1820 book "The Northern Whale-Fishery". [cite book |title=Ordeal by ice; the search for the Northwest Passage |last=Mowat |first=Farley |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1973 |publisher=McClelland and Stewart Ltd |location=Toronto |format=Of Whales and Ice |pages=173-181 |oclc=1391959]

In 1819, Scoresby gained election as a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and about the same time, communicated a paper to the Royal Society of London: "On the Anomaly in the Variation of the Magnetic Needle". In 1820, he published "An Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery", in which he gathers up the results of his own observations, as well as those of previous navigators.

In his voyage of 1822 to Greenland, Scoresby surveyed and charted with remarkable accuracy 400 miles of the east coast, between 69° 30’ and 72° 30’, thus contributing to the first real and important geographic knowledge of East Greenland. This, however, proved the last of his Arctic voyages. On his return, he learnt of his wife's death, and this event, with other influences acting upon his naturally pious spirit, decided him to enter the church.

After two years of residence in Cambridge, Scoresby took his degree (1825) and became the curate of Bessingby, Yorkshire. Meantime, had appeared at Edinburgh his "Journal of a Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery, including Researches and Discoveries on the Eastern Coast of Greenland" (1823). The discharge of his clerical duties at Bessingby, and later at Liverpool, at Exeter and at Bradford, did not prevent him from continuing his interest in science. In 1824, the Royal Society elected him a fellow, and in 1827, he was became an honorary corresponding member of the Paris Academy of Sciences, while in 1839, he took the degree of D.D.

From the first, Scoresby worked as an active member and official of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and he contributed especially to the knowledge of terrestrial magnetism. Of his sixty papers in the Royal Society list, many more or less, relate to this department of research. But his observations extended into many other departments, including researches on optics. In order to obtain additional data for his theories on magnetism, he made a voyage to Australia in 1856 on board the ill-fated iron-hulled "Royal Charter", the results of which appeared in a posthumous publication: "Journal of a Voyage to Australia for Magnetical Research", edited by Archibald Smith (1859). He made two visits to America, in 1844 and 1848; on his return home from the latter visit he made some valuable observations on the height of Atlantic waves, the results of which were given to the British Association. He interested himself much in social questions, especially the improvement of the condition of factory operatives. He also published numerous works and papers of a religious character.

In 1850, Scoresby published a work urging the prosecution of the search for the Franklin expedition and giving the results of his own experience in Arctic navigation.

Scoresby married three wives in succession. After his third marriage (1849), he built a villa at Torquay, where he died on 21 March 1857.

Lunar crater Scoresby is named after him.

In his trilogy "His Dark Materials", English author Philip Pullman features a character named Lee Scoresby, who is an intrepid explorer, old Arctic hand, and balloon aeronaut.

See the "Life" by his nephew, Dr R. E. Scoresby-Jackson (1861).



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