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Sabine, Edward (1788-1883)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 MS/239
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Sabine, Edward (1788-1883)
Date(s): 1818
Level of description: Sub-fonds
Extent: 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Sabine | Sir | Edward | 1788-1883 | Knight | General and geophysicist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in Dublin in 1788, Sabine was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He retained his commission, eventually reaching the rank of General - but started scientific work at the end of the Napoleonic wars. He was recommended by the Royal Society to accompany John Ross on an expedition to seek the Northwest Passage in 1818, was with William Edward Parry on his 1819-1820 Arctic expedition, and on a pendulum expedition in 1821-1822 around the Atlantic to determine the true figure of the earth. He was most interested in terrestrial magnetism, in 1826 working with Babbage on the British Isles; in the 1830's he, Humphrey Lloyd, James Clark Ross and others completed the magnetic survey of the British Isles, which he repeated in 1858-1861. His career was distinguished by his successful promotion and administration of a world-wide effort to gather terrestrial magnetism observations, believing in the existence of two magnetic poles and that terrestrial magnetism was essentially the same as atmospheric phenomena. He played a key role both in the dispatching of a British expedition to the southern hemisphere in 1839 to establish a network of magnetic and meteorological observatories, and in its consequencies, motivated by intellectual curiosity and nationalistic zeal. Also, he and Sir John Herschel were in complete agreement on the desirability of seizing this opportunity to advance meteorology. Sabine took over from Lloyd the processing of the data, and between 1841-1861 he maintained a staff at Woolwich for data reduction. He also persuaded the British Association to acquire the King's Observatory at Kew to be the basic geophysical observatory for the Empire, providing standard data and equipment for colonial observations, until in 1871 it was transferred to the Royal Society. Sabine believed that data was not the end in itself, but a preliminary to theory. He was particularly active in the British Association and the Royal Society, shifting programmes from one to the other to gain his objectives, such as the Kew Observatory. He was distressed by the disputes over reforming the Royal Society, and with Grove played a leading reform role which answered the complaints of Davy and Babbage about the election of Fellows. However, he failed to move with the scientific times, in 1863 refusing the demand by younger naturalists for awarding the Copley Medal to Darwin in favour of Adam Sedgwick. Accused by Tyndall of neglecting natural history, he resigned the presidency of the Royal Society in 1871.


Scope and content/abstract:

Manuscript Journal Geographical Magnetical and Meteorological made by Captain Edward Sabine during Ross's Arctic Voyage in 1818.

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Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

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Archival Information

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Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Royal Society catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Feb 2009.

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