William Fishburn Donkin

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William Fishburn Donkin
William F. Donkin sitting on a salon chair
William F. Donkin (US Naval Observatory Library)
Born (1814-02-16)16 February 1814
Bishop Burton
Died 15 November 1869(1869-11-15) (aged 55)
Nationality British
Education St Peter's School, York; St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Alma mater University College, Oxford
Occupation Savilian professor of astronomy
Known for The Secular Acceleration of the Moon's Mean Motion

William Fishburn Donkin FRS (16 February 1814 – 15 November 1869) was an astronomer and mathematician, Savilian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Oxford.


He was born at Bishop Burton, Yorkshire, on 15 February 1814. His parents were Thomas Donkin (1776-1856) and Alice née Bateman (1784-1860). Two of his uncles were Bryan Donkin and Thomas Bateman (physician). He was educated at St Peter's School, York, and in 1832 entered St Edmund Hall, Oxford. In 1834, Donkin won a classical scholarship at University College, in 1836 he obtained a double first in classics and mathematics, and a year later he carried off the mathematical and Johnson mathematical scholarships. He proceeded B.A. 25 May 1836, and M.A. 1839. He was elected as a fellow of University College, and he continued for about six years at St Edmund Hall in the capacity of mathematical lecturer.[1]

In 1842, Donkin was elected Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, in succession to George Johnson, a post which he held for the remainder of his life. Soon afterwards he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and also of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1844, he married the third daughter of the Rev. John Hawtrey of Guernsey.[1]

Donkin's poor health compelled him to live much abroad during the latter part of his life. He died 15 November 1869.[1]


There is a list of his papers, sixteen in number, in the Catalogue of Scientific Papers published by the Royal Society. Early works were an Essay on the Theory of the Combination of Observations for the Ashmolean Society, and articles on ancient Greek music for William Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities.[1]

Between 1850 and 1860, Donkin contributed papers to the Philosophical Transactions, including one on The Equation of Laplace's Functions, and another On a Class of Differential Equations, including those which occur in Dynamical Problems. In 1861, he read a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society on The Secular Acceleration of the Moon's Mean Motion (printed in Monthly Notices, R. A. Soc., 1861). Donkin was also a contributor to the Philosophical Magazine,’his last paper in which, a Note on Certain Statements in Elementary Works concerning the Specific Heat of Gases appeared in 1864.[1]

A work on Acoustics, intended to be his opus magnum, was begun in 1867, and a part was published, after his death, in 1870. It was an inquiry into the vibrations of strings and rods.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5  "Donkin, William Fishburn". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Donkin, William Fishburn". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.