John Brinkley - Clerical and Parochial Record

The biography of John Brinkley which we give below is a version of that which appears in 'W Maziere Brady, Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross 3 (Alexander Thom, Dublin, 1864), 130-133':


1826 John Brinkley

John Brinkley, D.D., was appointed Bishop of Cloyne, by letters patent, dated 28 September 1826. He was consecrated in the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle, on 8 October, 1826, by Richard, Archbishop of Cashel, assisted by the Bishops of Meath and Kildare. [Cotton.]

John Brinkley, D.D., F.R.S., M.R.I.A., &c., &c., was the son of John Toler Brinkley, of Woodbridge, in Suffolk, where he was born in the year 1766. He was under the tuition of the Rev Mr Dimsdale, of Benhall, Suffolk, for one year, and for three years was educated by the Rev Mr Black, of Woodbridge, in the private house of that clergyman. He then entered Caius College, Cambridge, on 29 August, 1783, being then 17 years old.

The high mathematical talent which he showed while a mere boy ripened at Cambridge, where he attained the most distinguished honours, being Senior Wrangler of his year, and Smith's Prizeman, and soon after Fellow of Caius College. He graduated B.A. in 1788, and M.A. in 1791.

His character was now so high that when the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, applied to Dr Maskelyne, the then Astronomer Royal, to name the best person he knew for the Professorship of Astronomy in that University, he at once selected Brinkley. He was appointed to this office in 1792; and while he made the Observatory one of the most famous in Europe, he was not less distinguished by his researches in pure mathematics, some of which were of an order far beyond the powers of any cotemporary British Geometrician, especially those belonging to what has since been called the Calculus of Operations. The most remarkable part of his Astronomical work is his investigation of the Parallax of some Fixed Stars. He found in them an annual change, following the law of Parallax, which he naturally referred to that cause. More perfect instruments have since made it probable that this variation proceeded from the effect on the Circle of varying temperature; but he had good reason for his belief. There is a minute disturbance of the Earth's axis, caused by the sun; its existence and the limits of its amount are given by theory, but it had never before been detected by observation. This Solar Nutation was precisely shown by these very observations, and he could scarcely doubt that the other was given with equal truth. In the course of this discussion he first made British Astronomers acquainted with the method of Minimum Squares, that powerful method of obtaining from a series of observations their most probable result. For these investigations he received the Royal Society's Copley Medal, and for one on the motion of the Moon's Apsis, the Royal Irish Academy's Cunningham Medal. Among many other matters may be noted his value of the Constant of Lunar Nutation, and his Tables of Refraction, remarkable for their simplicity and exactness.

His powers were not limited to the range of these abstract Sciences, as instances may be given in his profound knowledge of Botany, and the readiness with which, when appointed on the Commission of Irish Records, he mastered the difficulties of that Antiquated Lore. His knowledge of the history of the Church of Ireland was quite remarkable, and it is much to be regretted that he has left so little of it on record.

Professor Brinkley was, from 1806 to 1826, P Kilgoghlin, Elphin; from 1806 to 1810, R Derrybrusk, Clogher; he was appointed V Laracor, Meath, on 23rd February 1808, but resigned it in December of the same year; from 1808 to 1826 he was Archdeacon of Clogher. He was elected, in 1822, President of the Royal Irish Academy. He vacated his Professorship of Astronomy in 1826, when appointed to the See of Cloyne, and from that time ceased from any active pursuit of Science, and devoted himself wholly to his Episcopal duties. His health, however, failed for some years before his death, which took place on the 14th September, 1835, leaving in all who had ever known him the highest feelings of veneration and love.
[T. R. R.]

He was buried in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin. A marble tablet to his memory is in Cloyne Cathedral, with this inscription:

"Sacred
To the Memory of the
Right Rev. John Brinkley, D.D.,

Late Bishop of Cloyne; previously Professor of Astronomy in Dublin College, and up to his death President of the Royal Irish Academy. He died in Dublin, September, 1835, aged 69 years, and his remains were deposited in the vaults of the University."

"Quick in discerning and rewarding Professional Merit, and anxious to rule with Firmness without Severity, he succeeded in maintaining Discipline without provoking Complaint. In general literature and Natural History, as well as in Science, his Attainments were accurate and diversified, and his Communications interesting and instructive; learned, without Pedantry, and pious without Ostentation; unaffectedly kind to every Member of his Household; liberal in his Charity, and given to Hospitality. His Death was generally deplored, and his Memory is justly revered by those who have raised this humble Record of his Worth."

In 1846. a marble bas-relief, presenting a side view of the Bishop, with his hand extended upon an open book, was erected in the vestibule under the College Library: on its pedestal is the following inscription:-

M. S.
REVERENDISSIMI . IOANNIS . BRINKLEY . S. T. P.
EPISCOPI . CLONENSIS
DUDVM . IN COLLEGIO . SS . TRINITATIS . DVBLINIENSI
ASTRONOMIAE . PROFESSORIS . LAVDATISSIMI
HOC . SIGNVM . HONORIS . ERGO . CONSTITVERVNT
SOCII . ACADEMICI . CLERICI . DIOECESIS . ALIIQUE . COMPLVRES
VOLVNTATE . ET . OFFICIIS . DEVINOTI
OBIIT . A . S . MDCCCXXXV . AETATIS . LXX.

---------

REDVX . AD . ASTRA . LVMEN . ABIIT . INGENI
AT . NE . REPOSCAS . NIMIO . AMORE . PERCITVS
FATO . OBSEQVVTVM . SOSPITE . HVIC . SCIENTIA
VICTRIX . SEPVLCRI . STABIT . INTGRVM . DECVS
NEV . FLETVS . ADSIT . MORTE . CARITVRVS . VIGET
SVPERSTITVM . CVI . VITA . ADEST . PRAECONIIS
MVSARVM . IN . ADYTIS . CUIQVE . MONVMENTVM . NITET
CAELESTI . IN . ARCE . SIDERVM . VAGANS . JVBAR
J. K. B.
EX SOC . COLL . DVBL .

Though Bishop Brinkley's great talents were in constant exercise, his published works are not numerous: they consist of "The Elements of Astronomy," for the use of the Students of Trinity College; and several papers preserved in the "Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy."

Bishop Brinkley was married to Esther Weld, daughter of Mathew Weld, Esq., of Dublin. By her the Bishop had issue two sons - 1. John, P Glanworth, Cloyne, q. v.; 2. Mathew, a Vicar-Choral of Cloyne, q. v. The Bishop had also a daughter, Sarah, wife of the late Robert James Graves, Esq., M.D. She died without issue.

On the death of Bishop Brinkley, the See of Cloyne became united to those of Cork and Ross, by the Act 3 and 4 Will. IV., c. 37. So that henceforward the Bishops of Cloyne will be found under the diocese of Cork.


JOC/EFR February 2016

The URL of this page is:
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Brinkley_obituary.html