Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27: Edmund Neison (Nevill)

Edmund Neison (Nevill)
August 27, 1849 - 1940

Edmund Neison FRS, whose real name was Edmund Neville Nevill, wrote a key text in selenography called The Moon and the condition and configuration of its surface and later set up an observatory in Durban, Natal Province. He also wrote a popular book on astronomy some years after immigrating to Durban.

In 1871 Neison worked in London as parliamentary reporter to The Standard and also as theatre critic, but his interests included astronomy and chemistry. Nevill has the means to set up a private observatory in Hampstead and became known as an amateur with a special interest in the Moon. Nevill was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) under the name Edmund Neison, 'having the curious idea that it was derogatory to the holder of an ancient name to make a career in science'. He reverted to Nevill in 1888 'in accordance with the conditions of a will'. In an RAS paper in June 1873 he argued for the existence of a lunar atmosphere and a later paper defined (low) limits for the density of such an atmosphere.

In 1876 he produced The Moon, described as a translation, extension and updating of Madler. Used many observations and sketches by Webb and other amateurs. The volume 'served its purpose of stimulating interest in selenography'. Nevill was a founder of the Selenographical Society with William Radcliffe Birt, and from 1878 published in Selenographical Journal. This book is still prized by amateur selenographers and is quoted extensively by Wilkins and Moore.

Nevill also became a Member of the Chemical Society, having agitated in early '70s for a Chemical Institute. At meeting of Chemical Society on 26 April 1876 a committee formed and Neison was one of the Fellows of the Institute of Chemistry, serving on the Council from 1877 to 1900. Later he acted as a Government Chemist in Natal.

He was a keen lawn tennis player and much interested in Babylonian history 'which occupied him after his retirement'. Nevill never attended meetings of the Royal Society, to which he had been admitted in 1908, and was known personally to very few of the Fellows. Nevill was averse to photography - no known photograph exists.

The lunar crater Neison is named in his honor.

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