Charles Boyle - (Honorary) Scientist of the Day
Charles Boyle, the 4th Earl of Orrery, died July 28, 1674. Boyle was reasonably well learned, and he published an edition of the epistles of Phalaris in the 1690s, but mostly, he was rich and titled. He was related in a fashion to Robert Boyle, the chemist—both were descended from the 1st Earl of Cork of Ireland—but Robert never had the peerage, and Charles did. Which is probably why Robert, for all his achievements, is buried in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and Charles, for all his lack of achievement, is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Charles Boyle is remembered mostly for an instrument that was named in his honor. In 1713, James Rowley, a London instrument maker, built a small mechanical device that replicated the motions of the earth and moon as they orbited the sun. He made it for Charles, and he called it an “orrery”. The name has stuck, and any working model of the solar system is commonly called an orrery, right down to the present day. The original orrery is in the Science Museum in London; you can see it above as the first image. The link will allow you to see several other views of this pioneering astronomical instrument.
Some years after Charles’ death, the artist Joseph Wright of Derby painted a dramatic scene depicting a philosopher demonstrating an orrery to a small group of excited onlookers (the drama coming from the fact that the scene seems to be lit entirely by the solar part of the orrery). The painting is now in the Joseph Wright gallery of the Derby Museum in the English midlands, and it is, so they claim, their most popular piece of Wrightiana. It is the second image above.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City