Huggins, Margaret Lindsay

Margaret Lindsay Huggins (1848-1915)

Astrophysicist Margaret Huggins (nee Murray) was born at 62 Lower Gardiner Street on 14 August 1848 of Scottish parents. Her grandfather, Robert Murray, was chief officer of the Provincial Bank of Ireland. Margaret’s mother died in 1857 when she was eight and her father moved to 23 Longford Terrace, Monkstown and remarried. Margaret was educated privately and at a boarding school in Brighton. Her grandfather encouraged her interest in astronomy and she learned about the exciting new field of astronomical spectroscopy which was being pioneered by William Huggins (who she later married) in London.

In 1869 the Royal Society decided to encourage the new science of celestial spectroscopy by commissioning a special telescope for Huggins from Howard Grubb in Dublin. The telescope was completed in 1870 and Huggins travelled to Dublin to inspect progress. Grubb introduced Huggins to his admirer Margaret Murray. A romance blossomed and the pair eventually married in Monkstown Parish Church in 1875. Despite the disparity of their ages (he was 51 and she was 27) they enjoyed a happy marriage and a fruitful research collaboration. Margaret brought photographic and organizational skills to the partnership and they both worked very hard in their observatory home at Tulse Hill. The main part of their research was published jointly as ‘An Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra’ and won the authors the Actonian Prize of the Royal Institution in 1900.

William and Margaret Huggins are acknowledged as founders of the science of astrophysics. In 1897, at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, William was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and Margaret was included in the citation. William served as president of the Royal Society from 1900 to 1905 and was ably supported by Lady Huggins. William died of heart failure in 1910 and Margaret died in 1915. They are commemorated by a pair of portrait medallions in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Further reading: Maire Brck, (1997) An  Astronomical Love Affair, in Stars, Shells and Bluebells, Dublin, WITS.

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