SAMPSON, Ralph Allan [1866 - 1939]

Ralph Allen Sampson arose from an impoverished Liverpool childhood to become an outstanding academic in his field, holding the position of Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1910 to 1937.

He was born on 25th June 1866 at Skull, County Cork, Ireland, the son of metallurgist chemist James, a Cornishman,  and his wife Sarah Anne née Macdermott. The family moved to Liverpool when he was five years old and his father was seriously ill for some two years.  They lived at 9 Low Hill L7 (now demolished). Their poor circumstances meant that Ralph received little education until when he was fourteen maters had improved to the extent that he could attend the Liverpool Institute. He soon established himself as a leading scholar and in due course he graduated from St John’s College Cambridge in 1888.

From 188-91 he held a lectureship in mathematics at King’s College London, returning to Cambridge in 1891 as the first holder of the newly found Isaac Newton studentship in astronomy and physical optics. In 1893 he left Cambridge on his election to the chair of mathematics in the Durham College of Science at Newcastle upon Tyne, moving to Durham in 1896. In 1910 he was appointed professor of astronomy at Edinburgh University and Astronomer Royal for Scotland. He held both of these posts until 1937 when ill-health prompted his retirement. He died suddenly at Bath on 7th November 1939 aged 73.

Sampson's most important contributions to science, which occupied most of his time and energy from 1900 to 1920, are his Tables of the Four Great Satellites of Jupiter (1910) and his theory of these satellites (Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, 63, 1920). He was elected FRS in 1903, was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for his work on the satellites of Jupiter in 1928, and received honorary degrees from the universities of Durham and Glasgow.

His elder brother, John, was a noted librarian and Romani scholar.  A relatively tiny lunar impact crater located near the central part of the Mare Imbrium is named after Ralph Sampson.

Sampson married Ida Binney of St Helens in 1893, the couple having a son and four daughters

The Sampson lunar crater


There is a comprehensive entry for Sampson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry gives a general outline and the entry on the St Andrew's University site give greater scientific detail.