Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London
Restricted access

Israel Lyons: a short but starry career. The life of an eighteenth-century Jewish botanist and astronomer


    Israel Lyons grew up among the academic luminaries of mid–eighteenth–century Cambridge, but his humble Jewish origins prevented him from becoming a member of the university. Nevertheless, his precocious mathematical genius and his botanical enthusiasm led to a publication on fluxions at the age of 19, and a survey of Cambridge flora a few years later. His botanical skills made him Oxford's choice to lecture on the principles of botany to the young Joseph Banks and 60 of his fellow students, and his mathematical abilities made him the Astronomer Royal's choice for one of the first two computers for the Nautical Almanac. Eventually chosen, through Banks's patronage, as the astronomer for the 1773 voyage toward the North Pole, led by the Hon. Constantine Phipps, F.R.S., his career ended with a tragically early death at the age of 36, but his contemporary fame had been considerable and his achievements were remarkable in the light of his background.