Edward Francis Pigot (1858-1929), Jesuit priest, astronomer and seismologist.

He was born in Dundrum, near Dublin, son of David Richard Pigot, master of the Court of Exchequer, and his wife Christina, daughter of Sir James Murray, a well-known Dublin physician. Descended from eminent lawyers, Edward was educated at home by tutors and by a governess. The family was very musical and Edward became a fine pianist; he was later complimented by Liszt. He studied arts and medicine at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1879; M.B., B.Ch., 1882) and also attended lectures by the astronomer Sir Robert Ball. After experience at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, he set up practice in Dublin.

In June 1885, Pigot entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Dromore, County Down. He began to teach at University College, Dublin, but in 1888, on account of ill health, came to Australia. He taught at St Francis Xavier's College, Melbourne, and from August 1889 at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney. Returning to Europe in 1892, he studied philosophy with French Jesuits exiled in Jersey, and theology at Milltown Park, Dublin. He was ordained priest on 31 July 1898. In 1899 he volunteered for the China Mission and was stationed at the world-famous Zi-Ka-Wei Observatory, Shanghai. In 1903, again in poor health, he spent some months working in Melbourne and at Sydney Observatory, and taught for a year at Riverview before returning to Zi-Ka-Wei for three years.

On his way back to Australia Pigot visited the Jesuit observatory in Manila: he was beginning to plan an observatory of international standard at St. Ignatius College, Riverview. He began meteorological observations there on 1 January 1908 and the next year Riverview College Observatory opened as a seismological station. Seismological observations continue to be made there.
A great traveller despite his teaching duties, Pigot visited Bruny Island, Tasmania, the Tonga Islands, and Goondiwindi, Queensland, to observe total solar eclipses; and observatories in Europe and North America. He made observations of earth tides in a mine at Cobar, collaborated with Professor L. A. Cotton in measurements of the deflection of the earth's crust as Burrinjuck Dam filled and performed Foucault pendulum experiments in the Queen Victoria Market building in Sydney. In 1923 F. Omori, a leading Japanese seismologist, observed with Pigot a violent earthquake being recorded in the Riverview vault; it turned out to have destroyed Tokyo, with the loss of 140,000 lives.

Fr Pigot was a member of the Australian National Research Council, president of the State branch of the British Astronomical Association and a council-member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. On his way back from the Pan-Pacific Science Congress in Tokyo  in 1926, he visited the observatory at Lembang, Java, where he planned a programme of study at Riverview Observatory of variable stars. Between 1925 and 1929 Pigot measured solar radiation at Riverview and Orange, particularly in relation to long-range weather forecasting. He was seeking a site of high elevation above sea-level for this work, when he contracted pneumonia. He died at North Sydney and was buried in Gore Hill cemetery.



Sir Edgeworth David paid tribute to Pigot: It was not only for his profound learning that scientists revered him. They could not fail to be attracted by his magnetic personality, for though frail and often in weak health, he ever preserved the same charming and cheerful manner, and was full of eagerness and enthusiasm in discussing plans for the better pursuit of scientific truth. Surely there never was any scientific man so well-beloved as he.

Sources: Dictionary of Australian Biography; D.J.K O’Connel, Father Edward Francis Pigot S.J., An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 41, No. 162 (Jun., 1952), pp. 189-196; D. J. K. O'Connell Father Edward Francis Pigot, S.J.: Part II , Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 41, No. 163/164 (Sep., - Dec., 1952), pp. 323-332.

Picture: Edward Francis Pigot (1858 - 1929), by unknown photographer, courtesy of Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria. H38849/3545.