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Catton, Thomas (bap. 1758, d. 1838), astronomer, the son of Thomas Catton, was baptized on 30 July 1758 at West Dereham, Norfolk. After two years at a local school at Downham, where Horatio Nelson was a schoolfellow, he went to King's Lynn grammar school, thence in 1777 to St John's College, Cambridge. He obtained his BA in 1781 as fourth wrangler and first Smith's prizeman, won another prize in 1783 for Latin, and proceeded MA in 1784. He then spent three years as tutor in the family of Sir William Wake in Northampton, with whom he remained on friendly terms thereafter. After being ordained priest in 1790, he took his BD in 1791 and served as chaplain of Horningsea, Cambridge (1792–7), and rector of North Ockenden, Essex (1807–17).

Catton was a fellow and tutor of his college, and from 1791 to 1832 was responsible for the small observatory situated on one of its towers. It was furnished with a 3½ foot transit and a 46 inch telescope, which was replaced in 1832 by a Dollond 42 inch achromatic telescope. His observations of eclipses, occultations, and other phenomena were recorded in ten manuscript volumes. After his death these were edited by Sir George Airy, published in 1853, and also inserted in volume 22 of the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society. Catton was one of the earliest members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1821.

Catton's virtues were a quick apprehension, a powerful memory, and scrupulous attention to accuracy; his judgement was, however, often overruled by prejudice or passion, while excessive caution made it difficult for him to cope with everyday life. He shunned promotion, preferring a life of quiet social enjoyment within St John's College. During his last years he suffered a degeneration of his faculties. He died at St John's College on 6 January 1838, and was buried in the old college chapel.

A. M. Clerke, rev. Anita McConnell


Venn, Alum. Cant. · GM, 2nd ser., 9 (1838), 433–4 · R. T. Gunter, Early science in Cambridge (1937), 171, 194, 202 · A. C. Crook, From the foundation to Gilbert Scott: a history of the buildings of St John's College, Cambridge, 1511 to 1885 (1980) · Annual Register (1838) · Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society of London, 4 (1836–9), 110


CUL, notes · St John Cam.