Life story retold by Kenelm England, FRAS
Anne Sheepshanks, HonMRAS. was born in Leeds on April 2nd. 1789, the fourth child of Joseph Sheepshanks and his wife Anne Wilson. She went to the local school, but further education was not open to her. Her father Joseph was a very wealthy wool merchant with mills in Leeds and Halifax. When he died, she inherited a considerable fortune. She rented a house in London at 30 Woburn Place, Bloomsbury for £100 per annum and she also had a considerable portfolio of investments. Her brother Richard, an enthusiastic astronomer, lived with her and constructed an observatory in the back garden. There is little information about her life, but she could appear in London’s social life and had her own interest in astronomy. Her brother John was the centre of a circle of artists and art collectors in London.
Towards the end of 1841 Anne moved to Reading and purchased an impressive three-storey house at 14 Albion Street (now London Road). The house is now a dental surgery at 39 London Road. In the garden her brother Richard built an observatory, which probably appears on a map of Reading in 1853. When Richard died in 1855, he left in his will all of his astronomical equipment and a considerable library of astronomy books to Anne.
Anne donated some of the equipment to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. She gave £10000 to the University of Cambridge in 1858 to set up the Sheepshanks Exhibition in her brother’s name. This provided scholarships for Cambridge undergraduates in astronomy. She provided a further £2000 for instruments for the University’s observatory. In 1861 she was elected Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society, only the third woman to be elected, before women were permitted to become Fellows in 1916.Anne continued her interest in astronomy. She died at her home on February 8th. 1876 and was buried next to her brother in Reading Cemetery. Many of the books that her brother had collected are now in the RAS Library.
Inscription on Richard Sheepshanks’ funeral monument (north side).
DIED FEB. 8 TH . 1876
There are articles in the Dictionary of National Biography, Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. When she died, several obituaries appeared. There was an article in 2016.
Buried in Section 55, Row F, Plot 29