Curley, James

James Curley S.J. (1796-1889)

Geographer, Meteorologist, Founder of Georgetown Observatory

James Curley was born at Athleague, Co. Roscommon. His aptitude for mathematics was recognised and to some extent developed by his teacher in Athleague. He emigrated to the United States in 1817 and arrived in Philadephia where he worked for two years as a bookkeeper and taught mathematics at Frederick, Maryland. 

In 1926 Curley decided to prepare himself for the priesthood. He joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1827 and after completing his novitiate he again taught in Frederick and later taught philosophy at Georgetown University. He was ordained priest in 1833.

Curley taught philosophy and mathematics at Georgetown University for 48 years. Despite numerous difficulties and delays, he planned and superintended the building of Geogretown University Observatory which was completed in 1846 and he became its first director. Its equipment included an Ertel transit instrument, a meridian circle by Simms and a 5-inch refractor by Troughton and Simms.

One of his earliest achievements was the determination of the longitude and latitude of Washington DC in 1846. His results disagreed with those obtained by the Naval Observatory and it was not until the laying of the first transatlantic cable in 1858 that his determination was found to be close to the truth.  However, the coincidence was fortuitous as the method he used was not very precise.

Father Curley kept a continuous series of weather records at Georgetown and was also much interested in Botany. He continued as director of Georgetown Observatory until 1888 at the age of 92 and he died the following year. 

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