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Piddington, Henry

Piddington, Henry (1797-1858) a British-Indian scientist and meteorologist, began his career as a trainee and later as a commander in the marine service in East India and China. Sometime in 1830, he settled in calcutta (now spelled as Kolkata) and pursued a career in science, having been associated with different scientific bodies of this newly growing city. His attention to the science of weather (which was still in its infancy) and especially storms of the seas had been drawn when he was in the marine service. After the publication of William Reid's Law of Storm (1838) which influenced him considerably, Piddington began to collect, with the support of the Government of India, massive data relating to hurricanes, gales and violent windstorms. In 1844 he was able to publish a book entitled The Horn-book for the Law of Storms for the Indian and China Seas. Shipping practitioners throughout the world acclaimed this work and its author was appointed President of the Marine Court of Inquiry in Calcutta. In 1848 he published an enlarged version of this book, The Sailor's Horn-book for the Law of Storms. This book was a great success and it immediately became the only recognised textbook on the subject. In this book, for the first time Piddington coined the word 'cyclone' for whirling storms, expressing thereby the tendency to circular motion in these meteors. Other fellow meteorologists of the world immediately accepted this name.

Apart from specialising in the law of storms, Piddington also pursued studies in rudimentary botany, soil chemistry, and the mineral properties of India. He was an active member of the asiatic society, Calcutta and became its sub-secretary. During the 1830s and 1840s, he published numerous articles on geology, mineralogy, and especially on meteorology in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He was also a Secretary of the Agri-Horticultural Society of India, Calcutta. At William Carey's suggestion, he compiled the English Index to the Plants of India. Interestingly, Piddington was amongst the earliest of the scientists who had recommended the propagation of the cinchona plants in the mountainous regions of India, a evident in his paper 'On the Soil in which the Cinchona Thrives' published in the Gleanings in Science (vol III, 1831). He was appointed Curator of the government-sponsored Museum of Economic Geology in Calcutta which came into being in the early 1840s. Later, the government appointed him a coroner, a position which he held till his death in Calcutta on 7 April 1858. [Abhijit Mukherjee]