Astronomers: Aberdeenshire


Copland, Patrick (1748-1822), founder of Castle Observatory, Marischal College.

Gill, David (1843-1914), born at 48 Skene Terrace, Aberdeen, educated at the Dollar Academy, and two years at Aberdeen University. In 1872 he was appointed director to establish Lord Lindsay’s new Dun Echt Observatory. In 1877 he used observations of Mars to redetermine solar parallax. In 1879 he went to South Africa as H.M. Astronomer at the Cape until 1906, and turned a run-down facility into an outstanding modern observatory. In 1882 his photograph from South Africa of the comet revealed many background stars, and demonstrated the potential for mapping the stars by photography (see ODNB).

Gregory, James (1638-1675), born in Aberdeen; a brilliant mathematician. First inventor of the reflecting telescope, although he never made one, published in his book Optica Promota in London in 1663. There he had hoped to find a craftsman able to make the mirrors to his specification, but those by Reive failed, so that it was Robert Hooke, to whom Gregory had been introduced, who made the first successful telescope and presented it in 1674 to the Royal Society.
In 1668 Gregory was appointed first professor of mathematics at St Andrews. There in 1672 he planned the first observatory of its kind in Europe, almost to the day that its prototype started in Paris eight years earlier, was completed, and four years before the Royal Observatory was founded at Greenwich in 1676. In 1674 Gregory was appointed professor in Edinburgh, but he died in October 1675 ‘of a sudden illness accompanied by blindness, which befell him as he was observing the Satellites of Jupiter in company with his students at Edinburgh’ (see. Turnbull, H.W., ‘James Gregory (1638-75)’, The Observatory, 61 (1938), 268-74; ODNB  :St Andrews Observatory).

King, John, assistant at Castle Observatory in 1780s, later a clockmaker.

Mackay, Andrew (fl.1780s-1790s), observer and ‘Assistant keeper’ (1780s-90s) at Castle Observatory (see below).

Lindsay, James Ludovic, twenty-sixth earl of Crawford (1847-1913), founder of Dun Echt Observatory, near Aberdeen, which flourished for 20 years. In 1888 Lord Lindsay heard that the British government intended to close the Royal Edinburgh Observatory. He saved it by offering to donate the entire equipment of his Dun Echt Observatory. This was accepted, and the new ROG was completed upon Blackford Hill in 1896 (see ODNB).

Smith, Charles Michie (1854-1922), born Keig, Aberdeen, he was educated in Aberdeen and Edinburgh where he took his degree in 1876.  In the same year he gained the position of Prof. of Physics at the Christian College, Madras in India.  Fifteen years later he succeeded Norman Pogson as director of the Madras Observatory a post he held until 1922 when John Evershed took over the role.  His most notable achievement was the establishment of the hilltop observatory at Kodaikanal where solar observations were followed with installation of a high resolution spectrograph and a spectroheliograph on the Hale model (see Obit., MNRAS, 83 (1923), 245-6).


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