Astronomers: Angus

Dick, Thomas, Rev.,  Ll.D. (1774-1857), lived at Herschell House, Hill Street, Broughty Ferry, Dundee where he had an observatory. He was a keen amateur astronomer and wrote books promoting the study of science within a Christian context. His house still exists, there is no sign of an observatory, but a birds eye view on Bing maps shows an octagonal wing which matches a sketch in his book Practical Astronomer.

Henderson, Thomas (1798-1844), born in Dundee and educated at Dundee Academy. Entering a legal career, in Edinburgh he had access to the Calton Hill Observatory, and on visits to London met leading astronomers, but his eyesight was poor, and he concentrated on mathematical astronomy. He accepted the post of Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, and in one year 1832-33 with one assistant and poor instruments made a prodigious number of observations, including those which enabled him to measure the parallax of Alpha Centuri as being 3.25 light years distant (a modern value is about 4.5). But the effort and conditions damaged his health, and he resigned and returned home.

In 1834 he was appointed first Astronomer Royal for Scotland after the government took over the Calton Hill Observatory. There with the assistance of Alexander Wallace he made some 60,000 observations, and most were published, but later errors were found in the mounting ofd the telescope. Henderson died young of heart disease.

Longair, Malcolm , Prof. (1941- ), second Astronomer Royal for Scotland to be born in Dundee. Educated at the Morgan Academy, Dundee, then Queen’s College of St Andrews University, then Ph.D. at Cambridge. Astronomer Royal for Scotland 1980-90. He was the Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University, from 1991 to 2008, and Head of the Cavendish 1997-2005 (see Wikipedia).

Newall, Robert Stirling (1812-1889), born in Dundee. Industrialist and amateur astronomer. Established his Ferndene Observatory at Gateshead, County Durham, in 1871 with a 25-inch Cooke refractor. His bequest in 1889 of this instrument to Cambridge University, because of his son Hugh Frank Newall (1857-1944), proved to be transforming to Cambridge taking the British lead in astrophysics (see ODNBHutchins 2008).

Watson, John, FRAS (1844-1911), born Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, friend of Rev. Dick, owned a 76mm refractor, later a 127mm Dallmeyer -Grubb equatorial. BAA member for W of Scotland and NW branches. President of Manchester AS and VP of Liverpool AS.

Wilson, Alexander (1714-1786), born and educated at St Andrews, he graduated from the local university. He invented, and developed a business in type manufacturing for printing. His interests in natural philosophy led him to being appointed in 1760 the first Professor of Practical Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, with charge of the Dowanhill Observatory. There he observed the transit of Venus, Jupiter’s satellites, eclipses and occultations. He studied sunspots, and in 1769 made his discovery of the Wilson Effect. He had deduced from geometrical calculation that the spots were cavities or depressions in the solar surface (see ODNB).

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