Astronomers: Midlothian

Anderson, Thomas David (1853-1932), born in Edinburgh February 6 1853, educated at Edinburgh University, where he graduated M.A. and later D. Sc. He qualified for the ministry of the Congregational Church, but never held a charge and devoted his life to astronomy. With slender optical means he discovered over 50 variable stars and also the famous temporary stars Nova Aurigae (1892) and Nova Persei ( 1901). Resident in Edinburgh until 1904, he later moved to East Lothian and died at Edrom, Berwickshire, March 31, 1932.

Baikie, James [Rev., DD, FRAS] (1866-1931), born in Lasswade, educated at George Watson College and Edinburgh University. Ordained as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland in 1892 his ministry was mainly spent at Acrum. Here he developed his interest in astronomy, observing the moon, Jupiter and comets with an 18-inch reflector. He wrote several books including Through the Telescope (1906) and Peeps at the Heavens (1911) during this time (Obit., MNRAS, 92 (1932), 244-5; Stroobant 1907, 19).

Blair, Robert (1748–1828), born Garwald, East Lothian, trained as a naval surgeon.  Through his study of navigation instrument he was appointed to the new chair of practical astronomy at Edinburgh University where he worked on optical aberration of lenses (ODNB).

Brück [nee Conway], Mary Teresa [Dr.] (1925-2008), born in Ballivor, Co. Meath, Ireland, carried out solar work at Dunsink, later moving to Scotland as  senior lecturer in Astronomy at Edinburgh University. She was married to Prof. Hermann A Bruck who was Director of Dunsink observatory (Obit.  BulSHA, Issue 18 (June 2009), 42-3).

Copeland, Ralph [FRAS] (1837-1905), born at Moorside Farm, Wood Plumpton, astronomer and third Astronomer Royal for Scotland. After living in Australia he trained as a mechanical engineer then studied astronomy in Germany at the university of Gottingen. He was then appointed observer at Birr Castle for two years followed by time at Dunsink Observatory, Dublin. In 1876 he was  recruited to work at the private Dun Echt Observatory (26th Earl of Crawford), succceeding David Gill and undertook worldwide expeditions, observing the 1874 and 1882 transits of Venus from Mauritius and Jamaica. (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 66 (1906), 164-74; see Offaly; Lancashire)

Douglas, James, fourteenth earl of Morton (1702–1768), was a Scottish astronomer and representative peer who was President of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh from its foundation in 1737 until his death. He also became President of the Royal Society (24 March 1764), and was a distinguished patron of science, and particularly of astronomy (see ODNB).

Henderson, Thomas (1798-1844), born in Dundee) in 1834 was appointed first Astronomer Royal for Scotland at the City Observatory, Carlton Hill, Edinburgh. A first-rate mathematician, but with poor eyesight and a weak heart, he and his assistant Alexander Wallace made 60,000 observations, but later the it was found that the pillar mounting of the Fraunhofer transit instrument were defective. (ODNB).

IInnes, Robert Thorburn Ayton (1861-1933), born Edinburgh. Self-educated, he built a successful wine business in Australia, and in 1894 borrowed a 6¼-inch refractor and swiftly discovered new double stars. David Gill recruited him to the Cape, where he became the leading South African astronomer of his time. Double stars remained his primary interest, and he discovered 1,628 of them (ODNB).

Nasmyth, James (1808-1890), was born at 47 York Place, Edinburgh. Largely self-educated. At Eccles in Lancashire, he started his own business making machine tools, and made a fortune. His most famous of several inventions was the steam hammer. He was interested in astronomy before 1827, in which year he constructed a very effective reflecting telescope of 6″ aperture. In 1840 he was experimenting with different proportions for speculum mirrors, and completed a 10″ that was greatly admired by his new friend William Lassell, a friendship and cooperation that lasted 40 years. In 1843 he reported observations of a comet. By about 1845 he had completed his new 20-inch reflector, and began many years of lunar observations. In 1856 he retired to Penshurst, Kent. See Kent, Nasmyth’s Observatory, Penshurst (see ODNB).

Sandeman, Patrick (1822-fl.1861), born Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, listed as astronomer (see 1861 Census for Scotland).

Scott, James Lidderdale [FRAS] (1848-1908),  born Edinburgh,  who became a merchant in the Chinese city of Shanghai.  Here he took up astronomy, aged 40, using a 5-inch Grubb refractor to make double-star observations that were published by the RAS (Obit., MNRAS, 69 (1909), 253).

Short, James (1710-1768), born in Edinburgh and educated there. His skill as a telescope maker gained him election to the Royal Society of London in 1737. He obtained patronage, participated in observations, and produced about 180 telescopes before moving to London in 1738. At his workshop in the Strand he made about 1,200 telescopes (see: ODNB).

Smith, Charles Frederick Ortmann  (1874-1949), of Edinburgh, had a 16cm Newtonian reflector, but later obtained a  15-cm Wray refractor housed in a run-off shed. After 1946 he published excellent papers on Jupiter. A member of “Mr Barker’s Circle”, an observing group of eight men active from April 1934 to December 1938 and May 1946 to May 1948 (McKim 2013).

Smyth, Charles Piazzi (1819-1900), born Naples and son of Captain W.H. Smyth was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1846 at the City Observatory, Carlton Hill in Edinburgh.  A controversial figure,  he pioneered the principle of mountain-top observatories leading an expedition to Tenerife. Later, other ideas including his belief in Pyramidology forced him to resign and retire to Ripon in Yorkshire (ODNB; Bruck and Bruck 1988).

Wallace, Alexander (1834-80), assistant astronomer who worked at the City Observatory, Edinburgh (see website and 1881 census for Scotland).

Williamson, Peter (1827-fl.1860s), assistant astronomer who worked at the City Observatory, Edinburgh (see website and 1861 census for Scotland).

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