Aberdeenshire

Astronomers

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).

Observatories

Castle Hill Observatory, Marischal College, 1781-92, demolished 1796.
Founded by Professor Patrick Copland who raised Aberdeen Town Council and government funds. Built on a corner of the city ramparts, three rooms, two with conical roofs, turning, and with aperture. Principal instruments a Kenneth McCulloch 2-foot quadrant, a Dollond 2¾-inch achromat of 46-inch focal length, and a Ramsden 3-inch aperture 4-foot transit; later a 5-foot Hearne Newtonian, two of them donated by Lord Bute. A teaching observatory, the most active observer Andrew Mackay c.1785-92.
For definitive history: see Reid 1982; Howse 1986.

Dun Echt Observatory (1872-88), a private observatory founded by Lord Lindsay 12 miles from Aberdeen, in 1884 it was “one of the best equipped observatories existing”. Not the least of its achievements was to train and introduce David Gill to the astronomical world. In 1872 its 15″Grubb refractor was the same size as Vienna’s, and had a large chronograph and Grubb spectroscope. These were supplemented by a 12″ Browning reflector, and two 6″ refractors. The 8½” Simms transit instrument, reversible, with 8 microscopes, was the same supplied to Cambridge Observatory. Crawford also purchased a 4″ Repsold heliometer, with all the improvements learned from the difficulties with the Radcliffe instrument of 1849 in Oxford, and other improvements suggested by Struve; it was on a Cooke mount. was available for precision measurement.
In 1888 when the London government contemplated terminating the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, Lord Lindsay gave the whole of his equipment on condition that a new observatory be built.
The staff were Dr Ralph Copeland, 1881, previously at Birr; 1877-85 Jacob G. Lohse, who moved on to Wrigglesworth’s Observatory, Scarborough; 1874-82 Henry C. Carpenter, who moved to Oxford. – see Lindsay, Earl of Crawford above

King’s College Observatory (1797-c.1840), University of Aberdeen.  The Castle Hill, Marischal College instruments on the roof of the College building.

Marischal College Observatory, (c.1798-1837), the refounded observatory, on top of the College building, demolished 1827. It housed the instruments from the old Castle Hill Observatory.

One Response to Aberdeenshire

  1. John S. Reid says:

    There are a few things amiss with the Aberdeen entry.
    John King was a clockmaker from the beginning and not an assistant at the Castlehill observatory. He was employed by Copland to make models for him and then set up on his own as a clockmaker (in which he had served his apprenticeship) having made an astronomical clock for the observatory.
    The sentence under King’s College Observatory doesn’t refer to that observatory.
    Under Marischal College Observatory, 1827 should be 1837.
    For a fuller account of Aberdeen astronomical history, see http://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/nph120/astro/Localhist.docx
    With regards,

    John Reid….

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