Perthshire

Astronomers

Smart, William Marshall (1889-1975), born in Doune, Perthshire. He was educated at Glasgow University, where he was a student of Ludwig Becker, Director of the Observatory, and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. After the war he returned in 1919 as Chief Assistant at the University Observatory, Cambridge, where his duty was to work the Sheepshanks telescope, where he achieved what was then pioneering work in photographic photometry. His principal work then became from 1923-40 stellar kinematics, reflecting the current preoccupation with radial velocities and the structure of the galaxy. In 1937 Smart left Cambridge to succeed Becker as Regius Professor of Astronomy in Glasgow. There the Horselethill Observatory was completely obsolete and compromised by being engulfed by the smoky city, and the chair was under threat. He saved the chair, closed the observatory, and with a fraction of the proceeds built a teaching observatory in the University Gardens, with a 7″ refractor and small transit. The Observatory was opened by Sir Arthur Eddington in 1939. He had already begun to teach undergraduates successfully, and to attract a small group of graduate students (see: QJRAS, 18 (1977), 140-46).

Observatories

Ayton House Observatory built for William Watson (see Kinross-shire), it housed an 11.2″ refractor from Wester Elchies. No visible remains.

Horselethill Observatory, Glasgow (1841-1938), established by public subscription, but was later taken over by Glasgow University in 1845.  Originally equipped with a 6-inch Ertel circle and the Ramage reflector, later in 1859 under Robert Grant, the observatory acquired a 9-inch Cooke refracting telescope from the Ochtertyre Observatory. After closure the building was demolished with the Cooke telescope relocated to a new student observatory on the university campus  next to the astronomy department (see British University Observatories, 1772-1939).

Ochtertyre Observatory, 1853-61
Established by Sir William Keith Murray in 1857 with a new 9″ Cooke refractor and 3″ transit at a total cost of £1,160. However Murray had no time, and the climate was unsuitable for systematics work (David Gavine, thesis p. 260). Nevertheless, in 1861 it was purchased by a subscription fund, and given to Glasgow University’s Horselethill Observatory.

4 Responses to Perthshire

  1. B. Fried says:

    I am trying to determine the fate/location of the largest refracting telescope in Scotland in the mid-19th century. The lens was made by the celebrated Andrew Ross of London, 11.5″ diameter, and mounted by Ransome and May. It was shown in the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, 1851, and then sold to the Eighth Earl of Elchies, Mr. J. W. Grant. He built a substantial observatory at his manor in Wester Elchies and the telescope was used by him briefly and by the celebrated astronomer, Piazzi-Smyth, also briefly. But Grant died in 1865. Grant sold the telescope not long before he died, in 1864, to a Mr. Tod, owner of Ayton House, Glenfarg. Mr. Tod acquired the estate ca. 1860, and died in 1867. Apparently Tod didn’t get much use out of this great telescope either. Mrs. Tod remarried in 1870. After she died, in 1904 there was a court case in which her second husband, Mr. Finlay, was stopped by the heir(s), at least temporarily, before selling the observatory and telescope among other items. After that I know little. I understand that today the observatory is no longer existing, but it was substantial:

    “…a handsome circular stone building covered with a moveable dome and built at the eastern extremity of a strip of ground in a field situated at a distance of about 150 yards in a direct line from the mansion house The telescope is placed in the centre of the building and rests on a solid foundation of masonry 10 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep on which a cast metal baseplate and pedestal weighing about five tons bedded solid in cement This base plate is 9 feet in diameter and 12 inches deep terminating in a pedestal about 3 feet high all cast in one piece upon which rests an iron pillar 7 feet high which is attached to it with bolts The cast metal base is not secured to the masonry with bolts but the great diameter and weight of the base renders these unnecessary the whole being constructed in substantial and permanent manner.”

    In May, 1903, W. L. Watson died andhis only son Robert William Seton-Watson (August 20, 1879-July 25, 1951) inherited Ayton House. Robert used the telescope with his father during summers at Ayton House. Ayton House was still in R.W.Seton-Watson’s name as of 1920. Seton-Watson lost most of his fortune due to the stock market crash during the depression.

    • Kevin Johnson says:

      Hi Bart

      I looked into the issue of what happened to the Trophy Telescope back in the mid 1990s further to an enquiry I received at the Science Museum, London. I made contact with Dr David Gavine, the foremost authority of Scottish amateur astronomer and he supplied me with his entry for this observatory from his dissertation and some press cuttings (1912). Despite all the information he had gleaned he had also drawn a blank on the telescope’s fate. I am happy to send you scans of what I have in case they are outside what you have traced.
      I will see David Gavine in April so if you wish I could ask him if anything else has come to light on the matter. I might even see you in the fall as I considering a visit to Yerkes.
      Best wishes
      Kevin Johnson – Science Museum, London

    • Robert Baird-Trotter says:

      Hi Bart,

      I am researching the history of the 6 (Paris) inch Merz telescope that the REV. William Rutter Dawes owned from 1846 to 1857 and which has completely disappeared from history after he sold it in 1857.
      As part of that search, I am trying to determine the fate of ALL 6 inch Merz telescopes and lenses imported into Britain during the 19th Century.
      One of those once belonged to Charles May of Ransome and May fame and previously by Re. Dawes. It subsequently was sold to Mr E.J. Collingwood and incorporated into his Traughton & Simms telescope of 1851 and installed at Lilburn Tower where it still resides.

      The point of this preamble is details of the Lilburn Tower were published by Prof. C. Piazzi Smyth in a paper published in The Journal of The Royal Society of Scotland Vol XXIII, Part II, p371.
      In this paper, Piazzi Smyth describes the 11.1/2 inch refractor belonging to J.W.Grant esq.when Smyth visited Grant during September 1862.
      A detailed description follows of “The German variety in form, though in this instance it is constructed in the stronger manner of Engineering work:…. and the larger parts were constructed by the firm of Ransomes and May”
      On p373, A-3, “an object-glass which, although furnished by Mr Ross, is said to have been actually constructed in the optical factories of Munich.”
      Since the telescope and mount have since disappeared, they have presumably been broken up and the parts dispersed.
      A detailed description of the mount is available in the Jury reports of the Exhibition of 1851 and also in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Monthly Notices for November 1862.as mentioned in Smyth’s paper.
      There may be sufficient detail in these sources to enable a search for thee mounting to be carried out to relocate it on an existing instrument assuming it has not been melted down.
      Similarly, what existing instruments contain an 11 1/2 inch unknown lens?. If Ross simply installed one of Merz’s objectives, the cell would be signed by the maker.Since Piazzia Smyth does not comment on this would indicate that the cell was unsigned.

      Hope this information may be of help.

      I would like to credit Denis Bucyzinski for finding this rather obscure reference which he sent to me in relation to the Merz lens at Lilburn Tower.

      Bob Trotter

      Western Australia.

  2. Bart Fried says:

    Hi Bob, et al,

    With the assistance of David Gavine, Kevin Johnson, Robert Law, Denis Buczynski and Matt Considine, we were able to track the telescope’s ownership and whereabouts definitively through the 1930’s and we believe that the telescope was likely scrapped during the war. The Ross (maybe Merz) lens was said to have been kept through the 1960’s, when it was supposedly collected up by “the military”, though that information is completely unverified. What it means is that there is a slight possibility that somewhere, perhaps on a dusty shelf, is the lens. I, for one, am not holding my breath waiting. We went so far as to query the current owners of Ayton House (who happens to be the Lord-Mayor of London), which was the telescope’s last residence, and a few of the local residents, too. And we queried the local ‘hysterical’ society but they knew little of it. If anyone is interested in getting a copy of all our research, let me know and I’ll be happy to share it.

    Cheers,

    Bart

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