12. Old Fire Brigade Building Ann Street 1891. –State Library Qld.
Old Fire Brigade Building Ann Street 1891. –State Library Qld.

At a meeting at the residence of Mr Dudley Eglinton, Toowong, on Saturday 10th May 1919 the ‘Queensland Popular Science and Art Society’ was formed. There were about 35 persons present including several dignitaries. Mr Hardacre, Minister for Education and “Secretary for Public Instruction” was the chairman. The meeting was informed ‘that Mr Eglinton had succeeded in purchasing an excellent telescope in the south.’1Reported on page 9 of The Brisbane Telegraph and Page 6 of the Daily Standard Brisbane, both of Monday 12th May 1919.

It was also reported2Daily Standard that ‘Funds to purchase the telescope had already be subscribed and it would be the property of the new society…  Mrs M. Banford was particularly mentioned…as it was mainly through her enthusiasm that the necessary number of subscribers had been found to enable the telescope to be purchased. It was also stated that while astronomy would be the central pivot of the society, it would be constituted to embrace all branches of science and art…’

Further, the chairman, Mr Hardacre ‘promised the society a meeting room in the old Fire Brigade building3Telegraph and Daily Standard. The Minister (Hardacre) giving further proof of his sympathy with the movement by granting the use of the large meeting room in the old Fire Brigade station which is now under his jurisdiction, for the purposes of the society.’

There are interesting aspects to this meeting. The attendees were made aware that there were several other scientific and quasi scientific societies and that if thought necessary, the limits of the society should be defined.


‘The Chairman thought the society aimed rather at the exclusions of such persons as would be likely to bring about a repetition of the previous troubles over the ownership of the telescope.’ 4TelegraphThis is quite remarkable coming from the Minister.

The meeting also dealt with other matters that are not relevant to this discussion.

It would be reasonable to assume that Eglinton was a principal mover behind the acquisition of this new telescope.  The pattern of ‘subscriptions’ seems to have been very similar to that employed for the Brisbane Astronomical Society in 1896 when the Grubb 6” refractor was purchased. Perhaps Eglinton had some subscriptions from persons who had had an interest in the 6” Grubb that were assigned to him. Bear in mind he was unsuccessful in the 1917 auction of that instrument, which was now (1919) in storage and about to be installed at St. Leo’s College.

It is noted that J. P. Thomson, and for that matter John Beebe, are not specifically mentioned as being present. The reason for the absence of the former is obvious. As for Beebe, he was involved with the design and construction of St Leo’s Observatory, containing the former BAS 6” Grubb refractor and this fact may have caused some strain.

The instrument Eglinton purchased appears to have belonged to Mr George Hoskins of Sydney who had in 1917 purchased an 18” instrument to replace his 12”. He was a prominent British Astronomical Society (New South Wales Branch) member. There is no further mention of this 12” instrument in Sydney and from later events it would appear that Hoskins was in touch with Brisbane astronomers so the sale through Eglinton is quite logical5Orchiston email 28 Jan 2019.

On 24th June 1919 the Brisbane ‘Courier’ reported on page 4:  ‘It was announced that the large telescope purchased in Sydney would be forwarded by rail at once, and could be expected in Brisbane during the coming week. It is proposed to exhibit it in the windows of Messrs. Smellie and Co.’s shop in Queen Street for a few days.  Arrangements will then be made for placing it on top of the Old Fire Brigade station, near Central Railway Station. Although this is not regarded as an ideal position, it will afford many advantages, at least temporarily, and will be very accessible.’

On 3rd July 1919 The Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ reported on page 4 on a meeting of the Council of this society. It stated ‘…that the telescope which had been purchased through the society for the advancement of astronomical research and study in Queensland was daily expected to arrive in Brisbane when it will be exhibited etc etc.’  There follows the same material as previous and ends: ‘As soon as the telescope is placed in position and safely housed, astronomical observations will begin, and public lectures on astronomy delivered by Mr Dudley Eglinton, F.R.A.S., under auspices of the society….’

On Monday 28th July 1919 on page 3 the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ reported the display of the telescope, that it had been made by Calver extolling its quality, and that it was being re-silvered as the mirror coating was tarnished. It reported where it was to be erected and that ’A platform and small house to protect the telescope are to be erected.’

On Tuesday 7th October 1919, page 11 (Woman’s World Social), it was reported ‘…Mr Dudley Eglinton explained what had been done by the society in securing the largest telescope in Queensland, which in about a fortnight would be placed on the roof of the Old Fire Brigade Station, and would be available for the community to learn something of the great works of the Creator in the heavens. The telescope had a 12in. Reflector, and possession of this instrument was something of which the society and the public had reason to be proud.’

It is noted that in 1919 the observatory building at ‘Ardencraig’ was dismantled and transported to the Old Fire Brigade building where it was re-assembled on the roof, this time to house the 12 inch reflector6Advice from S. Hutcheon.  Details are scant.

On Saturday 28th February 1920 page 38 of The Queenslander (Brisbane):

Eglinton describes the night sky etc. and states: ‘…although the largest telescope in Queensland is on top of the old Fire Brigade Station, now called Education Building, its complete adjustment has not yet been effected, and some month or two must elapse before the telescope can become usable. Fortunately the measures already taken seem to make it almost certain that vibration caused by street traffic, or the proximity of the railway, have been effectively dealt with.’

The reason for the apparent delay in final installation of the telescope is uncertain but Eglinton’s wife Martha had died on 30th October 1919. His daughter Vera died on the 3rd December 1919, (1889-1919) and her inscription is directly beneath her mother’s, as ‘Vera’ on the tombstone. Cemetery records show her as “Rolleston Vera” but with the entry for the Eglintons (possibly the cause was the ‘Spanish Influenza’ pandemic). These events would have been a major blow for Dudley.

It would appear that the teething problems were ultimately fixed because on Thursday 21st September 1922 the Brisbane ‘Courier’ reported at page 5:

‘The Telescope at the Old Fire Station

Mr Dudley Eglinton, F.R.A.S., advised the ‘Courier’ last evening that he would be at the telescope housed on top of the Teachers’ Training College  (old Fire Brigade Station), at the corner of Edward and Ann Streets, this afternoon between 3 and 5 o’clock and would be pleased to see all who had subscribed towards the purchase of this instrument.’ 

There are few later references to the Queensland Popular Science and Art Society.

Reports on their 12” instrument after this date are sparse though Eglinton continued to lecture and write articles.

However, Eglinton’s blindness in 1924/5, would have curtailed his travelling and prevented his conducting demonstrations with the telescope. Therefore, after two years at best, another demonstrator was necessary. Eglinton had single-handedly occupied the position of demonstrator for over a quarter of a century. It is unclear that there was anyone to fill this vacancy.

Combined image of inscriptions on rear of 12” mirror (Mark Rigby STBP)
Combined image of inscriptions on rear of 12” mirror (Mark Rigby STBP)

This 12” remained atop the Old Fire Brigade Building for a number of years (largely unused) and was later removed and went through a number of moves and refurbishments, coming after a time to the Astronomical Society of Queensland.  A satisfactory permanent home was never found. The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium has some remaining parts of it (the main mirror, optics and some fittings), that are on occasional display. The main mirror itself is quite historic. Its rear is engraved ‘With of Hereford made me in February 1877’ beneath that ‘Laus Deo’ (Praise be to God). Under this inscription appears another ‘Corrected by G. Calver /04”.

George With was a famous telescope mirror maker who produced up to 200 mirrors over a 30 year period to 1887. In fact, he sold his remaining stock of over 100 ‘choicest reserves’ in that year, about sixty of which Calver purchased.

George Calver was a professional telescope maker who employed several assistants and it is estimated that the number of mirrors made or refigured by Calver was over 4,000.  He died in 1927.