During my investigations I was struck by the many strong parallels between the events of the time and those that occurred in the amateur astronomical community up to a century later. I am constantly reminded of a quote often attributed to Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
So these events which unfolded in the Brisbane Astronomical Society between 1896 and 1917 were destined in a large part to repeat themselves over the ensuing century.
One of the main issues is the propensity of certain strong personality types to become antagonistic towards each other. Perhaps each of these active and energetic parties has a different vision and a different manner of pursuing it, and trouble is to be expected if their paths cross.
Sometimes, once a pattern is established, it may cloud rational action. In scientific and other organisations, this has occurred since antiquity. For example the dispute between Newton and Hooke became very vindictive, certainly on Newton’s part.
I am reminded of Julius Caesar (I,ii,140-141), “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In this respect it can be interpreted that Fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition. It is within us and not external.
Then, there is the lethargy of the members in failing to support even quite modest initiatives that would benefit the organisation. This lack of support by members of the Brisbane Astronomical Society after its formation in 1896 swiftly led to its effective collapse with a final coup de grace in 1917. This pattern has been repeated.
This may seem very pessimistic but there is also an upside. Often individual members will become very motivated and active. But equally as often they burn out after a few years when, either their interests change, or they realise that little lasting is being achieved. There are those of course who plod on in a steady fashion over decades, but the average membership lasts merely a few years.
The research by Steve Hutcheon into the history of various large telescopes in Queensland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries prompted my interest in the subject. His continued dogged research has provided much of the background for this paper which I hope provides a balanced historical perspective. In many respects I am merely piecing together his research into a chronological account.
I also acknowledge the assistance of Mr W. Kitson, now retired and Former Senior Curator, Queensland Museum of Lands Mapping and Surveying. Other material has been derived from the astronomical historical papers by Professor Wayne Orchiston, and finally I express my appreciation to the State Library of Queensland for the assistance rendered by their researchers.
A public notice appeared in the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ (the afternoon newspaper) page 1 of the advertising section – on Friday 4th May 1917:
‘The Brisbane Astronomical Society
The committee have decided to distribute the proceeds amongst the original subscribers in proportion to their subscriptions.
No claim recognised which is not made before 1st August 1917.
Address Robert H Mills A.M.P. Chambers, Brisbane.’
But what happened to the telescope after that?
After its purchase by Archbishop Duhig, in 1918 it was to be erected at St. Joseph’s College at Gregory Terrace in connection with a new Science Hall. It was removed from that address before the hall was completed and blessed. It went for restoration and, what became, 12 months’ storage at the workshop of H. W. Valle, and there exists a photograph of the workshop with the telescope. It is of interest that Valle charged £45 for removal, restoration, 12 months storage and £400 fire insurance – the latter large amount possibly being the cost of replacement.
In 1919 it went to the new St. Leo’s College Observatory, at Wickham Terrace. The building is slightly rectangular, aligned North-South, East-West, and a photograph shows the dome and adjoining transit slot apertures within the same roof line and building footprint. A 1924 Brisbane Council sewerage plan shows some alteration with a second 8 foot square room on the east side, apparently a later addition.
‘The Memory’ by Fr Michael Head detailing the history of St. Leos, states on page 140, referencing the 1919 construction: ’The work was done under the direction of Mr J. Beebe, a man greatly interested in astronomy, who gave a number of night lectures on the subject to college students.’ Beebe, an architect and former owner of the East Bendigo Observatory (Victoria), was an excellent choice to design and oversee the project.
It is interesting to consider the personalities. Fr. Head references Father Boland in his life of Duhig1The ascent of Tabor : writing the life of Archbishop Duhig / T.P. Boland. Boland claims that the Archbishop ‘fancied the role of patron of the sciences’. Other examples involving the planning for telescopes, observatories, and acquisition of scientific equipment, and their donation to church institutions exist.
Note: Page 140 of ‘The Memory’ by Fr Michael Head incorrectly identifies the instrument as coming from the Estate of Clement Wragge, Government Meteorologist. Clement Lindley Wragge, who was famous for his ‘vortex rain/hail guns’, had moved to New Zealand, and lived until December 1922. He had lived for a time in Brisbane and disposed of his 4½” Wray of London refractor some years earlier, possibly as early as 1903. It was definitely the ex-BAS 6” Grubb refractor that was installed at St Leos in 1919.
Towards the end of the 1920’s the instrument fell into disuse and the ‘lenses’ (presumably eyepieces) were stolen.
Apparently, such thefts as described above were not rare. A newspaper report (‘Brisbane Telegraph’) on February 27th 1930 advised of a Mr Wetzig, an employee at St Leo’s College. Wetzig occupied a room at the rear and saw a man getting out of his window. Two pairs of socks and a wristwatch were missing. The police later recovered these items and arrested two youths who pleaded guilty to the theft.
A 1946 aerial photo shows the observatory building still there, but around this time the decision was taken for the land to go to the new Holy Spirit Hospital next door.
A 1951 aerial photo shows the building gone, and St. Leo’s College itself moved to the University of Queensland campus at St. Lucia in 1960.
As a matter of interest2Source: W. Kitson, the transit instrument in the St Leo’s observatory was a ‘Wray’. For a period thereafter, while surveying courses were being conducted, it had then been located at the University of Queensland. Ultimately it ended up in the Queensland Museum of Lands Mapping and Surveying.
There is no direct ‘official’ record of what happened to the 6” Grubb after that. W Kitson, however refers to an address by Mr Inigo Jones, the well-known long-range weather forecaster, to the Historical Society of Queensland on 24th April 1952. The title was ‘My Seventy-Seven Years in Queensland’. In it, Jones describes visiting Mr Stanley as a younger person and continues: “…the Grubb telescope now at Nudgee College and which I was one of the first people to see through. Later His Grace Archbishop Duhig offered me the use of this instrument.” We would have to assume that Jones declined the offer, but was it presumably then transferred to Nudgee College?
The archivist at Nudgee College, after enquiries and an extensive electronic search of recently computerised records was unable to find any evidence of this telescope. But if it had merely been placed in storage at the time, it might not appear on the records now being searched. Another factor is that close to 90 years have elapsed.
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.’3Reported on page 9 of The Brisbane Telegraph and Page 6 of the Daily Standard Brisbane, both of Monday 12th May 1919.
It was also reported4Daily 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 building5Telegraph 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.’6TelegraphThis 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 logical7Orchiston 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 reflector8Advice 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.
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.
As described elsewhere, with the liquidator moving in, Stanley had been forced to sell the telescope, but he desired that it remain in Queensland. Accordingly, he offered to partially fund its purchase by a group of interested Brisbane residents. Page9Astronomical Society of Queensland 1959 Proceedings at page 20 states:
‘On 5th June 1896 a group of people met in the School of Arts in Brisbane, the meeting being subscribed to the “Astronomical Society”. The immediate aim of forming this group was concerned with the purchase of a 6” Grubb Equatorial Refractor, owned by F.D.G. Stanley stated to be procurable from Messrs. Isles, Love & Co for £70, and in order that this purchase be effected, seventy six persons were invited to form a society of ownership. Stanley consented to members’ making use of his observatory and contributed a deposit of £20 towards its purchase. Its use was to be directed to stimulate interest in astronomy and to be used conjointly for scientific and general purpose. With the election of three trustees, Messrs. J.P. Thomson, J.W. Sutton, and W. Heath, five councillors and the sixty-eight members, a Society of Ownership was declared to be in existence.’ F.D.G. Stanley became an honorary member. ‘Mr Dudley Eglinton was the Secretary.’
The funding was on the basis of ‘personal debentures’. ‘Debentures’ usually indicates a fixed interest investment, but in this case the term is undoubtedly used to acknowledge a debt which may be repaid upon an event occurring at a later time. Such an event would certainly be the sale of the telescope which occurred over 20 years later in 1917.
The Society had great plans, but difficulties had first to be overcome – a permanent site for the telescope, the persons authorised to operate it, and the rights of existing debenture holders versus new members (if allowed), as well as other ownership issues. These were discussed preceding the first meeting on 7th August 1896.10The ‘Page’ paper contains more details. In retrospect, none of these were properly addressed.
Maintenance had been conducted on the telescope as reported in the press on 25th September 1896, referencing a Council meeting of the Brisbane Astronomical Society (BAS) the previous day, with various adjustments including using the services of a watchmaker to clean the clockwork. Plans were mentioned for use of the telescope and the establishment of different sections to carry out distinct branches of work.
One of the trustees, Mr W Heath, Solicitor, was an active observer and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (F.R.A.S.). He had been involved ‘finding the amount of error in the adjustment’ (presumably of the orientation of the mount and its tracking) as referenced above, through a number of observations. He was the person who had employed the watchmaker.
Mr J.A. Wheeler, also a BAS member, was a close neighbour of Mr Stanley and assisted Mr Heath in these observations and to determine the Longitude and Latitude of the Observatory.11Last two paragraphs – Moy&Holmes 1994.
To quote Page again:
‘Following the establishment of the Brisbane Astronomical Society, meetings were held regularly and proposals for the formation of a Meteor, Lunar, Solar, Planetary and Double Star sections were put forward. From a study of records available, it would appear that membership response to these proposals was shockingly poor and eventually little work in any one of these fields was accomplished.’
The telescope was still situated at Stanley’s residence ‘Ardencraig’ and there was concern that the Queensland National Bank, which had sold Stanley’s belongings, could at any time remove the observatory in which it was situated.
Following lengthy debate about these apparently unresolvable obstacles, James Park Thomson moved that the instrument be handed over to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, Queensland Branch (of which he was the founder (1885)). He was also President at the time (1894-97) and edited its Journal. The proposal included access provisions etc. for members of the Brisbane Astronomical Society.
This motion was carried but at an emergency meeting immediately after, held at the instigation of Dudley Eglinton, who was absent from the earlier meeting, the motion was quashed. Eglinton successfully gained the necessary support to preserve the instrument within the society. He also proposed raising £100 for the removal of the instrument and erection at a new site. Thomson appears to have assisted in attempting to find a new site.12Moy & Holmes 1994. This did not proceed and it appears that the bank was not interested in claiming the observatory building.
It has been claimed that the lack of leadership of the society was due to the death of Stanley on 26th May 1897, and it was stated in the first Annual Report on 6th August 1897 that ‘in the twelve months of existence, the society can scarcely be said to have done anything.’ Thomson lamented the situation and made the statement: “There is no room for such an institution here. Fifty years hence will no doubt be time enough for such a society.”
By this time a definite enmity had developed between Thomson and Eglinton, both very capable men but with different interests. They had already clashed over the ownership issue. Concerning his astronomical endeavours, Thomson was a competent scientific observer receiving many accolades. He seems to have been a very pragmatic man who soon realised that the Brisbane Astronomical Society, having acquired the 6” refractor, were capable of little more. Eglinton commenced as a teacher, then administrator as Secretary of the School of Arts (effectively a technical college) between 1874 and 1896 and was a prolific populariser of astronomy. Virtually alone he tried to invigorate the society and encourage use of the telescope, the latter for the next twenty years.
The members of the Brisbane Astronomical Society were prominent citizens, plus some genuinely interested in astronomy. The prominent citizens possibly contributed their £1 each as a civic duty to keep the instrument in Brisbane and had little intention of using the telescope on any regular basis.
Thomson had delivered some astronomical lectures at the South Brisbane Technical College in 1895, advertised in the press and advised by him in his correspondence to Tebbutt as well. This, and the need to invigorate the Brisbane Astronomical Society was perhaps the stimulus for Eglinton to do likewise. By April 1900, Eglinton had delivered seven public lectures (which had also raised funds) and as a consequence there was a resurgence of interest. But this was short lived and only 10 people paid their subscriptions. Many must have believed that their payment to purchase the telescope covered their obligations.
An occultation of Jupiter was observed on 28 September 1900. A year later only five members paid their dues and no meetings were held after the fifth annual meeting on 3rd October 1901.
Dudley Eglinton continued to use the telescope for public demonstrations. The ‘Queenslander’ newspaper of 27th May 1905 on page 12 advises that ‘Mr Dudley Eglinton has kindly consented to devote, say two evenings a week to our readers.’ This is followed by details limiting to ten persons per time and the arrangements to be made.
On 30th September 1911, a special telescope owners meeting was convened to determine the fate of the telescope. It was claimed in one point that it was now useless for astronomical work and a suggestion was offered13letter by Sir Alfred Cowley, that it be donated to the University of Queensland. Eglinton, the Secretary, argued that the original purpose in purchasing the telescope was to prevent its removal from ‘Ardencraig’. Surviving members suggested removal of the telescope to a more central location at Highgate Hill. A high park with a fine vista presently exists at the corner of Dornoch Terrace and Hampstead Road, but whether this was the suggested site is unknown.
The following questions were put forward for placing before certain authorities:
What could the Secretary do about it?
What would the South Brisbane Council do about it? (Only in 1924 – effective 1925, did Brisbane become one city.)
What could the University do to assist?
What would the North Brisbane Council do to assist to accept trusteeship of the telescope?
These questions were never answered, and nothing transpired.
However, Eglinton continued his public demonstrations using the telescope and such a notice appears on page 6 of the Brisbane Courier of 21st August 1915.
These public demonstrations were then in support of the Belgian Relief fund and Page references dates from 3rd May to 6th June 1916 (this was in the middle of World War I). The funds collected were donated through the ‘Brisbane Courier’ by F.R. McDonald, the new owner of ‘Ardencraig’ (1915). Clearly, the telescope was in an operable condition at this time, as it was on July 30th 1916 when Eglinton and others viewed a partial solar eclipse.14Reported page 40 ‘The Queenslander’ 5th August 1916. This eclipse was a 64% partial in Brisbane, and annular along a track from Carnarvon WA to Tasmania.
The telescope by 1916 had remained at the same site, namely that of the vendor, Stanley’s observatory for 20 years since the Brisbane Astronomical Society acquired it in 1896. No serious attempt had apparently been made to find a new site for it. Stanley had died nineteen years earlier. The society had become moribund. Meetings were no longer held, or subscriptions paid – and only Eglinton had remained active in the use of the telescope. Events were to take a dramatic turn.
Mr McDonald subdivided the Ardencraig estate and advertised it for sale by auction: ‘For sale on the grounds 4th November 1916.’ It was so advertised in the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ (afternoon newspaper) on 7th October 1916 (page 11).
Nevertheless, use of the telescope continued for a short while as reported at page 8 of the Brisbane Courier dated 10th October 1916.
A notice also appeared on page 2 of the Daily Mail (Brisbane) on 3rd November 1916 for the auction the following day. Doubtless there was more advertising. The worrying aspect of this notice stated: ‘…There has been a good demand for plans and buyers are reminded that the sale commences at 3pm sharp with the buildings for removal and the galvanised iron, to be followed immediately by the sale of the allotments.’
In the subdivision plan the observatory building and roll off roof straddled the 16 perch lots numbers 10 and 11 with the bulk of it on lot 11.
Finally, on the 4th November 1916 a notice appeared on Page 6 of the ‘Brisbane Courier’ that ‘Owing to the sale of land at Ardencraig today the Astronomical Society’s telescope will not be available to visitors until further notice.’
The Page research (from 1959), previously referenced states: ‘This work (the public demonstrations), was abruptly terminated by Thomson, acting now as sole trustee, who “surreptitiously” removed the objective from the telescope to a house in Laidlaw Street, East Brisbane, on the pretext that the sale of ‘Ardencraig’ jeopardised the safety of the instrument, and with that action, the Brisbane Astronomical Society walked out of existence.’
Clearly the following information was not available to Page at the time of his research. The existence of ready access to historical newspapers via ‘Trove’ has revealed much extra information.
An article on page 6 of the Brisbane ‘Courier’ on 21st March 1917 describes the events:
The ‘Ardencraig’ Telescope
‘More than ordinary interest attaches to the announcement of the sale in Brisbane next Saturday of a telescope. This is the instrument which has for many years been the property of the Brisbane Astronomical Society, having been acquired in 1896 for £70 (sic) by Mr Dudley Eglinton, with the financial assistance of about 70 others. As Mr Stanley, the then vendor, still lived at ‘Ardencraig’, the telescope was not removed, and Mr Stanley permitted the new owners to use his well-adapted observatory.
When the Brisbane Astronomical Society was formed an effort was made to get members to use the telescope by taking up special branches of observational work, but with scant success. Proposals at different times to hand over the telescope to the Royal or the Geographical Society or to the University failed, such proposals being opposed on the ground that they were contrary to the purpose for which the telescope was acquired, viz for the use of the purchasers and to prevent its removal from Mr Stanley’s observatory.
When the property was sold to Mr Francis MacDonnell, that gentleman allowed the telescope to remain on the payment of a nominal sum for security, and proposed an arrangement by which it was used in aid of the ‘Courier’ Patriotic Funds (which benefited to the extent of over £23) till the land on which it was situated was again sold.
Prior to the sale Mr J. P. Thomson, acting in his capacity as sole remaining trustee, without the knowledge of Mr Eglinton, who had virtually been custodian of the instrument for many years, took possession of the telescope “for safety”. A meeting of the shareholders of the society was subsequently held, and it was decided to sell it, Dr Taylor and Messrs. Eglinton and Thomson being appointed trustees with power to sell the telescope, which is now in the hands of the auctioneer.
Mr Eglinton does not concur in the proposal to sell, but has been overruled. Some of the surviving shareholders have assigned their interests in the telescope to Mr Eglinton, and that gentleman has in the past done much to promote the study of astronomy locally, it is hoped that he will be put in a position to secure the telescope and continue his work.’
Note: Dr Taylor’s letter below explains why Eglinton had no prior knowledge of the removal action.
On page 5 of the Brisbane Courier for 22nd March 1917, two letters are printed, and the key paragraphs are reproduced below.
It is best at this stage to introduce Dr William Frederick Taylor (1840 -1927). His medical career in London and Paris, and New South Wales, and country Queensland (Clermont and Warwick) is not relevant. He was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He came to settle in Brisbane in 1883 and remained there for the rest of his life being a member of the Legislative Council from 1886 to 1922.
To quote from the newspaper:
‘Dr W.F. Taylor…states, inter alia, that at the last annual meeting of the members of the Astronomical Society, Brisbane , held about 10 or 12 years ago, he was elected Chairman and D. Eglinton Secretary, and they remained in office until November 24 last, because all attempts to hold meetings of the members proved futile.
During that time Mr Eglinton assumed charge of the telescope, and kept possession of the key of the house in which it was erected, but he consulted the Chairman of the Society (Dr Taylor) on all matters requiring decided action.
On October 27th 1916, Dr Taylor had brought under his notice an advertisement for the sale of the Ardencraig land, on November 4th 1916. He saw that prompt action should be taken to protect the telescope, and started to ring Mr Eglinton on the telephone, but found that he would not be at his residence at that hour, 11AM. Then he got in touch with Dr Thomson, the only remaining trustee of the telescope who at once consulted his solicitor, and was advised to take immediate possession of the telescope, for when the land on which it stood was sold, the purchaser might raise some objection to anyone removing it. He (Dr Taylor) then urged Dr Thomson to act on his solicitor’s advice, and get possession of the instrument as soon as possible.
At a meeting of the members of the Astronomical Society on November 24 1916 the subject was fully discussed and the following resolutions adopted – ‘That this meeting confirms the action of Dr Thomson in removing the telescope under the circumstances of the sale of the site.’
Mr Eglinton and Dr Taylor having been appointed trustees to act in conjunction with Dr Thomson, the following resolution was adopted – ‘That the trustees be empowered to sell the telescope after advertisement to the highest bidder.’
This resolution was confirmed at the subsequent meeting of the members of the society held on February 26, 1917, in conformity with the above, the trustees decided to place the telescope in the hands of Mr A.S. Phillips, auctioneer, Queen Street, for sale and sent him a letter of authority which all three signed.’
Another letter is quoted from immediately below:
‘Mr Francis MacDonnell, in the course of a letter states: Sir, in your paragraph this morning concerning the ‘Ardencraig’ telescope there are one or two sentences which may cause a wrong impression and lead the public to think that I derived some pecuniary benefit from the money subscribed towards the “Courier” Patriotic Funds, towards which Mr Eglinton and I collected at the observatory in 1915 and 1916. I do not think for a moment that such is suggested, but some people are often ready critics and therefore I shall be glad if you make it plain. In April 1915, after I had come to live here, it occurred to me that the telescope which was securely housed at ‘Ardencraig’ might be used to some purpose to benefit some of the funds which were then afoot. I consulted Mr Eglinton and he very enthusiastically approved my suggestion.
He offered to pay me rent but I agreed to allow it to remain rent free while the war lasted, provided that the proceeds were to be devoted to the purpose indicated above. We agreed that he should pay a small sum and that it should be one penny per month during the continuance of the war. This we considered sufficient to establish the relationship of landlord and tenant between us. When Mr Eglinton paid his rent, I put it on the plate. Let this therefore explain that I allowed the telescope to remain on the payment of a nominal sum for security.’ With regard to the telescope being removed “for safety”, I may state that whilst being housed here, it could not have been safer in the Bank of England. It was in a strong wooden structure, roofed with iron, and under lock and key. With its removal I had nothing to do. Had it been allowed to remain, Mr Eglinton, I am sure, would have been only too glad to continue as before, during the war.
Very few know except myself, the number of dreary nights he spent there in the dark, waiting for the patrons who failed to come, whilst I sat outside under the shelter of a friendly bush or tree to look after the signal lights, and guide the visitors to the observatory. The results of our endeavours were not tremendous, but we both feel that we did our “little bit” to help the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The “Courier” gave us valiant, ungrudging, and loyal help in the yards of free advertising.’
This last letter ignores the legal position if the land upon which the observatory stood was sold to new owners as previously mentioned. Curiously Mr MacDonnell himself was responsible for this situation, but I suppose he wanted to justify his position and from the letters there seems to have been a certain amount of controversy, otherwise they would not have been written.
But why was the action taken to remove and sell the telescope? The immediate impetus was the sale of the land upon which it was situated, but examining the matter more closely, the Brisbane Astronomical Society had ceased to operate. In the 20 years since they acquired the telescope, the only person who was regularly using it was Eglinton, and nothing had been achieved in finding a home for it in a new location. The obvious and sensible course of action was to sell the telescope and remove this continuing burden. Thomson seems to be the practical pragmatic man, and just the person to do it. Whether he removed the whole telescope or just the objective, it set the steps in motion, and it is now obvious that this was carried out under the proper authority, and subsequently ratified by a meeting of the society.
At the base of page 22 of the ASQ 1959 proceedings, Page refers to the telescope as missing and that the newly formed society in 1927, which soon changed its name to the Astronomical Society of Queensland, had a claim to it because Eglinton (now a vice President of the new body), managed to have the funds and property of the old Brisbane Astronomical Society transferred to it. They therefore regarded themselves as direct successors.
However new information available via ‘Trove’ tells a different story. As advertised on page 8 of the Brisbane Courier of Saturday 17th March 1917, the telescope was to be auctioned by Auctioneer A. S. Phillips on 21st March 1917.
A news item appeared at page 6 of the ‘Brisbane Courier’ on 26th March 1917:
‘The ‘Ardencraig’ Telescope
The fine 6in astronomical telescope from ‘Ardencraig’, Toowong, concerning which some correspondence has appeared in recent issues of the ‘Courier’, was disposed of at auction at Mr A. S. Phillip’s mart on Saturday morning, when it was purchased on behalf of Dr Duhig, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, for £85. Dr Duhig states that the telescope will be mounted at one of the Roman Catholic colleges in the Brisbane district, where arrangements will be made for scientists, students, and the public to have access to it.’
The article then goes on to physically describe the instrument and its history and concludes:
‘The members of the society, however, took very little practical interest in the instrument, Mr Eglinton being the only one whose enthusiasm stood the test of years. Recently the representatives of the society decided to sell the telescope by public auction, and Mr Eglinton made an effort to enlist aid to secure it, so that he might continue his astronomical work. In this, however, he was not successful, the instrument being bought, as already stated, by Archbishop Duhig.’
Duhig had been appointed Archbishop the same year (1917) and this was the beginning of a long and illustrious career that would see Catholic churches crowning many hilltops in the Brisbane area.
Therefore, the telescope was auctioned, and Eglinton failed in his bid to secure it. The Brisbane Astronomical Society or its successors could lay no claim to it.
Francis Drummond Greville Stanley purchased the 6″ Grubb Refractor, later used by the Brisbane Astronomical Society (1896). His untimely death and the legacy of the Grubb Refractor and his home are the background for much of the turmoil in the years that followed.
James Park Thomson scientist and his observations of the transit of Mercury in 1894 and earlier transit of Venus attest to his skills. He was unfairly cast as the villain in later papers about the demise of the Brisbane Astronomical Society in 1917. This was simply because much of the material was not available at the time.