Ardencraig Estate Subdivision 1916 – Isles Love & Co. Auctioneers.

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.’

Close up of subdivision showing observatory –Isles Love & Co. Auctioneers.

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.

About the author

Peter Anderson
Peter Anderson
Peter has been involved in practical amateur astronomy and involved with the local astronomical society since 1958. Has been a member of the AAQ since its inception in 1978, and is the Associations unofficial Historian.
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