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. Page1Astronomical 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 1896.2The ‘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.3Last two paragraphs – Moy&Holmes 1994.
James Park Thomson was President. 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, the President, 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.4Moy & 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 offered5letter 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.6Reported 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.
About the author
- 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.
- History2019.07.07John Beebe (1866-1936)
- History2019.06.30Brisbane’s famous early astronomer – Captain Henry O’Reilly (1824-1877)
- History2019.06.30The ASQ 18” telescope project and the Bundaberg group in 1964
- History2019.06.30The formation of the Astronomical Association of Queensland – AAQ “Mark 2” (1978)