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.
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)