Mr Turner resigned his Office of Chief Assistant
Saturday, 28 February 2009
Mr Turner resigned his Office of Chief Assistant
Friday, 27 February 2009
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Sunday, 22 February 2009
Col. [illegible] & Capt Thompson called & took notes with respect to the late bomb explosion.
Rev Sutton Patterson called to enquire as to the prospects of his son getting an appointment as Assistant at the Obsy
Saturday, 21 February 2009
Meeting of International Catalogue Comee at R.S. saw Mr Awdry & Capt Wharton at Admy.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Today sees the official UK launch of the International Year of Astronomy, here at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. During the evening I will be based in the South Building's Endeavour Room - which is, in fact, the Lassell Dome, surmounting what was once known as the New Physical Observatory. It has changed a bit since the 1890s, but spot the telltale porthole windows....
In the dome of the New Physical Observatory: an observer with his eye to the Great Equatorial telescope, mounted on two of the telescopes donated by Sir Henry Thompson, the 26-inch refractor and 9-inch photoheliograph.
In the dome today: the Endeavour Room of the South Building.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
The explosion of 15 February continued to excite the media, and the Observatory's interest is suggested by the fact that the RGO archives contain many newspaper clippings and letters referring to the incident. The catalogue lists the following newspaper reports, and it's interesting to see that at least two suggested that the Observatory was indeed the intended target:
The Globe, 16 February 1894: 'Bomb explosion in Greenwich Park'.
Kentish Mercury, 16 February 1894: 'Fatal explosion in Greenwich Park'.
Daily Graphic, 16 February 1894: 'Explosion in Greenwich Park'.
Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1894: 'Mysterious occurrence in Greenwich Park'.
St James's Gazette, 16 February 1894: 'The Greenwich explosion - the victim identified'.
Pall Mall Gazette, 16 February 1894: 'Anarchism at home and abroad'.
Central News, 16 February 1894: 'French Anarchists in London'.
Evening News, 16 February 1894: 'Bombs and Anarchy'.
The Echo, 16 February 1894: 'Startling explosion at Greenwich - plot to blow up the Observatory'.
Evening News and Post, 16 February 1894: 'Bombs and Anarchy - a French anarchist is blown to pieces in Greenwich Park, extraordinary career'.
The Star, February 1894: 'An Anarchist Accident, Frenchman the victim of his own explosive in Greenwich Park'.
The Morning, 16 February 1894: 'Anarchist attempt to blow up Greenwich Observatory'.
The Standard, 17 February 1894: 'Anarchists in London - the Greenwich explosion'.
Daily Graphic, 17 February 1894: 'The Greenwich explosion - raid on anarchist club'.
Daily Graphic, 17 February 1894: 'The Greenwich explosion - illustrated'.
Larks, vol. 2, 19 February 1894: 'The Ball's Pond Banditti at Greenwich Observatory'.
Kentish Mercury, 23 February 1894: 'The bomb explosion in Greenwich Park - opening of the inquest on Bourdin'
The incident focused attention once again on the Observatory's unique position in the middle of a Royal Park - somewhat isolated yet accessible to any member of the public. Access and management of the park were also in the hands of the Parks authorities rather than the Observatory, which meant that observers had to have keys to the park gates for use after dark and that issues ranging from overgrown trees to stray sheep had to be dealt with by correspondence. Apart from the sheep, many of these issues remain today, meaning that access to after-hours public events, such as Evenings with the Stars, still has to be carefully organised.
Monday, 16 February 2009
The following day, the Times reported the Greenwich Park explosion of the 15 February. The reporter, focusing on the idea of an anarchist conspiracy, does not seem to have thought that the Observatory could have been a premeditated target, believing rather that Bourdin was trying to get rid of explosives before being found by the police. There are arguments against this account, not least the fact that the path Bourdin was on was by no means isolated and that it led only to the Observatory. If you were trying to dispose of a bomb there would be better places to try than this!
EXPLOSION IN GREENWICH PARK.
Last evening an explosion was heard by a keeper of Greenwich Park on the hill close to the Royal Observatory. Proceeding thither he found a respectably-dressed man, in a kneeling posture, terribly mutilated.
***One hand was blown off and the body was open. The injured man was only able to say, "Take me home," and was unable to reply to a question as to where his home was. He was taken to the Seamen's Hospital on an ambulance, and died in less than half an hour.
***A bottle, in many pieces, which had apparently contained an explosive substance, was found near the spot where the explosion took place, and it is conjectured that the deceased man fell and caused its contents to explode.
***The deceased, who was not known in Greenwich, is a young man of about 30, supposed to be a foreigner. The only evidence of identification was a card bearning the name "Bourbon." Several letters, which the police have taken possession of, were found upon him, and it is stated that his hands were covered with a black substance, which cannot be got off.
The Central News says: - The London police have discovered an Anarchist conspiracy. These facts, among others, are beyond dispute - that the inquiries of the detectives, although cautiously made, frightened the plotters, that the gang hurriedly scattered, and that its chief met with his death last evening when endeavouring to carry away to some place the explosives which were to have been used against society either in this country or in France.
[The report goes on to say that the police had been watching a particular house off Tottenham Court Road in London - a district that had "long been notorious as the favourite domicile of the most advanced section of the Socialist party and of the Anarchists, English and foreign" - especially following a bombing of the Cafe Terminus in Paris by one Emile Henry. On 15 February only two men entered...]
***.....One of them, a foreigner, who had all along been considered a leader among the conspirators, made his way to Charing-cross Station, South Eastern Railway, and there, it is now known, took a third-class ticket to Greenwich.
***For the moment, the subsequent movements of this man can only be conjectured, for he is now lying dead in a suburban mortuary. But there is practically no room for doubt that he was fleeing from the police, and that his immediate desire was to rid himself safely of the explosives which he had taken away with him..... it may be assumed that, it now being quite dusk, the man stumbled and fell, with the result that the infernal machine or machines which he was carrying exploded on his own person. It is possible that at the last moment, remembering that the Observatory was a Government building, he decided to expend his explosives against it. But this theory does not fit in with known facts. The sound of the explosion was heard as far away as the Chatham and Dover Railway station.....
***The park-keepers who heard it thought something had gone wrong at the Royal Observatory, and rushed thither without delay. ...
Sunday, 15 February 2009
A French anarchist, Martial Bourdin, accidentally set of a bomb that he was carrying through Greenwich Park at 4.45pm on 15 February 1894. An account of events by one of my ROG colleagues can be found here and a flavour of the media storm that the event provoked (which provided inspiration for Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent) is given here. The image accompanying this post, and another fantastic image from the illustrated press here, show the public's fascination in the event. There has been much debate over what Bourdin's target actually was but, given that the "zigzag path" beneath the Observatory is not a main route, it would appear that the Observatory was the intended target. For nearly a decade Greenwich's local meridian had been designated the Prime Meridian for the world, and that the international day began at midnight in Greenwich - perhaps, then, what Greenwich stood for was indeed a tempting target for an anarchist.
The decision regarding the Prime Meridian was made at the International Meridian Conference held in Washington in 1884, the proceedings of which are available online. These show that the French delegates were far from happy about the idea of making Greenwich rather than Paris (or at least a 'neutral' position) home of the Prime Meridian.
Saturday, 14 February 2009
Friday, 13 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
When there is little or nothing recorded in the Astronomer Royal's or Chief Assistant's journals we can assume that the regular work of the Observatory went on as usual. The annual publication of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich - Greenwich Observations - demonstrates how large a task regular observing and calculating work was, especially at a time that they felt themselves under-staffed. Christie boasted that despite expanding work in what were new fields for Greenwich - especially astro-photography, spectroscopy, double-star observation and increasing equatorial observations - they also managed to increase the number of regular transit observations.
Between May 1893 and May 1894 the average number of transits observed each day was 31 or, if Sunday was discounted, 36. However, conditions meant that this load was spread unequally and Christie noted that the "very favourable conditions" during February 1894 meant that on three consecutive days 458 transits and 460 zenith distances were observed. This was hard and repetitious manual labour for the observers, especially if we remember all the additional observations that had to be made in order to calculate the various errors that had to be factored into the equally labourious calculations that each set of data prompted.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Monday, 9 February 2009
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Saturday, 7 February 2009
Saw Mr Awdry at Admiralty about new scheme for appointments at R.O.
Friday, 6 February 2009
Don't worry - Christie will be back tomorrow! In the meantime, since London has recently experienced its largest snowfall in 18 years and some fairly low temperatures, I have had a quick look at the report from the Observatory's Magnetic and Meteorological Department for 1894. 5 January 1894, when Turner reported snow and low temperatures in his Journal, was the coldest day in the year from May 1893-May 1894 and temperatures plunged to 12.8° Fahrenheit (-10.67° Celsius) with the maximum that day only reaching 19° (-7.2° Celsius). This temperature was apparently “lower than any previously recorded since 1841, with two exceptions". I can only imagine how modern London's transport system would react!
This image was published in 1881 and shows some of the meteorological equipment used at the Observatory, including the self-registering equipment that was brought in by Christie's predecessor and former boss, George Airy. Some further information about this aspect of the Observatory's work can be found here.
Lots of pictures of the Royal Observatory in the snow this week can be found on Flickr, including this set.
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Having mentioned Maunder's interest in sunspots in yesterday's post, I checked The Astronomer Royal's Report to the Board of Visitors for 1894. This records that for sunspots, "the characteristic of the year [May 1893-May 1894] has ... been rather the great number of groups visible at the same time than the extent of any one of them". It was noted that "the groups of 1893 November and 1894 February were very large". Magnetic Observations were carried out by a different department, but they noted that, while this year in general saw much less magnetic activity than the year before, "there was a large increase occurring 1894 February, at the time of the great sun spot."
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
A great place to get an idea of how the Royal Observatory in Greenwich operated in the late 19th century is E. Walter Maunder's Royal Observatory, Greenwich: a Glance at its History and Work published by the Religious Tract Society in 1900. It's the source for several of the images that I've used already in the blog. The full text can be found online in several formats at the Internet Archive.
Maunder (1851-1928) was the Observatory's Photographic and Spectroscopic Assistant. He was appointed in 1873 when this was a new post and a new department for the Observatory. He's probably best known for his statistical analysis of the sunspot photographs for which he was responsible. Using old records, including those of John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, he highlighted the dearth of sunspot activity in the period between 1645 and 1715. This phenomenon was later named the Maunder minimum. Maunder also worked on spectroscopy, including making observations with Christie (who was Chief Assistant before becoming Astronomer Royal in 1881) to measure the radial velocity of stars.
In addition, Maunder was an active member of the Royal Astronomical Society and a founder of the British Astronomical Association - he also wrote many books and articles aimed at a popular audience. His second wife, Annie Scott Dill Russell (1868–1947), was also an astronomer who he met when she worked at the ROG between 1891 and 1895. This was the only brief period during which women worked at the Observatory in the 19th century (see notes for further details). She retired when they married in 1895, he retired in 1913, although both came back to work during the First World War.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
There is a brief gap in both the Astronomer Royal's and Chief Assistant's Journals at this point, suggesting that events at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich were of a routine nature. However, the list of equatorial observations among the archives in Cambridge do record that on 3 February 1894 Right Ascension and North Polar Distance observations were taken of the Crab Nebula.
The 1894 Report of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors gives a bit more information. The observations were made with the Sheepshanks Equatorial (named after its donor, Richard Sheepshanks) and the observations were made "for determination of personality in cometary observations". In other words, they wanted to test the differences in observations when made by different observers, or their Personal Equations. December 1893 had seen observations of Comet Brooks, March-April 1894 was to see Comet Denning, in May-July 1894 Comet Gale was visible, and Encke's Comet arrived at the end of the year.
This image, from the NASA website, is not, of course, quite what the Greenwich observers would have seen through the Sheepshanks Equatorial!
Monday, 2 February 2009
Sunday, 1 February 2009
Rebekah Higgitt says.....
Christie's archives at Cambridge suggest that he was involved with a range of charitable work. This seems to have come with the job, as he replaced the previous Astronomer Royal, George Airy, as a Trustee of the Jubilee Almshouses in 1891. The Jubliee Almshouses were built in Greenwich in 1809 (the name celebrates George III's jubilee) and the Jubilee Trust Almshouses still exist.