The Visitors Book of the Kensington Astronomical Observatory, With Great Scientists and Notable Personalities, from Britain, Asia, Europe and the United States

The World of Science and Astronomy in the Early Victorian Period.

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Acquired by us from an educational institution and not offered for sale in over a century; A remarkable and uniquely comprehensive glimpse of the scientific world in the 1830s and 1840s

In the years from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century, Great Britain was the scientific hub of the world, and particularly...

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The Visitors Book of the Kensington Astronomical Observatory, With Great Scientists and Notable Personalities, from Britain, Asia, Europe and the United States

The World of Science and Astronomy in the Early Victorian Period.

Acquired by us from an educational institution and not offered for sale in over a century; A remarkable and uniquely comprehensive glimpse of the scientific world in the 1830s and 1840s

In the years from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century, Great Britain was the scientific hub of the world, and particularly so in relation to astronomy, It started in the 17th century when the Royal Society was established in 1660 by twelve scientists including Sir Christopher Wren. Isaac Newton joined in 1672. The Society counted wealthy amateurs and nobles as well as professional scientists among its members (or ‘Fellows’). Seeing King Louis XIV of France decide to build an observatory in Paris in the later 1660s, the British Government began to take an interest in astronomy. King Charles II was persuaded to found the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1675, in order to provide astronomical predictions for the purposes of navigation, for the benefit of the Royal Navy. John Flamsteed, the Royal Observatory’s first director, was also named the first Astronomer Royal. He made precise observations, from which increasingly accurate predictions and investigations could be made of astronomical phenomena. Flamsteed’s successor as Astronomer Royal was Edmund Halley, whose star catalogue of 1678 was the first to contain telescopically determined locations of southern stars. He showed that the three historic comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 were so similar in characteristics that they must have been successive returns of the same object – now known as Halley's Comet – and accurately predicted its return in 1858.

“October 10, 1835. I had the pleasure this evening of seeing Halley’s Comet through Sir James South’s glass”. – See more at:
“October 10, 1835. I had the pleasure this evening of seeing Halley’s Comet through Sir James South’s glass”. – See more at:

Prince George: “October 10, 1835. I had the pleasure this evening of seeing Halley’s Comet through Sir James South’s glass”.

In the 18th century, Sir William Herschel and his sister Caroline Herschel constructed telescopes with which they made significant discoveries. Caroline occupied herself with astronomical theory and formulae for calculation as a basis for observing the stars and managing astronomical distances, while he was behind the telescope. They discovered that the nebulae were clusters of stars and published catalogues of nebulae in 1802 (2,500 objects) and 1820 (5,000 objects). In the course of an observation in 1781 William realized that one celestial body they had observed was not a star, but a planet, Uranus. This was the first planet to be discovered since antiquity, and made William Herschel the best known astronomer in the world. He became the Astronomer Royal and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Both William and Caroline Herschel were awarded pensions; hers was half her brother’s amount.

After Hershel’s death in 1822, the astronomy mantle passed to his son John Herschel, James South, and George Airy. Airy was head of the Greenwich Observatory and Astronomer Royal, and established Greenwich as the location of the prime meridian. South helped found and was President of the Royal Astronomical Society, of which Herschel was three times President. South and Herschel jointly produced a catalogue of 380 double stars in 1824. South then continued and observed another 458 double stars over the following year. He won the Copley Medal (the Royal Society’s oldest and most prestigious award) in 1826, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in that same year. He was knighted in 1831. Craters on Mars and the Moon are named in his honor. Mary Somerville delivered a paper on the “Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum" to the Royal Society, becoming the first woman whose work on her own it published. She was also the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In 1826, South purchased land to build a new observatory, in which he would place a new, large telescope. The observatory’s dome was designed by Isambard K. Brunel. It opened in July 1831, years before the first observatory in the United States, and saw its heyday in the 1830s and 1840s. Astronomers and heads of observatories (some 50 of them), scientists, engineers, lens and equipment makers, authors, nobles, and others fascinated by astronomy and wanting to see the new facility, flocked to Kensington from around the world. These included people like Michael Faraday, Florence Nightingale, Brunel, Somerville, Herschel, Francois Arago, and Ormsby M. Mitchell, founder of the first permanent astronomical observatory in the United States. Sometimes they gathered for specific occasions, such as to observe the Transit of Mercury. Nobles included the Emperor of France, the Duke of Marlborough, and many others. South kept a visitor’s book, in which some 3,000 people, including scores of members of the Royal Society, signed their names. Perhaps in no other document in private hands will so many Early Victorian astronomers signatures be found.

The Kensington Observatory had ceased operation by the 1860s when South, who was old and had gone deaf, sold the observatory’s equipment and assets at public sale. This book would have been one of those assets, and has rested in an educational institution, unheralded, for over a century. It retains its original binding, over which the institution has has affixed a leather label.  The spine would benefit from repair.  It was donated to an institution circa 1910, and obtained by us when recently de-accessioned.

The Kensington Observatory Visitor’s Book: A brief abstract taken from thousands of names

Noted astronomers

* John Herschel – Foremost living British astronomer.
* James South –  Head of Kensington Observatory.
* Mary Somerville – Author of books on astronomy, first woman to have a paper published by the Royal Society, the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
* George B. Airy – Astronomer Royal of England, director Greenwich Observatory, with his assistants Thomas and Henry Taylor.
* Ormsby M. Mitchel – Head of the Cincinnati Observatory, the first fixed observatory in the United States. Published first monthly magazine in the U.S. devoted to astronomy, general in the Civil War.
* Thomas James Alan Henderson – First Astronomer Royal of Scotland, and the first person to measure the distance to Alpha Centauri.
* François Jean Dominique Arago – Director Paris Observatory, discovered rotatory magnetism, proved connection between aurora borealis and variations of the magnetic elements, Prime Minister.
*  Joseph B. Pentland – worked with Arago, diplomat and cartographer.
* Mohammed Ismail Khan – Astronomer to the King of Agra and Oude, India.
* Ernest Capocci – Director Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte.
* Frederick William Bessel – Established Königsberg Observatory in Germany.
* Thomas Maclear – Head of the observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, friend of Herschel and Livingstone.
* Edward J. Cooper – Head of Markree Observatory, Ireland.
* William Rowan Hamilton – Of the Observatory at Dublin, inventor of Hamiltonian mechanics.
* Otto Vasilevich Struve – Head of the Pulkovo Observatory, member Russian Academy of Sciences.
* W. Dohen – Of Tartu Dorpat Observatory in Estonia.
* W. West – Of the Clifton Observatory in Bristol.
* Gerrit Moll – Head of the Utrecht Observatory.
* José Sánchez Cerquero – Spanish astronomer, head of Observatory de San Fernando
* Giovanni Battista Amici – Italian astronomer and botanist, director of the Observatory at Florence. He invented the direct vision prism.
* Henry von Boguslawski – Pole, professor and Director of the Breslau Observatory, won the Lalande prize for discovery of a comet.
* Thomas Romney Robinson – Director of the Armagh Astronomical Observatory, compiled a large catalog of stars for which he was awarded the Royal Medal.
* Manuel John Johnson – Built the Ladder Hill Observatory on St. Helena, made the first successful measurement of a stellar parallax; President of the Royal Astronomical Society.
 * George Bishop – Head of Bishop’s Observatory, 11 minor planets discovered there.
* Stephen Peter Rigaud – Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, taught the Royal family astronomy.
* C.M. Young – Professor of Astronomy at Princeton, discovered the reversing layer.
* William R. Dawes –  Made extensive measurements of double stars as well as observations of planets, optical phenomenon Dawes Limit is named for him.
* Johann von Lamont – Performed magnetic surveys of the Earth and calculated orbits of Uranus and Saturn.
* John Lee – President of the Royal Astronomical Society.
* John Narrien – Author of "An Historical Account of the Origin and Progress of Astronomy,”
* Olinthus Gregory – Mathematician, author, one of founders Royal Astronomical Society.
* Johann Franz Encke – Calculated the periods of comets and asteroids, and measured the distance from the earth to the sun.
* William Lassell – Pioneered the use of equatorial mounts for easy tracking of objects as the earth rotates, discovered moons of Neptune, Saturn, Uranus.
* Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie – Geographer and astronomer, known for his writings on the geography, geology, archaeology and natural history of Ethiopia.
*  Ivan Simonoff – Took observations in Antarctica.
* Francis Baily – Eminent solar astronomer.
* Michael Fitzgerald – Land surveyor to the Royal Society, left important account of ball lightning.
* Thomas Galloway – Mathematician, wrote "On the proper motion of the solar system”.
* Henry James Anderson – Professor of mathematics and astronomy at Columbia College, New York.q
* Basil Hall – Astronomer who made significant contributions to nautical astronomy.
Thomas Norris – Wealthy patron who also engaged in astronomy.
* Thomas Gaskin – Mathematician remembered for his work on the equation for the figure of the Earth
* Henry Lawson – Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, which published his articles.
* Wilhelm Gotthelf Lohrmann – German cartographer and astronomer
* Johann Ludwig Tiarks – German astronomer in Britain, who surveyed the US – Canada border.
* P. Van Galen – Nautical astronomer, mathematician and author.
* Richard Horsman Solly – Geologist and botanist, contributed toward inventing a better microscope.

Scientists and inventors (outside of astronomy)

* Michael Faraday – Chemist and physicist, the foremost of his day. He discovered electromagnetic rotation (the principle behind the electric motor) and electromagnetic induction, the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. He has signed three times.
* Charles Babbage  – Originator of the concept of a programmable computer, along with Bryan Donkin, his engineer, who built the first computer.
* Joseph Henry – First Head of the Smithsonian Institution.
* Jean Baptiste André Dumas – President, French Academy of Science; chemist known for his works on the determination of atomic and molecular weights, developed method for the analysis of nitrogen in compounds.
* John Lewis Guillemard – President of Royal Society.
* Isambard K. Brunel – Engineer, built first suspension bridge, the Thames Tunnel, Great Western Railway and the world's first iron-hulled, propeller-driven, steam-powered passenger liner.
* Francis Beaufort – Inventor of the wind force scale.
* Robert Addams – Chemist, discovered motion after-effect.
* Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair – Secretary of the British Department of Science, promoted the Playfair cipher, the encryption method used before digital.
* Theodor Baumann  – Inventor of a device for determining the effect of atmospheric resistance.
* Wilhelm Eduard Weber – Physicist, inventor of electromagnetic telegraph.
* George Rennie – Engineer, involved in the construction of George Stephenson’s Liverpool and Manchester Railway, designed manufacturing equipment; built world’s first propeller-driven steamship.
* Walter Weldon – Chemist who developed the Weldon process to produce chlorine.
* Sir John Barton – Inventor of the micrometer.
* John Phillips – Geologist, published the first global geologic time scale based on the correlation of fossils in rock strata, invented term Mesozoic.
* William Brockedon – Painter and inventor with patents for sealing agents using rubber.
* Nathaniel Ogle – Built steam engines; built a prototype automobile in 1831.
* James D. Forbes – Physicist and glaciologist, expert on conduction of heat and seismology.
* Henry Kater – Physicist, invented Kater’s Pendulum, prismatic compass and floating collimator, winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Society.
* Alexander Dallas Bache – American physicist, scientist and surveyor; great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
* William Snow Harris – Physician and electrical scientist, invented successful system of lightning conductors for ships.
* William Ritchie – Physicist, wrote “On the Permeability of Transparent Screens of Extreme Tenuity by Radiant Heat”
* Thomas F. Colby – Conducted the Royal Survey of Ireland, Fellow of the Astronomical Society.
* R.A. More O’Ferrall – Organic chemist who discovered More O’Ferrall-Jencks Plots, which show two-dimensional representations of coordinate for chemical reactions.
* W.S.B. Woolhouse – Author of books on the design of steam locomotives, measurements, and other actuarial and scientific fields.
* François-Napoléon-Marie Moigno – Mathematician and physicist, founded the scientific journal “Cosmos" and newspaper "Les Mondes”.
* George Back – President, Royal College of Physicians.
* James Finlay Weir Johnston – Chemist, author of “Catechism of Agricultural Chemistry” and “Chemistry of Common Life”.
* William Thomas Brands – Chemist, author of “A Dictionary of Materia Medica” and “Pharmacy, A Manual of Chemistry”.
* Elias Loomis – American mathematician, wrote “Analytical Geometry” and “Differential and Integral Calculus”.
* Francis Marx – Inventor, held patent for improvements to steamships.
* Elie Wartmann – Scientist, pioneered in study of conductibility of minerals for voltaic electricity
* Philip Stanhope, Lord Mahon – President Medico-Botanical Society.
* James Ebenezer Bicheno – Botanist and naturalist.
* John Taylor – Botanist.
* Henry Ibbetson – Botanist.
* S. Solly – Botanist.
* John Dillwyn Llewelyn – Botanist.
* Francis Boucher Wright – Botanist.
* William Blake – Economist, President the Geological Society of London.
* Leonard Horner – Geologist, President Geological Society of London.
* John Palliser – Geologist and explorer, explored Western Canada.
* William Bateman Byng – Geologist, author.

Astronomy and scientific equipment makers

* Edward Troughton and William Simms – Instrument makers who made telescopes and other astronomical instruments, including that at Kensington.
* William Gravatt – Worked with Babbage and Brunel, designed an improved telescope.
* Hannibal Moltrecht – Engineer, built the first telegraph in Germany.
* Robert Molyneux – Maker of astronomical clocks and chronometers.
* Thomas and William Tulley – Makers of optical glass for telescopes.
* Thomas Jones – Maker of nautical and astronomical instruments.
* Louis Urban and Jules Jurgensen – Owners of the Danish/Swiss firm that made chronometers, thermometers, and watches, amongst the world’s greatest creators of timepieces.
* George Yeates – Chair, Royal Society Dublin; mathematical instrument maker.
* John Gaskin – Mathematician and astronomer, he made the telescope South used at Kensington Observatory.
* George Ertel – German telescope manufacturer.
* Sigmund Merz – co-inventor of the Merz microscope.

Other notables

* Florence Nightingale – Founder of modern nursing, who signs with her father, mother, sister.
* Prince George, Duke of Cambridge – Grandson of King George III, cousin of Victoria. He wrote, “October 10, 1835. I had the pleasure this evening of seeing Halley’s Comet through Sir James South’s glass”.
* Edward Prince of Weimar – Nephew of King William IV. He wrote, “Thursday May 31, 1838. Observed this evening with the large equatorial the transit of the first satellite of Jupiter over the planet with all the shadows of it”.
* Ameen Bey – First Turkish Envoy from the Sultan of Constantinople to the United States.
* Louis Napoleon – Emperor of France, with astronomical observations.
* Michael Count Woronzow – Commander-in-chief of the Russian corps under the command of the Duke of Wellington, Governor of South Russia.
* Marlborough – The 6th and 7th Dukes, great-grandfather and grandfather of Winston Churchill.
* Sir John Scott – Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.
* John Evelyn Denison – Speaker of the House of Commons
* William Cubitt – President, Institution of Civil Engineers, chief engineer on Crystal Palace
* Thomas Massa Alsager – Owner and manager of The Times newspaper.
* John Joseph Lawson – Publisher of The Times newspaper.
* Sir Robert Dundas – First Lord of the Admiralty
*  John Learmonth – Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
* Nawab Sultan Mariam Begum of Lucknow.
* James Clark Ross – Antarctic explorer.
* Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington – Novelist, friend of Dickens.
* Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts – Greatest philanthropist in England, interested in science and provided funds for research in astronomy, physics, geology, and the natural sciences.
* Thomas Phillipps – Antiquarian and the foremost autograph and manuscript of his day.
* W. D. Bradwell – Inventor of the blade-skating ice floors, father of hockey.
* William Tierney Clark – Designed suspension bridges, including first over the Thames.
* John Cary – Cartographer, produced Cary's New Itinerary, a map of all the major roads in England and Wales.
* Sir James McGrigor – Physician and botanist, considered to be responsible for the creation of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
* Caleb Whitefoord – Secretary to the commission which concluded peace between Great Britain and the United States at Paris, 1782.
* William Vernon Harcourt – One of founders of British Association for the Advancement of Science.
* George Alexander Cockburn – Admiral, directed the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, later First Naval Lord and Admiral of the Fleet.
* 5th Earle of Fitzwilliam – President three times of the Royal Statistical Society, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in its inaugural year 1831-2.
* Thomas Egerton – Publisher, including books of Jane Austen
* Henry Ingersoll Bowditch – American physician and abolitionist, popularized the stethoscope.
* Henry Burton – Physician, discovered the Burton Line to diagnose lead poisoning.
* John Ross – Arctic explorer
* Joseph Henry Green – Fellow Royal Society, surgeon, literary executor of Coleridge
* James Walker – President Institution of Civil Engineers.
* James, George and Sarah Sant – Artists, James the official artist to Queen Victoria, Sarah an early female artist known for watercolors of Scotland.
* Mary Countess of Cork – Salon personality, her home being the site of literary parties for 50 years, attended by figures such as Samuel Johnson, King George IV, and poet Lord Byron.
* Sir Lawrence Peel – Chief Justice of Calcutta.
* Sir Henry Willock – Chairman East India Company.
* John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune – Pioneer in promoting women’s education in India.
* John Wilson – founder of Wilson College in Bombay, one of India’s oldest colleges.
* Charles Augustus Tulk – President London Phrenological Society, friend of Coleridge, patron of Blake.
* Edward Eyre – Explorer of Australian continent, Governor of Jamaica.
* Francis Bramah – Member Institution of Civil Engineers, made the gates at Buckingham Palace.
* Joseph and George Gwilt – Noted architects.
* Thomas Allason – Architect, surveyor and landscaper
* Joseph John Scoles – Gothic Revival architect
* John B.Papworth – Architect, founding member Royal Institute of British Architects
* George Gowan – Architect.
* Henry Aston Barker – Artist.
* Eden Upton Eddis – Artist.
* George Haldimand – Financier who owned and developed Belgrave Square.
* Robert Melville Grindlay – Artist.
* Charles H. Lewis – Artist.
* Charles Strong – Poet.
* John Oxenford – Playwright and translator.
* Alfred Comte d’Orsay – Artist.
* William Louis Beaufort – Artist
* David Wilkie – Artist.
* Ernest Charles Jones – Poet and novelist.
* Józef Napoleon Czapski – Polish independence advocate and exile.

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