Innes was an exceptional mathematician and was mainly self taught.
He left school at the age of 12, but at the age of 17 he became a fellow
of the Royal Astronomical Society.
After marrying he moved to Australia where he became a wine merchant.
He was successful, but his heart was in the sky. "He was encouraged
by several Australian astronomers, among them W. F. Gale, celebrated
as an observer of comets (a periodical comet which he discovered
is named after him). Gale loaned him an old 61-inch Cooke refractor, and
Innes began his real work: the study of double stars in the Southern
Hemisphere. ... First, Innes began to search for new doubles. After
a mere thirty hours' search with the 61-inch refractor he had discovered
twenty-six. He published his original list in December 1894; he
acquired a larger reflector, and soon issued a second list of new
pairs. Clearly, the field of discovery was wide open". [Copied
from Moore, pp. 93 - 94.]
He decided to make astronomy his career. "Wine is all
very well in its way, but Innes had no wish to make it his permanent
career. Now that he had some published papers to back his claims
he wrote to Gill
at the Cape, offering his service. Gill was impressed, but he was limited
in the numbers of staff members he could employ, and all he could suggest
was a relatively humble post at a small salary. If Innes cared to
throw up his promising Australian connections and come to the Cape as
secretary- cum- librarian- cum- accountant, he could do so. Innes,
being Innes, accepted, and in 1896 he arrived in South Africa, ready to
devote the rest of his life to astronomy". [Copied from Moore,
Observatory: "At first his personal research was confined to
what was officially his free time, but even so he managed to accomplish
a great deal. By 1898 he had discovered another 280 double stars,
and in the following year he published his first Reference Catalogue
of Southern Double Stars, dealing with 2 140 pairs. He also
concentrated upon variable stars, and in addition he measured the proper
motions of many stars in the southern sky. He even revised the Cape
one of the most important of existing star-catalogue". [Copied from
Moore, p. 95.]
Innes continued his work on double stars, impressing Gill so much
that he recommended Innes for the post of Director for the new
Observatory in Johannesburg. (Look Republic
Observatory) The new Observatory was created as primarily a meteorological
station, with some astronomical functions. Innes became director
in 1903, and managed to transform the observatory into a solely astronomical
observatory by 1907.
"Indeed, he was primarily a mathematician, though he is best remembered
today for his outstanding observational results. One of his most famous
discoveries was that of Proxima Centauri, the faint companion
of Alpha Centauri, which was subsequently found to be the
nearest star beyond the Sun; it lies at a distance of a mere 4.2 light-years.
Innes did not happen upon it by sheer chance. He thought that there
might be a dim third star in the Alpha Centauri system, so he started
a systematic search for it; he took numerous photographs - and in 1912
he found it. Around this time, too, he advanced the use of the blink-microscope,
which is a device for examining exposed photographic plates. In essence,
the two plates to be compared are placed side by side in the instrument,
and each is observed in turn; by flicking to and fro in rapid succession,
a moving object will be detected with relative ease. Proxima was
located in this way, and so, subsequently, were many minor planets".
[Copied from Moore, p. 101]
Innes was a farsighted person and managed to shape the Republic
Observatory into a world class observatory. "In 1927, the date
of publication of his second and last catalogue of southern double stars
and two years after the great 26.5 inch refractor was put into commission,
Innes finally retired from the Directorship. He left behind an impressive
record. He is credited with the discovery of 1628 new double stars,
and he made many thousands of measurements; his asteroid work was
equally outstanding - for instance, in 1924 he suspected that the
shape of the strange minor planet Eros was unusual, and using the great
refractor in 1931 his successors, van den Bos and Finsen, confirmed
this, managing to measure the rotation period. (Witt, at Berlin,
discovered Eros in 1898. It has an orbit, which swings it inside that
of the Earth, and sometimes, as in 1931 and 1975, it can come well within
twenty million miles of us. The former approach was used to help in measuring
the length of the astronomical unit, as we have already noted; and in
this work Union Observatory astronomers played an important part. We
now know that Eros is shaped rather like a cosmical sausage, 18 miles
long but only 9 wide at its thickest part.)" [Copied from Moore p.
"Innes was a man of many interests. He was, for example, a chess
player of unusual skill, who might have become a Master if he had
had sufficient time. He lived only a few years after his official retirement;
while in London, on 13 March 1933, he died with tragic suddenness. He
was a great man as well as a great astronomer. It is said that he had
many friends, few critics and no enemies". [Copied from Moore p.
Innes had little schooling and no formal training in Astronomy.
1894: He published first list of binary stars, and soon thereafter
a second list. (This was whilst he was a wine merchant in Australia,
using a borrowed telescope)
1896: Moved to Cape
Observatory in Cape Town as underpaid secretary - cum - librarian - cum
Director of the Republic
Observatory (1903 - 1927).
Discover Proxima Centauri in 1915.
1923: the Univ. of Leiden conferred an honorary doctorate on
Born 1861 November 10 at Edinburg Scotland. He was the eldest of
Left school at age 12. Thereafter he was self-taught. He
ended up awarded an honorary doctorate.
1884: Married Anne Elizabeth, nee Fennel (presumably in Scotland).
They had three sons.
Innes and his family moved to Sydney Australia, where he became
a very successful wine merchant.
1896: Moved to Cape Town. (Look Career)
1903: Moved to Johannesburg. (Look Career)
Died 1933 March 13 with tragic suddenness in London.
Interesting Personal Aspects:
Innes was an unconventional person. He decided that the heat
of the Transvaal (Gauteng) mitigated against the wearing of a tie, and
never wore a tie again, even at the formal function at the Dutch
Court when he received his doctorate.
Innes was a chess player of unusual skill, who might have become
It is said that he had many friends, few critics and no enemies.