Lesser Known Southern African Astronomers
This page contains information on Astronomers that were active in South Africa. As their contributions were not that important little information is available / given.
Bowler came out to South Africa (1834) from the United Kingdom as footman to Thomas Maclear. He was taught to be handy around the Cape Observatory, and Maclear went on to employ Bowler as an assistant. After working for the Observatory for a year he was dismissed by Maclear for insolence. Bowler then found employment “in a gentleman’s family to teach the children drawing and the use of globes”
Bowler went on to become one of the most important artists in the Cape Colony. He made twenty or more paintings of the Cape Observatory, and much of what we know of how the terrain looked at the time was due to him. [Warner-Astronomers, p.44.]
Sources: – Bowler
Warner, B., Astronomers at the Royal Observatory Cape of Good Hope.
The son of Sir Thomas Maclear, director of the Cape Observatory (1834 – 1870), he chose to become an astronomer just like his famous father. However he did not have the talents of his father. When Thomas Maclear retired he attempted to persuade the Admiralty to appoint his Assistant Director (and son-in-law), William Mann, as his successor, and to appoint George Maclear as Assistant Director. The Admiralty appointed James Stone instead as Thomas Maclears successor. [Warner-Astronomers, p.75; p.77.]
George Maclear worked at the Cape Observatory. Stone wrote that “Mr G. Maclear is not a man of any knowledge or power” [Warner-Astronomers, p.75.]
The main task of the Observatory under Stone was to reduce the observations made by Thomas Maclear and prepare then for publication as the catelogue of Southern Hemisphere Stars. It was very tedious work. During this time the remuneration at the Observatory was not very good. Responsible Government was introduced at the Cape, and with that an improvement in salaries. Observatory staff were however paid by the Admiralty and their salaries lacked behind. It is a tribute to George Maclear that he persevered. [Warner-Astronomers, p.77.]
He made valuable contributions to the attributed to the 1882 Transit of Venus Observations. [Koorts]
Sources: Maclear G:
Koorts – MNASSA April 2004, Vol. 63 nos. 3 & 4, pp. 34 – 57
Warner, B., Astronomers at the Royal Observatory Cape of Good Hope.
Meadows William [Lieutenant] (1831 – 1835):
Background: Meadows was the first Assistant Director at the Cape Observatory. Initially Fearon Fallows – the director – started the Observatory with no Assistant Directors. Fallows had assistants, but they did not however had the title of Assistant Director. Their names were James Fayrer, Patrick Scully, William Ronald and James Robertson, see Fallows: (Establishing the Observatory). Meadows was appointed by the admiralty as Assistant Director, and left England after Fallows died. In England they received word that Fallows was very sick, and only when Meadows arrived in Cape Town did he learn of Fallows death. On paper Meadows was assistant to Fallows, Henderson and Maclear, but in reality he was assistant only to Henderson and Maclear.
Time at Cape Observatory:
Meadows, his wife and a servant arrived at the Cape on 4 November 1831. As they arrived at the Cape Observatory they found that the Reverend John Fry and his wife, the latter who suffered from Leprosy occupied their lodgings. (Fry was appointed by Commodore Schomberg of the British Navy, upon hearing of the death Fallows, to oversee the Observatory. Meadows moved Fry out and insisted that the East Wing (their residence) be completely repainted. The Navy did however not want to spend the money. [Warner-Astronomers, p.31.]
The new director was Thomas Henderson who only stayed at the Observatory for a year. Meadows and Henderson made nearly ten thousand observations in that short period of time. [Warner-Astronomers, p.32.]
After Henderson departed Meadows was also assistant director to Maclear. He had the following to say about Meadows: “â€¦ are without a doubt the most melancholic, discontented croaking helpless couple I ever met with â€¦ What then must be the consequence of your breathing daily and hourly the atmosphere of discontent and to have it instilled into your ear that the government of your country cared but little for the result of your labours”. When Maclear met Meadows, he was greeted with the words, “So Sir, you have determined to accept this wretched appointment”. [Warner – Astronomers, p.41.]
Life at the Observatory was hard. A poem by the wife of Lieut. William Meadows tells the story well. It was found in 1989 preserved among the private papers of the late Sir Thomas Maclear.
Lines in the Handwriting of a Lady, found on a Table in the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope (1832)
Description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope:
Should I call on my pen to describe in detail?
The aspect around us, its effort would fail
Since the task is so hard a just picture to make
When a negative scene for our subject we take-
We mix not in the stir of a city or town
For us their allurements and cares are unknown,
Nor live we where nature exhibits her store
But to wed us to rural attractions the more
Nor move we on ocean with proud sail unfurled,
To gain knowledge or wealth from the Old or New World.
No, it is not like land and it is not like sea
But lest it be asked where this strange home can be?
‘Tis well to confess that it stands on a plain
Over which the eye wanders for beauty in vain
No tree lends its foliage, – no warbler is heard
For green are the haunts of the sweet singing bird;
The owl screams at night round the pond’rous Pile
And the terrified frogs cease their croakings the while
Dread serpents dispute our just claims to a place
Which ages ago was assigned to their race.
And they lurk in our pathway, our chambers molest
No pleasant associates; it must be confest.
(Old Eolus) Father Boreas for pastime delights to whirl round
The vanes of ten mills we see from “Snake Mound”.
The “Slough of Despond” intercepts our main road,
And near “Dismal Swamp” stands our tasteless abode.”
[Copied from Warner-Astronomers, pp.34-35; MNASSA Vol. 48. (There are some minor differences between the two sources.)]
From their first meeting, Maclear was irked by the personality of his assistant, Lieutenant Meadows. Things between them came to a head when a woman in Meadows service was reprimanded for “insolent conduct”. Maclear insisted on her removal from the observatory grounds. Meadows refused to remove the woman and threaten to resign. The outcome of which was that Meadows took three months leave with the intention never to return. [Warner – Astronomers, p.49.]
Sources: – Meadows
MNASSA, Vol. 48, Nos. 5 & 6, 1989, June, p. 59.
Warner, B., Astronomers at the Royal Observatory Cape of Good Hope, pp.31 – 35.