Hilltop Museum

Hilltop Observatory.



Summary; Description; Sources; Links; Gallery:

Cyril Jackson was a prominent South African Astronomer who discovered / co-discovered three comets and 72 asteroids. He worked mainly in South Africa (Union and Yale Observatories), Australia and South America. During the last years before retirement, in the 1950’s, he built this observatory on his farm named Hilltop in the Haenertsburg district. After retirement he moved to the farm and used the observatory. He sold the observatory ground in the 1970’s and the site passed into distant memory until it was re-discovered. Magda Streicher identified the site, had the site registered as a Provinsial Heritage Site with the National Heritage Foundation, and managed to contribute a display at the local Haenertburg museum.

An estate agent who informed her that a property of value to Astronomy was to be put up for sale contacted Magda Streicher, prominent amateur astronomer in the Northern Province. After investigating the site and discovering whom the astronomer was she took action. The following description was kindly supplied by Magda.“Sometime ago I discovered this site on the road between Pietersburg and Tzaneen and intrigued by old astronomers that achieved fame, I decided to try and save this stone observatory from destruction.
Fortunately the owner is well known to me and with his blessing I contacted the National Heritage foundation and applied to have this observatory declared a site of national heritage. There has been no conclusion due to the very slow process but I did obtain assurance that it will not be demolished and already been declared a provincial heritage site.
According to my research amongst the older people in the community, the observatory had a wooden roof that slid on train tracts across the pillars. Haenertsburg is situated in Magoebaskloof and the weather is not always favourable. The inscription on the doorway to the observatory reads “Erno Star house 1955″.
Jackson acquired the telescope instruments from a German observatory in South West Africa (now Namibia), whose staff had been interned during the 1939 to 1945 war. According to his son, Jackson slept next to the telescope pier and depended on the weather made his observations. Paul Jackson the son of Cyril Jackson resides in Pietermaritzburg. He supplied me with valuable photos and information on his father.
Armed with the Cyril Jackson information I decided to exhibit at the Haenertsburg Museum since Haenertsburg is a tourist town and frequented by many visitors. In conjunction with the mayor of Haenertsburg, Mr. Mike Garner, the surrounding area were cleaned, a hiking rail and notice board was erected to indicate the road to the observatory. He always walked the few kilometres to Haenertsburg and occasionally worked at the local Wood Mill. He was known as a loner, dedicating his time to astronomy. This farm was sold when he died in 1988 in Pietermaritzburg.”


Link to the Main Bibliography Section and more information about Sources.

Remaining  Artefacts:
Telescope at Hilltop: The instruments he acquired from a German observatory in South West Africa (now Namibia), whose staff had been interned during the ’39 to 45 war. In the 1970’s Jackson stopped observing and the observatory grounds were sold. The telescope was then stored behind his farmhouse. The instruments were then donated to an unknown amateur astronomer in Pretoria. [Communication with his son Paul Jackson via Magda Streicher 4/2005]

  • Oral Sources: Streicher, M.; Personal verbal communication with various persons.
  • Obituary,  MNASSA, Vol. 48, Nos. 7 & 8, August 1989.
  • Moore, P. & Collins, P.; Astronomy in Southern Africa. (General Source)
  • Smits, P.; A Brief History of Astronomy in Southern Africa.(Unpublished)


My gratitude to Magda Streicher who did the research and presented a paper at the 2004 A.S.S.A. Symposium held in Johannesburg. [CdC]





The Hilltop Observatory as it looked after its re-discovery in 2004.

Source: Magda Streicher Collection 010

The pillars for the roll-off roof.
Source: Magda Streicher Collection 011.


The aptly named Hilltop observatory with the Haenertsburg mountains in the background.
Source: Magda Streicher Collection 012.

The inscription above the doorway leading into the observatory. “Erno Star House 1955”

Source: Magda Streicher Collection 015


Cyril Jacksons farm, where he had his Observatory is situated in the Haenertsburg District. The museum in the town kindly allowed Magda Streicher to display some material.


Magda Streicher at the Cyril Jackson display at the Haenertsburg Museum.
Source: Magda Streicher Collection 008.


Display case at the Haenertsburg Museum.
Source: Magda Streicher Collection 018.


Display case at the Haenertsburg Museum.
Source: Magda Streicher Collection 018.


A photograph of Jackson’s house at Hilltop, with two of his childen.
Source: Magda Streicher.