Victoria Telescope

better known as McClean Telescope

61 cm (24 inch)



Summary; History; Current; Technical; Sources; Links; Gallery:

In brief

Important Contributions:
By analysing starlight through spectroscopy the first detection of two chemical elements (silicon and curopium) were made with this telescope. [SAAO  press release 2001-10-03]


 This instrument was well suited for astronomical photography and described as a “first-rate telescope.” The telescope carries the name of Frank McClean from Rusthall, Kent. He  was a fellow of the Royal Society (England), engineer and enthusiastic  astronomy amateur. He gave the telescope to Gill as a gift. The instrument became officially known in South Africa  as the Victoria Telescope, but better known as the McClean telescope.
Note: According to Moore, it was the private property of McClean,  who in later years offered it to Gill. According to Smits, it was commissioned by McClean to be built by Grubb and was shipped immediately to the Cape Observatory. [Smits quoting MNASSA Vol. 57]

Historical Background

Cape Observatory (now S.A.A.O.)

Where  Located:
Cape Observatory.

Extra  Information:

  • The  instrument was used in conjunction with the Astrographic telescope to photograph the sky for the project called Cape Photographic Catalogue 1950.0 (CPC  50). Attached to the telescope was the “old” astrometric blue corrected camera. [Laing, p.30]
  • Initially  the telescope was mainly used for spectroscopy with particular  reference to radial velocities and the determination of the orbits of spectroscopic binaries.
  • Later  it was used for parallax, miscellaneous photographic and photometry studies.

Current  Information

Present  Location:
Observatory (Cape Town)




Technical  Details

Type: Astrographic Refractor “It is a triple refractor with a 24 inch (60.96 cm) photographic objective, an 18 inch (45.72 cm) visual objective and an 8 inch (20.32 cm) guiding telescope all of 22.5 feet (685.8 cm) focal length” [Copied from Laing, p.30.]
Focal Length:

Manufacturer: Grubb of Ireland. This company made instruments that were used in  many Colonies of the British Empire. Due to the political situation  in Ireland at the time, the workers perceived the company as being  pro-British, and thus stalled construction. This meant that the telescope was completed a year late, in 1898. The objective lens had to be sent back for reconfiguring (probably due to sabotage  by Grubb employees); thus the official opening only took place on 10 September 1901. Sir Walter Hely Hutchinson, Governor of the Cape Colony, performed the ceremony.
Building: The building that houses the telescope is most interesting with a moveable floor (hydraulically operated rising floor) and was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
Operational History:

  • Acquired in 1897.
  • Overhauled and modernised in 1953. [Laing, p.30.]



Pictorial  Sources:

  • Laing,  J.D. (ed.), The Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope 1820 – 1970 Sesquicentennial Offerings, p.30.
  • Moore, P. & Collins, P., Astronomy in Southern Africa, p. 78. (General  Source)


  • Gill, D.: A History and Description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Neill and Company, Edingburgh, 1913.  Gill – ROCGH
  • Laing,  J.D. (ed.), The Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope 1820 – 1970 Sesquicentennial Offerings, p.30.
  • Moore, P. & Collins, P., Astronomy in Southern Africa, p. 79. (General  Source)
  • SAAO  press release 2001-10-03; “The light of two Centuries, Giant Eyes of the Cape”,  Mnassa Vol 60, Nos. 1&2, 2001, December, p.134.
  • Smits, P., A Brief History of Astronomy in Southern Africa. (Unpublished)
  • McClean  Telescope Celebrates its 100th Anniversary, MNASSA, Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, 1998, April.
  • Laing, J.D. (ed.), The Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope 1820  – 1970 Sesquicentennial Offerings. p. 17.



The 24 inch Victoria telescope, better known as the McClean telescope.
Source: A.S.S.A. Archives: Peter Smits Collection.

Photo Credit: Charles Field, Wynberg. Source: Laing.

Courtesy Africana Museum, Johannesburg. Source: Moore.

A close up of the McClean telescope with Peter Smits.
Source: A.S.S.A. Archives: Peter Smits Collection.

Opening seremony for the McClean Telescope.
Source: Laing.

The building housing the telescope.
Source: A.S.S.A. Archives: Peter Smits Collection

Photo Credit: Wim Filmhalter

Building Plans for the “Victoria Telescope” as it was initially known.

Cooke and Sons;

The McClean Dome with the Southern Cross. Photo Credit: Wim Filmhalter