Listed below are a list of books pertaining to the History of Astronomy in South Africa.

  • Buckley et al: “Africa’s Giant Eye, Building the Southern African Large Telescope” Creda Communications, Cape Town, 2005.
  • Gill, D.: A History and Description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Neill and Company, Edingburgh, 1913.
    Gill – ROCGH
  • Glass, I.S.: The Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope; History and Heritage, Megadigital, Cape Town, 2015. ISBN 978-0-9814126-2-7
  • Glass, I.S.: Proxima, the nearest star (other than the Sun). Mons Mensa, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9814126-0-3
  • Gray, M.A., “Raindrops, Test Tubes and Galaxies”, A history of Astronomy in Natal, with reference to the allies Sciences of Meteorology, Chemistry. etc., from 1850 to 1982. Unpublished.
    (Note: This is the definitive work on the Natal Observatory and Edmund Neison. It was never publised but it is available to the public on the ASSA Historical Website. The book is in 3 parts.)
  • Evans, D.S. et. al. : HERSCHEL AT THE CAPE; Diaries and Correspondence of Sir John Herschel 1834 – 1838. Balkema, Cape Town, 1969.
    Evans et al – Hershel at the Cape, Diaries and corresponce
  • Keay, J. The Great Arc, The Dramatic Tale of how India was mapped and Everest was named; Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2001.
  • Laing, J.D. (ed.), The Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, 1820 – 1970, A Sesquicentennial Offering, Published by The Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town), 1970. [Note: The British Science Research  Council threaten to close the observatory down. This publication was written as a Public Relations exercise to show the world the value of the institution. It was never intended to be a historical document.]
  • Moore, P. & Collins, P., Astronomy in Southern Africa, Robert Hale & Co., London, 1977
  • Smits P. A Brief History of Astronomy in Southern Africa. (Unpublished).
  • Vermeulen, D.J.: Living Amongst the Stars at the Johannesburg Observatory, Paarl Printing Ltd, 2006
  • Warner, B.: Astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope; A history with emphasis on the nineteenth century. Balkema, Cape Town, 1979.
  • Warner, B.: CHARLES PIAZZI SMYTH, Astronomer – Artist, His Cape Years 1835 – 1845, Balkema, Cape Town, 1983
  • Warner, B. (ed.): JOHN HERSCHEL 1792 – 1992, Bicentennial Symposium (6 March1992 / Held in Herschel School, Claremont, Cape Town). Royal Society of South Africa, 1992. [ISBN 0-9583958-1-0]
  • Warner, B. (ed.): Lady Herschel, Letters from the Cape 1834 – 1838. Friends of the South African Library Publication (New Series no. 3), Cape Town, 1991.
  • Warner B. & Warner N.: MACLEAR & H ERSCHEL, Letters & Diaries at the Cape of Good Hope 1834 – 1838. Balkema, Cape Town, 1984.ISBN 0 86961 145 3


Archival Resources

 [Main source JHA 8 pp. 217 – 222.]

The list of references given below comes from a variety of sources.  Prof. Brian Warner from UCT, listing the most important documents concerning Astronomy in Southern Africa bases the basis of the Archival Bibliography on two publications.  These publications are:

  • Warner, B.: ASTRONOMICAL ARCHIVES IN SOUTHERN AFRICA; Journal for the History of Astronomy, (Hoskin M.A.[ed.]) Science History Publications Ltd, England, Vol. 8 (1977) pp. 217 – 222. (My abbreviation [JHA 8 p.?])
  • Warner, B.: CAPE Of GOOD HOPE ROYAL OBSERAVTORY PAPERS IN THE ARCHIVES OF THE ROYAL GREENWICH OBSERVATORY; Journal for the History of Astronomy, (Hoskin M.A. [ed.]) Science History Publications Ltd, England, Vol. 9 (1978) pp.74 – 75. (My abbreviation [JHA 9 p.?])

Supplementing the documents by Prof. Warner are the Bibliographies from the following major books written about Astronomy in Southern Africa. For complete bibliographical detail, see the section on books, listed above.

  • Evans, D.S. et. al.: HERSCHEL AT THE CAPE (My abbreviation [Evans, Herschel p.?])
  • Warner, B.: Astronomers at the Royal Observatory (My abbreviation [Warner, Astronomers p.?])
  • Warner, B.: CHARLES PIAZZI SMYTH. (My abbreviation [Warner, Smyth p.?])
  • Warner, B. (ed.): JOHN HERSCHEL 1792 – 1992, Bicentennial Symposium (My abbreviation [Warner, Herschel p.?])
  • Warner, B. (ed.): Lady Herschel, Letters from the Cape 1834 – 1838(My abbreviation [Warner, Lady H. p.?])
  • Warner B. & Warner N.: MACLEAR & H ERSCHEL (My abbreviation [Warner, Maclear. p.?])

Much of the archival material is scattered among various Government and university libraries in South Africa. The writer [Brian Warner] has enquired of all potential sources of material and has personally inspected those residing in the Cape area. In listing this material, the following precept was followed: for minor sources sufficient detail is given to enable the reader to judge the value. For major sources, such as the Maclear-Mann correspondence in the South African Archives, such a detailed listing is not possible and it would in any case be necessary for the historian personally to inspect the material.

   In some cases, recent changes in organisation have resulted in transfer of archival matter and as a result cataloguing is non-existent or underway.

   Most of the observatories in South Africa have been southern stations of Northern Hemisphere Institutions. Consequently, in many cases, all of the archival material dealing with the establishment and early work of these observatories resides outside of South Africa.  Examples are the Lamont-Hussey Observatory (Michigan), the Boyden Observatory (Harvard) and the Radcliffe Observatory (Oxford).

The Library, Univ. Witwatersrand, JohannesburgThe following items relate to Lacaille, Herschel and Maclear:
Lacaille’s working notebook 1746-54 (Ref. A892). Contains observations made at the Cape from 1751 April 19 to 1753 March 8. Also observations made elsewhere and a list of expenses in connection with his observatory at St Martin (Paris) in 1748. The results of his Cape observations were published in Coelum australe stelliferum (Paris, 1763). Herscheliana (John):
Letter from Herschel 1834 March to his brother-in-law Dr Stewart (Ref. A52).
Letter from Herschel 1836 February 17 to Dr J. Philip, referring to Cape colonial matters (Ref. Fairbairn Papers, A663/Fal).
Typescript transcript of letter 1852 March 21, to Sir Roderick Murchison, recommending A. G. Bain and his geological work (Ref. Bain Papers A6). Maclear items:
Maclear Family papers 1843-90. 5 items (Ref. A253f) (contains MS account of early life of Maclear, letter book 1878-79 of Capt. Harry Maclear, meteorological notes).
Draft of obituary of Maclear (Ref. A616f).
Letter from Maclear to J. Herschel 1851 November 28, recommending Bain (Ref. Bain Papers A6).
Letter 1837 August 9 from Sir J. Barrow (Secretary to the Admiralty) to Maclear on instructions for setting up Bradley’s Zenith Sector (which was used by Maclear for his determination of an arc of meridian) (Ref. Macartney Papers A88/473).
Africana Museum, Johannesburg Miscellaneous letters: Sir G. Airy to Maclear (Ref. 1998) containing instructions for observations; Maclear to Sir Harry Smith concerning proposed Memorial to J. Herschel (Ref. 828); Stone to Maclear, 1872 (Ref. 82).
Herschel MS notes dated 1844 July 22 on experiments for obtaining photographic designs on paper from a daguerrotype plate (Ref. 50/830). Printed astronomical observations in German (with MS notes in English) from Herschel to Maclear 1842 November 15 (Ref. 836).
Letters from C. Piazzi Smyth (assistant to Maclear, later Astronomer Royal for Scotland) to his sister (all written from Edinburgh 1846-62) (Ref. 52/1092, 3,4,5,5A).
Original drawings by C. Piazzi Smyth-see Catalogue of pictures in the Africana Museum by R. F. Kennedy.
Archives of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Pretoria In 1968 the Royal Observatory in Cape Town ceased its formal existence and became part of a joint venture between the South African CSIR and the Science Research Council, known as the South African Astronomical Observatory. At the same time the Republic (formerly Union) Observatory in Johannesburg was closed down. The library and some of the archival material from the latter were sent to the SAAO, but most early papers were transferred to the Archives attached to the CSIR Library in Pretoria.
A collection of papers concerning the short-lived Natal Observatory in Durban is reportedly to be transferred to the Museum at Durban. This collection includes correspondence of E.  Neison 1880-85 and later miscellaneous (particularly between Innes and Neison) 1907-25.
The bulk of the material is concerned with the establishment and instruments of the Union Observatory. Gill’s and Innes’s correspondence on these subjects include a letter to Boss on the selection of the site, extensive exchanges with Turner and Grubb, and negotiations with the firms of Grubb, Cooke, Repsold, Hilger and Chance, 1903-26. There are notes by Innes on the construction of the 26-inch refractor.
The siting and use of the Franklin Adams telescope is covered by correspondence between Innes and Franklin Adams, H. E. Wood, T. Cooke and various officials.
Other papers include information on latitude and time services, earthquakes and meteorology, meteorites, and the solar eclipse of 1940.
Most of the correspondence between the Union Observatory and other observatories is preserved. Correspondence with individuals has been filed by country and by individual and include inter alia Spencer Jones, Dyson, Comrie, Lockyer, Turner, Eddington, Crommelin, Phillips in England; G. Struve, Hertzsprung, Kapteyn, de Sitter, Pannekoek, E. Stromgren and many others in Europe; Boss, Schlesinger, Brown, Hill, Shapley, Burnham and very many others in the USA.
Boyden Observatory, BloemfonteinPapers by Dr A. W. Roberts (1857-1938; amateur variable star observer).Free State Archives, Bloemfontein  Correspondence between Mr James Lyle of Grey College, Bloemfontein and Pickering at Harvard concerning establishment of an observatory in Bloemfontein 1908 (Ref. Governor No. 337).

Killie Campbell Africana Library, U. Natal, Durban

Travel diaries and astronomical observations 1871-75 by St Vincent Whitehead Erskine: 15 small notebooks compiled during journey from Pietermaritzburg to the mouth of the Limpopo.
Papers by James Stuart: writings about the Zulu peoples, mentioning observations of specific stars in relation to timings of festivals.

South Africa Public Library, Cape TownLacaille: Letter 1754 August 20 to M. de la Condamine, reporting on his astronomical observations at the Cape (see Quarterly bulletin of the South African Library, vii (1952), 3-7).
Lacaille: Historical journal of the voyage made to the Cape of Good Hope (1750-53): typescript translation by Mrs E. Melck. Accompanied by Notes and reflections upon Kolbe’s work, by Lacaille.
Herschel: Hourly meteorological observations made in the summer solstice 1835 at the Cape of Good Hope. MS copy by C. Piazzi Smyth. Herschel: Five letters written 1834-47 to W. H. Smyth.
Herschel: Camera Lucida drawings (nearly 200)-see list published in Quarterly bulletin of the South African Library, xii (1957), 73-82.
Library Of The South African Trigonometrical Survey, Mowbray, Cape Town Colonel Charles Warren: Report to the Under Secretary of State on Proposed Survey of Transvaal 1880 June 7.
Sir David Gill: MS comments on Warren’s report, 1880. Numerous documents on nineteenth century trigonometric surveys.
Maclear: Folio volume of sketches computations, diagrams and descriptions of Maclear’s survey expeditions. This includes the Journey of 1837 May with Capt. Williams in search of Lacaille’s trigonometric station and Base Line site; triangulation to connect Cape Observatory with Feldhausen (J. Herschel’s residence) and Lacaille’s site in Cape Town; local triangulations around Lacaille’s other sites.
Smyth: Sketch book of C. P. Smyth showing panoramas made 1842-43 from various survey stations on extension of Lacaille’s arc.
Maclear: Correspondence and financial accounts of Maclear and W. M. Mann (Maclear’s assistant) 1843-45 concerning the measured arc of meridian (N.B.: the writer is recommending to the Trigonometrical Survey that these items be transferred to the extensive collection contained in the South African Archives).
South African Archives, Roeland Street, Cape Town
(use to be in Victoria Street)
This is the principal depository for all the early Government records and thus contains official correspondence concerning the visits of Kolbe and Lacaille. The records of the Colonial Office and of Government House also contain correspondence connected with the establishment of the Royal Observatory.
Maclear-Mann Papers (Accession No. 515): this extensive accumulation of manuscripts and correspondence is contained in 139 files. They derive from presentations made by members of the Maclear family and from donations from the Trigonometric Survey and from the Royal Observatory, Cape. Although mostly concerning Sir Thomas Maclear and William Mann, a considerable amount of material relates to Sir John Herschel and to the early history of the Cape Observatory. Excluding miscellaneous files of accounts, testimonials, newspaper cuttings, etc., the most significant references are:
Files 1-15Letters received by Maclear, 1811, 1813-14, 1816-26, 1828-79, arranged in alphabetical order. File 2 contains correspondence from Sir Francis Beaufort. File 5 contains letters from John Herschel to Maclear.
20 David Livingstone-Maclear correspondence.
22 Includes observation of lunar eclipses (Herschel), observations made at Hartwell (W. H. Smyth).
23Includes some of Henderson’s observations.
24-53Letter books (Royal Observatory) 1844-75.
54-72Maclear diaries, 1840-75.
73-77Letters received by Mrs Maclear.
78-79 Mrs Maclear’s diaries 1832-59.
80-83Correspondence of other members of Maclear family.
85-91 Diaries of Miss Mary Maclear (Maclear’s daughter) 1859-1900. 92-95 Correspondence of William Mann and Caroline Mann.
97 Letters to Maclear concerning Surveys.
99 Accounts of Royal Observatory 1828. Numerous letters from John Herschel to Maclear. Other Herscheliana, including set of drawings of southern nebulae by John Herschel and a draft of his proposed southern constellation reform.
100Miscellaneous Arc of Meridian and Observatory accounts.
101-103 Miscellaneous Observatory (Maclear) papers.
104-107 Duplicate Letter Books.
108-111 Miscellaneous observatory accounts (Maclear).
112-115 Salary lists 1840-81.
119 Henderson’s reductions of transits 1832-33. Stars used in longitude observations 1881.
120Henderson’s reductions of mural circle observations.
121 Miscellaneous, including Henderson’s R.A. and Dec. reductions, Stone’s accounts. Gill’s expedition to Ascension.
122 1873-88 Observatory material.
123-128 Miscellaneous Observatory material 1835-75.
129 Fallows’s observing books 1822-23. Copies of observations 1823- 24, 1828, 1829-31.
130-132 Henderson’s observations 1832-33.
133-134 Chronometer and Clock records at Observatory 1832-73.
Liverpool Observatory chronometer records 1876.
135-139 Papers connected with Surveys (Maclear).
The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), formerly the Royal Observatory, Cape Town.Almost all documents relating to the business of the Royal Observatory prior to Gill’s arrival in 1879 have been sent to the Archives at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Exceptions are a bound volume of official letters received by Maclear (1834-53), copies of letters sent 1856-57 (water damaged, partly illegible) and several volumes of copies of magnetic and meteorological observations made in the mid-1800s. The writer proposes to request the transfer of the first of these items to the Maclear papers in the South African Archives.The complete correspondence, finances, etc., of the Observatory during the period 1879-1929 are bound in 56 volumes in chronological order and separated into subjects. Extensive collections of documents from 1929 to date are extant but are not conveniently ordered or indexed.All of the original observing book back to 1834 is stored.

  A boxed collection of observations of comets, mostly positional determinations, is available. These are mostly Maclear’s observations of such comets as Halley (1835), Gambart (1845), Wilmot (1845), Klinkerfues (1853), Encke (1855, 1861), Donati (1859), D’Arrest (1857-58) and comets in 1843, 1861, 1862, etc.
There is a boxed collection of correspondence, pamphlets, newspaper cuttings, etc., connected with the British Association Meeting held in South Africa in 1905.

South African Museum, Government Avenue, Cape Town  The Archives of this Museum contain extensive correspondence on Museum matters by Sir Thomas Maclear and Sir David Gill, both of whom were Trustees.
Zimbabwe (formerly the National Archives, Salisbury, Rhodesia)  David Livingstone: Astronomical Observations (1853-72) with computations and summaries therefrom made by Maclear (Ref. LI, 1/3).
These consist of miscellaneous papers and diaries and field notes kept by Livingstone, with Maclear’s calculations of positions deduced from Livingstone’s observations. Includes lunar occultations and observations of phenomena of Jupiter’s satellites. Maclear gives a short account of Livingstone’s trips.
Cape of Good Hope Royal Observatory Papers In The Archives Of The Royal Greenwich Observatory[Main source JHA 9 pp.74 – 75]Material relevant to the Cape Observatory is shelved separately in the Archives of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and contains some 112 bound volumes and 32 boxes. These papers derive from three sources:
(a)material sent home contemporaneously from the Cape,
(b)correspondence and papers of the Astronomers Royal (Airy and Christie), and
(c)material transferred from the Cape c. 1960.
(a) and (b) are in general bound volumes taken from the Collection at the RGO and have classification numbers (c4, vols. 1-33) assigned by Airy, or boxes NI-N5 of the Christie papers. The bulk of the material is, however, uncatalogued and unclassified.
The collection contains the following items:

  • Fearon Fallows (1820-31). Original observing ledgers (Transit instrument and Meridian Circle), 1827-31.
    Official correspondence (principally with the Admiralty) 1820-31 (bound vol.).
  • J. Skirrow (Clerk of Works) 1825-29 monthly reports and correspondence connected with erection of the observatory building.
  • Airy’s correspondence and reductions (1846-47) of Fallows’s meridian observations (published Memoirs of the RAS, xix (1847), 1-102), 12 vols.
  • Thomas Henderson (1831-33). Observing ledgers (transit and meridian circle). General notebook (mostly instrumental adjustments), 2 vols. Official correspondence (bound with Fallows volume), 1832-33. Personal correspondence (1832-44) with Maclear, Airy and Brisbane.
    Miscellaneous notes, including printed diary (astronomical notes) notes for a history of the Cape Observatory (principally of Henderson’s own work) and an inventory.
  • Thomas Maclear (1833-70). Meridian observations, corrections and reductions (1834-54), 12 vols. Comet and occultation observations (1834-65), 7 vols. Observing notes 1834-37 (including extensive notes and sketches of Halley’s comet).
    Official correspondence: Simon’s Town (1850-69), Admiralty (1853-70), Colonial Government (1861-72), General (1844-69), II vols. Weekly registers (reports of work done), 1849-60.
    Chronometer books (1836-38, 1849). Magnetic observations (1842-57). Meteorological records (1834-42,1865-73).
    Maclear’s personal diaries (April 1834-May 1835) and memoranda.
    Personal correspondence: extensive collections with C. P. Smyth (on Arc of Meridian in the Cape), Airy and Jacob (Madras).
    Arc of Meridian (1839-48): Original observations (II vols.), general correspondence (mainly with Airy) 1849-70 (3 vols.).
  • Edward J. Stone (1870-79). Correspondence: General and official (1870-79), Simon’s Town (1870-78), Admiralty (1870-79), Hydrographer (1870-74), HMSO (1870-75), Port Elizabeth Time Ball (1871-76), Coast Lighthouses Commission (1871-76), Meteorological Commission (1874-78), Accounts (1871-76), Airy (1870-79, 2 vols.).
  • David Gill (1879-1907). Two boxes and 43 bound volumes of correspondence including letters to and from virtually all of the prominent astronomers of the period and on the particular topics of Chronometers and Time Balls (1879-1900, 4 vols.), Magnetism, Meteorology, Meteors and Seismology (1879-1906, 2 vols.). Geodetic Surveys of Rhodesia (1897-1906), Transvaal (1901-1906) and the whole of South Africa (1879-1906, 4 vols.); Survey of the Anglo-German boundary (1896-1906, 2 vols.); British Association visit to South Africa (1905, 4 vols.); Natal observatory (1881-1890); Transit of Venus (1882); Photography (Corona and Southern Durchmusterung).
    Christie papers  (1879-1909): correspondence with Cape Observatory (6 boxes) on Appointments, Instruments, Surveys and Publications.
    The writer is indebted to the Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory for permission to use the Archives and to MR P. S. LAURIE for his assistance.

NOTE: A reference e.g. (R 11) refers to a questionnaire that was send out in ?.  The aim was to ask persons / institutions to supply a list of objects / information on anything they feel of relevance regarding the History of Astronomy. The reply’s are in the archive of the Historical Section (A.S.S.A.). They are numbered, and (R 11) refer to: History of Astronomy Questionnaire (Reply number 11.)