Jump to Navigation

The Victorian Amateur Astronomer

By Patrick Moore | Published in History Today 1999 
Print this article   Email this article

Patrick Moore reviews a book by Allan Chapman

The Victorian Amateur Astronomer

Allan Chapman

John Wiley and Sons. 426pp. £40. ISBN 0-471-96527

Amateur astronomers have always played an important role in scientific research, and this is still true today. Britain has had a particular tradition in this respect, and in his new book, sub-titled 'Independent Astronomical Research in Britain 1820 - 1920', Allan Chapman presents a detailed survey of what was accomplished during this period.

The author deals first with the 'Grand Amateurs', and we meet distinguished astronomers such as Sir John Herschel, son of the discoverer of the planet Uranus; Richard Carrington, the solar observer; and the Earl of Rosse, who single-handedly built what was then the world's largest telescope and used it to make fundamental discoveries. There were some remarkable characters, such as the 'eagle-eyed' clergyman William Rutter Dawes; the irascible Sir James South; and William Lassell, who made his fortune in the brewery trade before turning to astronomy. Then there were men such as William Huggins and Warren de la Rue, who introduced what were than entire new branches of research. But not all amateurs were wealthy; there were working-class astronomers, such as Roger Langdon, the country stationmaster; and John Robertson, who spent his life as a railway porter. All these made contributions which were far from minor. Finally, there is a section linking the past with the present, and leading on to the amateurs of the twentieth century.

Allan Chapman, is our foremost authority on astronomical histoy, and he has here presented not only a scientific account but also a picture of the social and economic conditions in Victorian times.

He writes beautifully, and the result is a text which will appeal to the complete beginner as well as being of immense value to serious students. There is an extensive reference list, and there are excellent illustrations.

Moreover, the book contains material which is not to be found elsewhere in so comprehensive a form. It is certain to become a standard work - and the print and presentation are of the highest quality.

It would be very difficult to find anything to criticise in this volume; the text has been compiled with the greatest care, and much original research has clearly been involved. All in all, this is a splendid book, which can be recommended without the slightest hesitation. It is worth every penny of the £40 charged for it.

Patrick Moore is the author of West Country Eclipse: 11th August, 1999. (South Downs Planetarium Trust, 1998).

About Us | Contact Us | Advertising | Subscriptions | Newsletter | RSS Feeds | Ebooks | Podcast | Submitting an Article
Copyright 2012 History Today Ltd. All rights reserved.