Smeaton the first amateur astronomer?

To be sold

Two excellent telescopes, belonging to the observatories of the late Mr Smeaton at Austhorpe, near Leeds, one of them an equatorial and the other a Transit Instrument.
A purchaser may have the opportunity of seeing the manner in which the telescopes are fixed and the constructions to the observatories to which they belong and be furnished with any part of the materials if required, towards refixing them in the same manner. Also two remarkably good time pieces, belonging to the said observatories.
Also a small fire engine with a ten inch cylinder calculated for supplying any gentleman’s house with water.

The telescopes and time pieces will be removed to London, if not disposed of by the first of April.

This advert was placed in the Leeds Intelligencer Monday 25th Feb 1793.

It was while searching through old papers looking for references to telescopes I came across this advert placed in 1793.  Looking into this further I found a story of a man whom was one of the first amateur astronomers.  This advert was selling on his death a large observatory and its equipment which had been placed in his garden at Austhorpe near Leeds in Yorkshire.

The man’s name was John Smeaton.  And if that is a recognisable name that is because this man was a celebrated 18th century civil engineer.  He is known as the father of civil engineering and even possibly even coined the name engineer.  A Yorkshire man whom lived from 1724 – 1792.   A man whom moved in intellectual and scientific circles he was a member of the Lunar society.

During his day job he built the iconic Eddystone lighthouse,  (now seen on the Plymouth Hoe) numerous canals and the harbour walls at ports such as Charlestown and St Ives. But he also had a lifelong passion for astronomy.  A passion which would see him bring his engineering skills to design observatories such as the one which still exists in York, with a conical designed roof.  He also designed wedges for telescopes.  When wanting to view Mercury with better accuracy he improved micrometers with his engineering skills.  His observations of Mercury proved him to be a competent astronomer and the paper was read and published by the Royal Society.  In modern terms he would be considered an amateur – all be it a dedicated one.

Its amazing how one small advert can lead to the discovery of a man’s otherwise forgotten passion for astronomy.

To be continued….



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