Friday, 13 February 2009
A little later, two of the Royal Observatory assistants – William Thackeray and Henry Hollis – were at work in one of the computing rooms, at the top of the hill overlooking the northern reaches of Greenwich Park. Also on-site at the Observatory besides the assistants was the gate porter, William McManus. All three men heard the explosion. Smoke was seen rising from the trees near the Observatory’s front terrace. McManus ran towards the explosion site, seeing Thackeray and Hollis do likewise.
First on the scene, though, were two local schoolboys. At the site of the explosion they found a man, later identified as Martial Bourdin, kneeling on the path by the railings, perfectly still. His head was bowed. The Park keeper on duty that afternoon was next to arrive, followed by McManus, Thackeray and Hollis. At that moment, Bourdin was seen to sink to the ground. The witnesses had by now discovered that the man’s left hand had been blown off; sinews and tendons were hanging down out of the bloody stump. He had a massive wound in his stomach, out of which some of his intestines were spilling, and he had a hole under his right shoulder blade with bone protruding. The gathered party took Bourdin to hospital where he died twenty-five minutes later from shock and loss of blood. He never said what had happened.
McManus, Thackeray and Hollis returned to the Observatory and performed a search of the area between its buildings and the path nearby, where Bourdin had been found. It was a gruesome experience. They found many fragments of his hand, including a two-inch piece of blackened finger-bone. Blood and clothing fragments littered the scene and, the following day, detectives discovered pieces of tendon wrapped around nearby railings, and two knuckle-joints from Bourdin’s left thumb. Martial Bourdin, an anarchist terrorist, had accidentally blown himself up with a bomb right outside the Observatory buildings.
This is an abbreviated extract from Ruth Belville: The Greenwich Time Lady, by David Rooney, published by the National Maritime Museum, 2008 ISBN 978-0-948065-97-2.
Thursday, 5 February 2009
William Henry Mahoney Christie
Herbert Hall Turner (retired 28 February 1894) and Frank Watson Dyson (succeeded 1 March 1894), responsible for general superintendence of all the work of the Observatory, with full power to act in the absence of the Astronomer Royal
First Class Assistants
George Stickland Criswick (photographic mapping of the heavens)
Thomas Lewis (time-signals and chronometers)
Edward Walter Maunder (spectroscopic and solar-photographic observations and reductions)
William Carpenter Nash (magnetic and meteorological branch)
William Grasett Thackeray (miscellaneous astronomical computations and meridian zenith-distance reductions)
Second Class Assistants
Walter William Bryant (transit-reductions and time-determinations)
Andrew Claude Crommelin (altazimuth and equatorial computations)
Henry Park Hollis (library and manuscripts, longitude reductions, miscellaneous correspondence)
(and two vacancies)
Henry Outhwaite (from 21 May 1894)
12 astronomical branch
2 astrographic branch
4 spectroscopic and solar-photographic branch
5 magnetic and meteorological branch
Gate-porter, watchman, gardener, foreman of works, 2 carpenters, 1 or 2 labourers, skilled mechanic and his assistant, charwoman.
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Originally set up by the warrant of Queen Anne in 1710, the Board of Visitors initially consisted of the President and selected Fellows of the Royal Society. They did not, in their early years, meet regularly. In 1830 the composition of the Board was changed and was thereafter made up of the President of the Royal Society and 5 FRS, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society and 5 FRAS, the Plumian Professor of Astronomy from Cambridge and the Savilian Professor of Astronomy from Oxford. In the 1850s the Hydrographer of the Navy also became an ex officio member of the Board.
Thursday, 29 January 2009
The Lassell reflecting telescope, which had a 24-inch aperture and 20-foot focal length, was built in 1847 for William Lassell (1799-1880), a businessman and astronomer who lived in Starfield near Liverpool. With this telescope Lassell discovered Triton, Neptune's satellite in 1846. It was presented by his daughters to the Royal Observatory in 1883 and it was mounted in this newly-built, 30-foot dome, known as the Lassell Dome. The low-level structure was demolished in the 1890s to make way for the New Physical Laboratory, which reused the dome itself. The dome can therefore still be seen atop the Royal Observatory's South Building.