The First Professional Astronomers

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In 1863 the first 'official' observatory was established by the Wellington provincial government. Archdeacon Arthur Stock (1823-1901) was put in charge and, equipped with clocks and a transit telescope, he was able to provide a time service and he operated a time ball from the custom house on Queen's wharf. By 1868 this became the Colonial Time-service Observatory with Sir James Hector, a noted New Zealand geologist, as director and Stock as observer. He was New Zealand's first resident professional astronomer (see Hayes 1987 and Orchiston 1998).

Thomas King succeeded Stock, and C.E. Adams succeeded King in 1911. Adams distinguished himself as a computer of cometary orbits as well as an observer. The Colonial Observatory was resited in Kelburn in 1907 and known then as the Hector Observatory. The Hector Observatory was renamed the Dominion Observatory in 1926.

Professional astronomers were not numerous in early New Zealand, but two other individuals of note deserve mention. Alexander William Bicker-ton (1842-1929) was foundation professor of chemistry and physics at the Canterbury University College from 1874 until he was fired by the college council in 1902, ostensibly for poor management. Bickerton was a brilliant but unorthodox lecturer, whose star pupil was Ernest Rutherford. But he had a bizarre and largely untenable theory (the partial impact theory, as he called it) on stellar collisions as the origin of variable stars, including novae, and for the origin of the solar system. These theories led to his papers being

Figure 1. Map of New Zealand, showing the principal places mentioned in this chapter.

shunned and discredited by the professional community in England. More on this colourful character is discussed by Gerry Gilmore (1982). There is also a biography by Burdon (1956).

A.C. (Charles) Gifford (1861-1948), who taught mathematics at Wellington College, was also a keen astronomer and he had access to one of the best equipped school observatories. His theories of the origin of the lunar craters by meteorite impact were published in 1924 and 1930, and were an early exposition of what is now recognized as the correct interpretation of the lunar landscape. The College acquired a 5-inch Zeiss refractor in 1924, and this was fully restored in 2002 after falling into disrepair.

When the Carter Observatory was founded in 1941, Murray Geddes (1909-44) was appointed the first director. However he never formally took up this position, being called away on war service and he did not return to New Zealand. Ivan Thomsen (1910-69) was his successor from 1946 to 1969. He had previously worked under C.E. Adams at the Dominion Observatory.

7. New Zealand Amateur Astronomers in the 20th Century

The fine tradition of amateur astronomy in New Zealand continued throughout the 20th century and up until the present time. This review mentions just three of some distinction among the many who have pursued astronomy as a hobby.

One was Ronald McIntosh (1904-1977), who became a distinguished meteor observer. In 1935 he published his Index to southern meteor showers (McIntosh 1935). He also monitored meteor rates and analysed the methods of obtaining meteor orbits from the observed path. McIntosh published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, he directed the Meteor Section of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ), and for a time he also directed the Auckland Planetarium.

Frank Bateson (b. 1909) in Tauranga is another distinguished astronomer who founded the Variable Star Section (VSS) of RASNZ in 1927 and has directed it from that time until December 2004. Not only was he a prodigious observer of variable stars, but his VSS of RASNZ collated observations from dozens of other observers in New Zealand and overseas -see Bateson (2001). This great body of material has resulted in the publication of charts, circulars and publications containing visual observations of many stars. Dwarf novae (see for example Bateson 1978), novae and Mira stars were all studied in much detail, and the fact that many variables had data collected in a continuous record going back six or seven decades has provided an invaluable data resource for many professionals.

Frank Bateson was also instrumental in establishing Mt John University

Observatory in the early 1960s, when he conducted an extensive site-testing campaign on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania to determine the best location (see Bateson 1964). Mt John was chosen as a result, and Bateson became the first astronomer-in-charge in 1965 until his retirement in 1970. For a tribute to Frank Bateson, see Budding (1989) and Jones (1989).

Finally Albert Jones (b. 1920), who lives in Nelson, is the world's most prolific observer of variable stars. Since the early 1940s he has amassed over half a million visual observations, in some years as many as 13 000 annually, and his magnitude estimates are distinguished by exceptional reliability and precision. Albert Jones was a co-discoverer of the famous supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud and he discovered comets in 1946 and 2001. A tribute to Albert Jones is given by Austin (1994).

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