Welsh Journals

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WALES. Vol. I.] AUGUST, 1894. [No. 4. ON SOME EARLY OBSERVATIONS WITH THE TELESCOPE IN WALES. WALES and Welshmen occupy a place so insignificant in the annals of astronomy that it will be a surprise to most readers to learn that some of the earliest observations ever made with the assistance of the telescope were effected in Wales, and by observers one of whom was a Welshman, and the other a landed pro¬ prietor in Caermarthenshire. The narrative, in a disjointed form, appears in Rigaud's Miscellaneous Works of I)r. Bradley, some¬ time astronomer royal, and as that portly volume was published more than sixty years ago, and is but little known to-day, I feel no apology is needed for drawing at¬ tention to the subject. The first English astronomer to invoke the aid of the telescope was the gifted Thomas Harriot, who takes rank as a dis¬ coverer second only to Galileo himself. Harriot's untimely death occurred in 1621, and his scientific remains are described by Rigaud in the supplement to his life of Bradley. Though the great name of Galileo is justly associated with the earliest telescopic observations, Harriot, appears to have examined the heavens about the same time * and certainly long before the dis¬ coveries of the immortal Florentine had made their way to England. Harriot ob¬ served in London, and though correspond¬ ence was no easy matter at that period,— the post took a month to travel between the metropolis and Wales,—he maintained constant communication with a scientific friend and colleague, Sir William Lower, who forms the first connecting link between the telescope and the " land of our fathers." Sir William Lower came of old and * The telescope was first constructed in Holland, whence Harriot probably procured his instruments. Galileo's seems to have been an independent discovery. honorable Cornish stock, and through his wife Penelope, heiress of the once power¬ ful Perrots, he inherited a large estate in West Caermarthenshire, near Laugharne, and resided some years at Traventi, or Treventy, where were obtained the astro¬ nomical observations which form the sub¬ ject of this article. Sir William was a scholar and a man of very considerable parts, and it seems a thousand pities that his correspondence with Harriot is not published in a complete and accessible form, for besides the letters and ob¬ servations quoted by Rigaud in the scarce work already mentioned, other papers are spoken of as preserved, I believe at the British Museum, and which, after nigh three hundred years, are still awaiting transference to print. With the hope that, for the sake of Wales, if not of science, this neglect will not much longer continue, we pass to a rapid glance at Sir William's observations and those of the young Welsh¬ man who was his enthusiastic assistant. In 1607, a year or more prior to the ap¬ pearance of the telescope in England, we find Sir William carefully observing the comet known as Halley's which just then made one of its periodical visits to our skies. The first observation, September 17th, is dated from "illford combe" (Ilfracombe); the next, the following night, from "kidwellie" where, perhaps, Sir William landed on his way to Treventy, and where he tells us the comet was "wondred att the night before" by the simple country folk, who, no doubt, drew from the celestial visitor the most direful prognostications. Some days later from Mount Martin, perhaps an eminence near his Caermarthenshire abode, he measured the position of the comet with his " crosse staffe," and on September 30th, 145 10