An Ancient Astronomy Relic for a New Year

Posted by XTSee on 3rd January , 2009

A Tribute to John Ellard Gore - Astronomer

Whilst putting the Christmas deccies away in the attic today 3rd January 2009, and rummaging around in a box of old photos, I came across two old astronomy books, which I cannot for the life of me remember their origin; possibly my uncle gave them to me, or I got them from a car boot sale?

Whichever it was they’re a nice find considering I really can’t remember where they came from or even seeing them before.

One is the 1979 Hamlyn Guide to Astronomy by David Baker, and illustrated by David A Hardy. Of course some aspects of the book are a tad out of date now, but its nearly 300 pages, 160 of them in colour, and including 88 constellation descriptions with corresponding sky maps.

Star Groups BookStar Groups Book

However, the more interesting treasure is an ancient book called Star Groups - A Students Guide to the Constellations, by John Ellard Gore, F.R.A.S., M.R.I.A and Honorary Member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society.

This book was published by Crosby Lockwood and Son of London in 1891, making it 118 years old!

On the inside cover is lovely scripted writing which says “West Sussex Gazette, Nickname Competition - Nov 1896, Presented to Mr. G.C.Ballard as Equal Second Prize by The Member for the South Downs“.

Out of interest I turned to Map 16 in the book which is for Orion (like my website), and the map depicts in black and white the same map as can be seen on the front cover of the book (shown to the left here), except the hardback books front cover is a dark royal blue, embossed with silver writing and silver stars in the constellation map (click the image for full size).

Contained within the leaves of the book at Map 16 was a single slip of loose leaf Basildon Bond watermarked paper (acting as a bookmark I guess), which someone has marked out star-points roughly in pencil what looks like the constellation of Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia and another that I can’t make out, and with the compass points marked at the edges N-E-S-W. My guess is this was drawn by G.C.Ballard, who the book was originally presented to in 1896.

Reading the page for the description of Orion, I noted the following paragraph…

Near x1 in the northern portion of the constellation lies U Orionis [this is visible at the top of the photo of the book cover, marked U(1885)], the so-called “Nova” of 1885, discovered by the present writer on the evening of December 13th of that year. It is now known to be a long period variable, varying from the sixth to below the twelfth magnitude, with a period of about 373 days. It is a very reddish star, with a fine spectrum.

I was fascinated by this paragraph, which implies the books author J.E.Gore was the astronomer who found the 1885 Nova (when he was 40), and in confirming this I came across the following web page that provides the full text of the book Star Groups - A Students Guide to the Constellations, by J.Ellard Gore online.

Googling further I learnt some more about John Ellard Gore from this page:-

John E. Gore: Son of the Venerable John R.Gore, Archdeacon of Athenry, Co Galway, John E. Gore was born at Athlone in 1845. His father’s house at Ballysadare, Co Sligo, was within a few miles of Markree Castle at Collooney and it is probable that his interest in astronomy arose from visits to the observatory there. He spent much of his early manhood in the Public Works Department in India, observing and learning the clear Indian night skies in his spare time and on retiring from there in his early thirties devoted himself to the study of astronomy. He established an observatory, initially at Ballysadare and then at 3 Northumberland Road, Dublin, where he had lodgings. He never married.

Although possessed of only a 3-inch refractor and a pair of binoculars, he discovered the variability of several stars, including U Orionis, S Sagittae, W Cygni and X Herculis. He also produced a new catalogue of variables, containing 190 entries. He also concerned himself in the computation of the orbits of binary stars and in 1890 published a catalogue of all binary stars for which orbits had been determined. He wrote several books on astronomy and contributed numerous articles to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Like Monck, he was a founder member of the British Astronomical Association and was Director of the Variable Star Section for many years.

Gore died at age 65 on 18 July 1910, after being knocked down by a jaunting car in Dublin’s Grafton Street. His lodgings then passed to a tenant not interested in astronomy.

[Coincidentally my birthday is 18th July, and I am interested in astronomy, and 2009 is International Astronomy Year, 3 days into which I have found this book! Cool karma, LOL].

Markree Castle is home of the Cooper family who have lived there since Cromwellian times when the land was given to Edward Cooper in lieu of pay. In 1832 another Edward Cooper founded an Astronomical Observatory there which received worldwide acclaim for many years. It was valued at £40 at the time of Griffith’s Valuation. Though now derelict it contains some original features. See pictures of Markree Castle Astronomical Observatory. [Google Earth location for Markree Observatory]

Edward Cooper was a soldier in Richard Coote’s, Lord Collooney’s, regiment of horse. He is known in the family history as “The Cornet”. After the Cromwellian settlement he was granted land in the Collooney area. The family were already settled at Markree as is evident from the Hearth Money Rolls of 1665. They continued to be a major social and political power in the county for the next two centuries. An interesting feature of the heritage of Markree is its association with astronomy and meteorology. Weather observations have been taken there since 1828. Markree Castle is now a hotel.

So now at last this little investigative journey has brought me round to a more full understanding of the author of the book I possess:-

John Ellard Gore

John Ellard Gore

The Irish amateur astronomer John Ellard Gore (1845-1910) was a founding member of the British Astronomical Association and a prolific author of popular astronomy between 1880 and 1910. He is perhaps best remembered for his books “The Visible Universe” (1893), an English language translation of Camille Flammarion’s “Popular Astronomy” (1894) and his contributions to Agnes Clerk’s “Astronomy” (1898). I consider a little known investigation that Gore undertook into the question of stellar “sizes” using binary stars. This led him to the realization of the existence of “Giant Suns” as well as “Miniature Stars” the latter included the sun. Gore also considered the existence of hyper-dense compact objects, now known as white dwarfs. Unfortunately Gore rejected the reality of the latter stellar types. Gore based his conclusions on a formula developed by fellow Irish astronomer W.H.S. Monck, who was reaching similar conclusions about Giant stars through the study of stellar motions. (Reference source) Gore has been described as a grave, quiet man, with few friends, but very much liked by all who knew him.

I hope you enjoyed this little contribution to start off 2009 International Year of Astronomy. It seems most odd that I should come across the book in the attic, when I was actually looking for old photographs of my grandfathers houses (Blunden Shadbolt was an architect who specialised in building olde-worlde houses). It’s almost as if I was supposed to find the book!

Although Mr Gore only had a 3-inch refractor I’ll bet he had wonderfully clear, dark skies to watch in Ireland and India, bereft of light-pollution, and no global warming fuelling monotonously cloudy nights!

Happy New Year for 2009, and wishing you clear skies!

Further reading on J.E. Gores life and fascinating contribution to astronomy can be found in the Irish Astronomical Journal, Vol 7 1966, page 213. This is only 7 pages long and quite interesting.

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3 Responses to “An Ancient Astronomy Relic for a New Year”

  1. James (4 comments)

    Hey Jim :)

    That’s an amzing story really. To think you had that book there all this time - and there are some funny coincidences too. Must be a good omen!

    Like you I’m waiting for a good look at Venus. The clear nights recently have always involved me being busy, but having said that, the temperatures are scarily low…

  2. Pet Supermarket (1 comments)

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this excellent blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to brand new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  3. Architects in Norfolk (1 comments)

    Wow, it really does sound like you were meant to find the book. Being of that age, I assume it has some value too? Or, do you consider it to precious to part with? Such a great find, regardless!

    Architects in Norfolk


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