John Tebbutt: Astronomer of World Renown
‘There's no place like home’, the song lyric by John Howard Payne in his 1823 opera ‘The Maid of Milan’, rang true for gentleman farmer and astronomer, John Tebbutt. Tebbutt corresponded with colleagues worldwide and was published in international, learned journals from the comfort of his Windsor home.
Born in 1824 and educated locally, Tebbutt was introduced to the wonders of mechanical objects and 'celestial mechanisms' by his school teacher Edward Quaife, himself a keen astronomer. He lived most of his life ‘Peninsula House’, built by his father in 1845.
John Tebbutt bought his first instrument, a marine sextant, in 1853 and owned a clock with a seconds pendulum, which he regulated by celestial observation. At twenty five, Tebbutt achieved global recognition when he discovered the 'Great Comet of 1861’, one of the finest comets on record. The following year when he was offered the prestigious position of Government Astronomer for New South Wales, he declined, as it would have meant leaving Windsor.
In 1863 John Tebbutt erected a small round wooden observatory in the garden of Peninsula House, Palmer Street which he inherited from his father in 1870. In 1874, he then built a second, circular observatory close to the old one, followed in 1879 by an additional square building. Tebbutt was a private astronomer and fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society whose studies won international acclaim. Professor Auwers, of Berlin once declared of Tebbutt,
‘His observations are reliable, and I cannot omit to point out that in my experience of this branch of research, not a single observation can be regarded as faulty.’
Over a period of fifty five years, Tebbutt earned a reputation as one of Australia’s most dedicated astronomers. He achieved modern fame in 1984, when his portrait was included on the $100 note. True to his passion for astronomy, Tebbutt designed his family’s vault in St Matthews Anglican Church cemetery. The vault’s four corners mark the four points of the compass and are topped by globes with longitudinal and latitudinal lines.
The astronomer of world renown lived his whole life in Windsor and died there in 1916. For John Tebbutt, there simply was, ‘no place like home.’
References: Wikipedia, State Library of N.S.W., Australian Dictionary of Biographers, Heritage Council of N.S.W. and Hawkesbury Heritage Happenings and Aussie Towns web sites.