John Teb­butt: Astronomer of World Renown

Hills to Hawkesbury Living Magazine - - History - By Carmel Lid­dell

‘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.

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