Transit of Venus

Historical observations - work in progress

Below is a list of historical places where past transits of Venus have been observed, which I couldn’t yet identify. If you have some further information that might help me to determine the locations more precisely, please contact me at stevenvanroode[at]yahoo.com. The stations are also listed in a Google Earth file.

1761 June 6

GREAT BRITAIN

William Jones was ordained priest in 1751 and went as a curate to his brother-in-law, Rev. Brook Bridges, to Wadenhoe in 1754. Only the end of the 1761 transit was visible and Jones observed both contacts at egress. If you know where Jones made his observations, please contact me.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon observed the 1761 transit from Cape Town, South Africa. According to an article in the Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa (November 1951), pp. 99-102 the site of the observatory was between John and Hope streets behind St. Mary's Cathedral. The transit was successfully observed from Concordia Gardens, a social club that used to be behind St Mary's Cathedral in Cape Town.

FRANCE

At the time of the 1761 transit, Abbé Reginald Outhier was chanoine of the cathedral of Bayeux. I don't know from what place he made his observations - it isn't mentioned in his report. As Outhier made astronomical observations on a regular basis, the location of his observatory might been known to his contemporaries. If you know where Outhier made his observations, please contact me.

At Pointe Canon, near Port Mathurin on Rodrigues, there is a monument of Alexandre-Gui Pingré. Pingré was a French astronomer who travelled to Rodrigues to observe a transit of Venus on June 6th 1761. I don't know where Pointe Canon or the monument is located, and this is only my first guess. Do you know where Pingré's monument is located? Is this also the place where Pingré is thought to have erected his observatory? He made his observations "dans l'enfoncement nommé de François Leguat sur la côte septentrionale de l'île." This place was located a little east of modern Port Mathurin and would be known today as Fond la Digue.

Monument of Pingré
The monument for Alexandre-Gui Pingré at Pointe Canon on Rodrigues. The bust is not the right one, but this will soon be corrected. (Picture by Rosaire Perrine, 2007)

SWEDEN

Anders Planman observed the 1761 and 1769 transits from Cajaneborg, modern Kajaani, in Finland. Although Planman didn't describe his observing spot in much detail, he might have observed from near the church. During his journey through Finland, he always stayed at the vicarages of the small towns he went by. Also, the reverend Frosterus took part in his observations of 1761.

GERMANY

Father Kraz observed from his observatory at the Jesuit College of Ingolstadt. Little is left from the Jesuit College. In 1650 a platform for astronomical observations was built in the professor's lodge which was called the 'spekula'. If you know where the observatory was located or the full name of father Kraz, please contact me.

Jesuit College, Ingolstadt
The Jesuit College at Ingolstadt.

Janez Krstnik Schoettl observed from the Jesuit College in Ljubljana (then called Laibach). Schoettl was professor of mathematics at the College. I don't know where the Jesuit College was located. I also would like to have a copy of Schoettl's Observationes Veneris per discum Solis an. 1761 die 6. Juni transeuntis factae Labaci.

Ljubljana
A 1689 engraving of Lljubljana by J.V. Valvasor in his Die Ehre dess Hertzogthums Crain, showing St. James Church in the foreground and the Jesuit College next to it (numbered 4).

1769 June 3

GREAT BRITAIN

At Harvard Yard, Cambridge, John Winthrop observed the 1769 transit of Venus. Winthrop describes how he moved the astronomical clock to another apartment in May 1769 for the sake of the observation of the transit of Venus. This means that he probably took his observations at the same building where he usually made astronomical observations, but from within another room. In 1769 this could be either Hollis Hall, (new) Harvard Hall, (old) Stroughton College or Massachusetts Hall. Before the 1764 fire that destroyed Harvard Hall Withrop observed from its roof. All astronomical instruments were lost in the fire and had to be replaced.

FRANCE

Nathan Pigott made observations of the 1769 transit from a house called "La Mission" in Allemagne (known as Fleury-sur-Orne since 1916). Do you know where this house was located?

Johann Bernoulli observed from the observatory tower of the Marquis de Courtanvaux (Charles François-César le Tellier) in Colombes. When in 1851 the railway was opened in Colombes, the old observatory tower was used as a ticket office. In 1935 the buildings of the station were demolished to make place for the present viaduct. I don't know where the observatory tower was located exactly. If you have further information, like pictures, please let me know.

GERMANY

In 1764 a new observatory was built on the roof in the centre of the castle Schwetzingen. It consisted of a cupper covered dome measuring 3.25 meters. From this new observatory Prince Franz Xaver von Sachsen tried to observe the 1769 transit of Venus, but bad weather made it impossible to see Venus on the setting sun. Where was the observatory located?

SWEDEN

Nils Gissler was a lector in logic and the natural sciences at the gymnasium in Härnösand, from where he observed the transit of Venus. I don't know if this is the building which housed the gymnasium in 1769.

Fredrik Mallet observed from a barn a few yards north of the house of Corten Njemi in Pello. The same location was also used by Maupertuis in 1736. The location was found using a map from Maupertuis' report.

JESUITS

The Jesuits directed the Imperial Observatory in Beijing from 1669 to 1773. In 1769 Augustin von Hallerstein was director of the observatory. Did they observe the transit of Venus from here?

The Jesuits observed the 1761 en 1769 transit of Venus from Beijing. In 1769, according to the report, they used the domestic observatory at the Jesuit College (Residentia S. Josephi). This church, the Nan Tang Catholic Church, is the oldest chruch in Beijing, stands on the site of the home of Father Mattheo Ricci, the Portugese Jesuit Missionary who first introduced Christianity in China in the seventeenth century. However, the report says that the Beijing Observatory was located 14" west from the Jesuit observatory, whereas from Nan Tang it is 2'32" east to the Beijing Observatory. In 1755 there were four observatories run by Jesuits in Beijing: the Imperial Observatory, one established in 1745 at the French mission, one at the Portuguese College and at St. Joseph Residence. Where were the last three located?

1874 December 9

GREAT BRITAIN

E. Ommanney set up his station in Luxor, Egypt. The German station and the British station were located at Luxor on the same island at the east bank of the Nile, about 80 m apart from each other. The location was found using Auwers' trigonometry with respect to the obelisk of Luxor's temple. It seems that the island is now part of the main land. I whish I could compare with a contemporary map showing this part of Luxor...

William JL Wharton observed from Point Cotton on Rodrigues. The observation spot was 20 feet from the edge of the sea cliff (30 feet) of Point Cotton that faces the East, with the summit of the inshore cliff (where the triangulation beacon was) S 73°.03' W. (true) 185 feet. The northern point of Point Cotton is (by chart) 926 feet. (...) The exact spot is marked by an iron stake fixed into the rock with lead. The cloud on the satellite image is very unfortunate. Is this iron stake still in place? Can we derive the exact spot from the description above?

Richard Johnson observed from Waimea, Kuaui in Hawaii. The exact location is hard to determine from the small map in Johnson's report. The site is marked by a small concrete pier bearing the inscription "Transit of Venus" and dated "March 23, [19]32". Do you where this pier is located?

Strahan observed the transit at Lahore, from the enclosure of the house occupied by Dr. Calthrop, then commonly know as Mr. Elphingstone's house and the property of the Maharajah of Kashmir, Ranbir Singh. It was located about 500 yards NNW of the Governor House, which is about here. On a 1912 map of Lahore, this is the only building 500 yards NNW of the Governor House. Do you know if this house was Elphingstone's house? If you have any further information, please contact me.

GERMANY

From Tschifu, China Wilhelm Valentiner observed the 1874 transit of Venus. The station was erected on a piece of land enclosed on three sides by a wall, while on the fourth side there was a steep slope. This is the location given in the report by Auwers. The exact location of the station is unknown.

RUSSIA

The Russian Government maintained a permanent magnetic observatory at Peking, which was under direction of Russian geophysicist Hermann Peter Heinrich Fritsche at the time of the transit of Venus. Is this the building of the observatory? Or has the building long gone? Please contact me if you know more.

UNITED STATES

Edwin Smith observed the transit from the Austrian consulate in Luxor, Egypt. According to a nineteenth century map of Luxor, the Austrian consulate was located somewhere here. Do you know its location?

NEW ZEALAND

Professor Samuel John Lambert and chemist Mr Pond, on an allotment adjoining the home of Mrs Eleanor Coombes in Hobson Street, Auckland, with and Tobias Martin and Mr Redfern as photographers, saw the first contact at 1h 50m 37s Greenwich time, and noticed the "black drop" at 1h 58m 41s. They got another glimpse of the transit at 1h 16m 40.5s, but no further observations were possible. A good many photographs of the first and second contact stages were secured, although other sources say that no photographs could be taken due to cloudy weather. If you know where Mrs Coombes' house was located or know the full names of the other observers, please contact me.

Theopilus Heale observed both nineteenth century's transits from his home in Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand. Though other sources claim that he observed the 1874 transit from near the Supreme Court (The Amateur Astronomer, Vol 18, No. 1, pp. 3-6, June 1958) with a 4-inch refractor. Heale failed to see the transit at any stage due to dense masses of cloud. In 1882 Heale borrowed a large 5-inch telescope by E. Porter and Co, equatorially mounted on a pedestal. According to the New Zealand Herald, he observed at the end of St Stephens Avenue and "the fourth contact was observed with the greatest accuracy". I don't know where Heale's house stood.

At Dunedin, the observations were taken from the Meteorologic Observatory. This observatory was constructed in 1862 near Arthur Street, but was relocated in 1864 to a more open site near Sligo Terrace at the Town Belt. Henry Skey (the Meteorlogical Observer), A.H. Ross and Pope (of the High School) were the observers. Pope ordered a first-class telescope from Browning, London. The astronomical clock of Ross was used as a timepiece. The building in which the observations were made was erected at the Meteorological Station on Roslyn Hill near the Wakari toll bar. The stone on which the transit instrument stood was prepared by Mr. Munro. The building costed about 50 pounds, of which the Government contributed 20. After the transit, the building was to become the property of the Government, being available for other purposes. In 1874 Venus was only visible for some thirteen minutes. Several visitors were admitted, as there was no hope to time egress. Among these visitors were Mrs. Brown and a number of here young charges. In 1882 Skey observed the transit together with A.H. Ross. They used the same telescope by Browning, a Newtonian reflector of 9.25-inch aperture and eyepieces of magnifying power varying from 50 to 900. Next to the astronomical clock there was a chronometer by Porthouse. Do you know where the observatory was located?

In the open and under cover a transit instrument and a 3.5 inch telescope were set up in the backyard of Mr. Proctor at Hokitaka. Mr. Mueller, provincial engineer, used the transit instrument while Mr. O'Connor, district engineer, used the telescope. Mr. Proctor supplied three chronometers and he, with several other gentlemen, took time. At the time of first contact the sun was unclouded. At egress the sun was obscured by a cloud just a minute before the contact. I don't know where Mr. Proctor's backyard was located.

1882 December 6

GREAT BRITAIN

Arthur Stanley Williams, FRAS observed the 1882 transit of Venus probably from Walsingham House in West Brighton. I don't know if he had an observatory at his home. In an 1887 street directory there is a reference to a William J. Williams, the father of Arthur, living at Walsingham House, 1 Walsingham Mansions, Hove. The family didn't live there in 1881. Do you know where Walsingham House was located or if the building still stands?

UNITED STATES

Observing from his cottage at Lester Road near the village of Phelps, New York, local photographer William R. Brooks found indications of the refraction of the atmosphere of Venus during its transit across the sun. Clouds prevented photography. He used his home made silver-on-glass reflector of 9 inch aperture. Brooks had erected a platform less than 12 feet square in the corner of his little red cottage. Rising 4 feet above the platform at its centre stood a neavy post, which was surmounted with a cradle operated by pullys and cranks. Today, the location of the observatory is indicated by a historic marker sign on Lester Road. If you know where the marker sign is located, please contact me.

CANADA

Newton Wolverton observed from Woodstock College Observatory in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. The transit of Venus was visible through light but continuous clouds. On account of cloudiness no observations of any benefit could be made at the observatory. The site of the observatory was Baptist College, after 1883 renamed Woodstock College. The observatory was opened in 1879 and was fitted with an 8-inch Fitz-refractor. The telescope was to be used with its aperture reduced to 6 inch. The building was demolished around 1920. There are historical plaques commemorating the College and Wolverton on the junction of Wilson Street and College Avenue. Learn more...

With a 4-inch achromat T.S.H. Shearman observed the transit from near St. Thomas Church on 201 Church Street, Belleville, Ontario. The sky was heavily clouded with occasional glimpses up to about 11:35 local time ... after that time the sky became clear and the passage of the planet over the sun's disc was plainly visible. This favourable state continued until the time of the third and fourth contacts, of which good observations were had, although the third or inner contact was much interfered with by the black drop. Do you know the full name of Shearman and the location of his observing spot?

FRANCE

Edouard Perrin erected his observatory in the city of Bragado, Argentina, on an uncultivated block, destined for a public square, which since then begun to be known as Plaza de los Astrónomos or Plaza de Venus. Today it is known as Plaza San Martín. The observatory consisted of an octognal building, 3.5 m in length and breadth, and 3 m high. The dome was formed by eight triangular sections, which could be moved by means of a lever. The day was a little cloudy and the transit was partially seen. The French expedition was assisted by two students of Argentina: Fernando Ortiz and Carlos Echagüe. The location of Plaza San Martín is a bit uncertain, because the observational report says that the observatory was located in the southeast of the town. If you can confirm my choice, please let me know.

AUSTRALIA

On the summit of Transit Hill on Lord Howe Island is a plaque commemorating the observation of the 1882 transit of Venus by a government expedition led by William Jacomb Conder. Other members were Thomas Frederick Furber, Philip Francis Adams and David Miller. The party landed on the island on November 24 and the instruments were set up the day after. On the day of the transit only two observations could be taken due to clouds. In 1982 a time capsule was encased under the plaque to be opened in 2082, containing all the information of the 1882 viewing. I don't know the exact location of the plaque. If you know where this plaque is located or if you have a picture of the plaque, please contact me. learn more...

Experienced amateur astronomer and medical practitioner, Dr Horatio G.A. Wright, observed the transit from his observatory in George Street, central Sydney. He used an 8.5-inch equatorially-mounted Browning-With reflector stopped down for part of the transit to just 5.25 inches, a chronograph, and a chronometer that was calibrated to the sidereal clock at Sydney Observatory. According to other sources, Wright had a practice in Hunter Street or Wynyard Square. Where was Wright's observatory located?

NEW ZEALAND

On Marsland Hill, New Plymouth the Chief Surveyor Thomas Humphries observed the transit of Venus. At times clouds passed over the sun during the transit of Venus. At the time of internal contact at egress the sun was clear, and an excellent observation was taken. The external contact at egress wasn't seen. A Mr. O'Donahoo also took part in the observations, but he was located about a hundred yards from the main observatory. Do you know where Humpries' observatory was located?

According to the Otago Witness of December 9, 1882 surveyor Robert Gillies constructed a new observatory in Dunedin to observe the transit. The observatory had a revolving roof, which was fitted with sliding shutters. There was a 6-inch refractor of 8 feet focal length with a clock drive. A Morse instrument was used as a chronometer. The observatory was located at Queen Street. However, his newly built residence called Transit House was located at 44 Park Street, which is close to the intersection with Queen Street. Gillies died in 1884. Do you know where Gillies erected his observatory?

SPAIN

Cecilio Pujazón was director of the Real Instituto y Observatorio de la Armada in San Fernando, Spain. The Spanish expedition set up its temporary observatory in the courtyard of the Military Hospital of Manzanillo, Cuba, which was located in the plaza del Fuerte in the western part of the city, near the beach. Another member of the expedition was Francisco Vázquez. More information can be read here. I don't know where the Hospital Militar was located. If you know its location, please contact me.

Page last modified on 2011 March 10 | © Steven van Roode