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McClean spectroscope, 1908 - 1917
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Object statement
Spectroscope, McClean type, in case, glass / metal / leather, made by W Watson and Sons Limited, London, England, 1908-1917, used by Sydney Observatory, New South Wales, Australia, [1908-1930]
Spectroscopes are devices that take the light emitted from objects and split it up into their component colours. Every element has a different signature spectrum, and thus the spectroscope allows the observer to define what elements the object is composed of.

Spectroscopy was first used in astronomy in the early 1860s. One of its first uses was to determine the elements that comprise the sun. Star spectroscopes can allow a user to determine the composition of a celestial object, its motion, density, and temperature.

This particular type of spectroscope is called a McClean's Star spectroscope. Frank McClean (1837-1904) was a British civil engineer and amateur astronomer. On his retirement, he became dedicated to the science of astronomy, building an observatory in his home. He devoted himself to improving the astronomical spectroscope. Existing star spectroscopes, at the time, required the image of the star to be lined up in the very small 'slit' in the device. McClean developed a spectroscope that did not use a small 'slit' but a concave cylindrical lens that brought the lines of the spectrum to a focus on the retina. Its easy to use form meant that once a star was lined up with a telescope, the eyepiece could be removed and the spectroscope inserted. This allowed the device to be used on a wider range of telescopes, and became instantly popular with amateur and professional astronomers. Frank McClean received the Gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1899 for his work in systematically surveying of the spectra of the Northern and Southern stars.

This particular Watson & Sons spectroscope was used in conjunction with Sydney Observatory's 6 inch telescope, H9887. This 6-inch refracting telescope was made by Sir Howard Grubb of Dublin and was used in the North Dome of the Observatory and was thus was probably used by Lawrence Hargrave.

This spectroscope remains of national significance due to its pioneering role in Australian science and its association with Australia's earliest astronomers and astronomical equipment. It is also of international significance due to its association with nineteenth century scientific instruments and their makers

Glass, I. S., Victorian Telescope Makers; the Lives and Letters of Thomas and Howard Grubb, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia, 1997
Faed-Muybridge, Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 2, 2001, pg 505.
John Browning, How to work with the spectroscope, W Johnson printers, London, 1882, pg 26-28

Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, February 2008.
The spectroscope was made by W Watson and Sons Limited in London, England between 1908 and 1917.

The company W. Watson & Son was established as an opticians and camera makers in 1837 in London. They became one of Britain's leading producers of photographic equipment, magic lanterns, binoculars, microscopes, and movie projectors. The company completed all their own woodwork, brass working and lens grinding.

In 1900, W. Watson & Son took over the significant scientific instrument maker John Browning & Co, and from 1908 the company became known as Watson & Sons Ltd.

As well as selling quality microscopes, they also sold pre prepared microscope slides. The company purchased the entire collection of Edmund Wheeler, who was a well known professional slide mounter in 1884, his collection consisted of over 40, 000 slides.

The W. Watson & Son company was also represented in Australia. The grandson of W. Watson, Henry Baker (1867-1940), had apprenticed to the company in London in the mid 1800s. Baker travelled to Australia to represent the firm in the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition. While he was in Australia he saw the opportunity to open a branch of the firm, and supplies were sent to start the colonial branch of the business. Henry's uncle, T. P. Watson, was in charge of the branch until his death in 1903.

Henry Baker became a valuable member of the scientific community. He was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1919 and later of the Microscopical Society, he was also a member of the British Astronomical Association from 1932.

Henry and his brother Frank acquired the Australian branch of the Watson business upon their uncles death in 1903. The business was registered as a proprietary company in 1916 and as a public company in 1919, all under the name W. Watson & Sons Ltd. The business ceased trading in 1956.

The following is a list of dates and corresponding workshop addresses, found inscribed on Watson & Sons instruments in museum collections. (please note this list may not be totally accurate but can be used as a rough guide):

Watson & Son:
1837-1860s= 71 City Road, London
1860s= 313 High Holburn, London.

13 forest Road Edinburgh

Watson & Sons Ltd
1908-onwards=313 High Holburn, London.

Australian Dictionary of Bibliography: http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/adbonline.htm
Webster's signature database: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/research/collections/websters/index.shtml

Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, February 2008.
This spectroscope was used with the 6" telescope (H9887) at Sydney Observatory, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia between approximately 1908 and 1930.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Spectroscope, McClean type, in case, glass / metal / leather, made by W Watson and Sons Limited, London, England, 1908-1917, used by Sydney Observatory, New South Wales, Australia, [1908-1930]

A spectroscope consisting of a brass tube with an attachable spectroscopic slit and a lens. The main body of the spectroscope is missing. The spectroscope is stored in a box with a hinged lid. The lid of the box is lined with blue silk fabric while the base of the box has been moulded to fit the parts of the spectroscope and covered in blue velvet.

Observatory stock number 209.

Made: W Watson & Sons Ltd; London, England; 1908 - 1917

Used: Sydney Observatory;

: Sydney; 1908 - 1930
Production date
1908 - 1917

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Source unknown
This object belongs to:
Sydney Observatory Collection
+ Astronomical equipment
+ Astronomy
+ Sydney Observatory
+ Scientific equipment
+ Optical instruments
+ Optics
+ Spectroscopy
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/230603 |title=McClean spectroscope |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=21 April 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}

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