The 1871 solar eclipse expedition
The 1871 solar eclipse expedition

Royal NavyVaria

The Illustrated London News, 10 January 1872


The eclipse of the sun on Dec. 12 was a total eclipse as seen from part of Southern India, and the north of Ceylon, which was fully explained in this Journal by Mr. R.A. Proctor, with the aid of a series of illustrative diagrams. We have spoken of the scientific expedition, consisting of Mr. Norman Lockyer and nine other gentlemen, which was sent out there from England at the expense of our Government to observe the eclipse. Mr. Norman Lockyer, the director of the party, is well known both as a practical astronomer and as the author of some valuable books and essays, learned discussions and popular descriptions, relating to the subjects of that sublime science; but he is especially distinguished for his successful investigations of the solar orb by means of the spectroscope. The treasurer of the expedition is Dr. Thomas Thomson, an Indian botanist and member of the Council of the Royal Society. The artist is Mr. Henry Holiday; the photographer, Mr. Henry Davis. The other gentlemen who, under Mr. Lockyer's guidance, have had to observe the phenomena of the eclipse at various stations in Ceylon and Southern India are - Captain J.P. M'Lear. R.N. (son of Sir T. M'Lear, long Astronomer Royal at the Cape). Captain G.L. Tupman, R.M.A., Mr. H. N. Moseley, Mr. R.J. Friswell, Mr. Ferguson, Mr. W.J. Lewis, and the Rev. R. Abbay, an Italian observer of note. Professor Respighi joined the expedition at Suez, and the French savant, Janssen, was offered a passage, but went out under the auspices of the French Government. Mr. Lockyer had arranged that observations should be made with instruments of the same nature precisely in Ceylon, India, Java, and Australia, so that the results might be strictly compared.

The party of English observers had a safe and speedy voyage, in the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamer Mirzapore, from Southampton, by the Mediterranean and Suez Canal, to Galle. in Ceylon, leaving England Oct. 26, and arriving at Galle on Nov. 10. They were then divided into several detachments for observations at different places. These stations were, in Ceylon, Jaffna, at the northern extremity of the island, and Trincomalee, on the east coast. In India, one of the stations was at Bekul, or Baikul. in South Canara, on the western or Malabar coast, in latitude 12 deg. 30 min. N., longitude nearly 75 deg. E., half way between Cannanore and Mangalore. A straight line drawn from this place in a south-easterly direction to Jaffnapatam, the northern promontory of Ceylon, will pass through two places in Southern India, the one called Manantoddy, on the flanks of the Western Ghauts, or Wynaad mountain-ranges, above Cannanore; and the other, called Poodocottah, in the eastern plain south of Trichinopoly, not very far from the shore of Palk Strait, which separates the Indian continent from the island of Ceylon. These two places, Manantoddy and Poodocottah, in addition to Bekul, were appointed by Mr. Lockyer for the observations to be made by his party on the mainland of India. The central part of the region of eclipse was occupied by the Indian Government party of observers - namely, Colonel Tennant, R.E., and Captain Herschel. R.E., on Dodabetta, the highest peak of the Neilgherry hills; and by Mr. Pogson, at Avenashy, on the plain below. M. Janssen, the eminent astronomer sent out by the French Government, was also observing on the Neilgherries. Of all these parties, eight in number, one only, that on the Wynaad hills, was unsuccessful in seeing the eclipse. This station was 8000 ft. above the sea-level; and while every one must feel keenly for the disappointment of the observers there, when they saw the dense mist obscuring the sun, it is satisfactory to know that the successful observations of the seven other parties of observers will certainly enable the students of the sun to add much to that which was learned from the eclipse of 1870.

The astronomers waiting for the eclipse

The photographs which we have received come from Bekul, the most northerly of the three stations on the continent of India. They were taken by Mr. Webster, the Collector of Mangalore. One represents the place of observation selected, on the highest part of the fort of Bekul, in a most commanding position. Bekul is an old fort once belonging to Tippoo Sahib, of Mysore, but probably of older date, close to the sea and quite clear to the east. Mr. Lockyer and Captain Maclear observed at this place, while Mr. Davis took photographs of the sun and of the eclipse a few hundred yards away. Our Illustration shows the instruments exactly as they were placed on the day of observation, and the two observers at their posts - Mr. Lockyer seated a little to the left, with a peon holding an umbrella to screen him from the hot sun; Captain Maclear, standing on one of the packing-cases, observing the sun through a spectroscope. Almost in the centre of the view is seated Mr. Pringle, of the Madras Public Works Department, to whose active help the expedition is much indebted; while his assistant, Mr. Fernandez, also an active and able helper, stands on the left.

The astronomers' bungalow at Bekul, Canara

The other Engraving shows the bungalow or house in which the Eclipse party resided for a week. It represents most faithfully the appearance of an Indian bungalow on the coast of Canara. The temperature was not far from 90 deg. in the hottest part of the day. Six or eight tents, sent from Cannanore by General Selby, gave them shelter for the night. The trees, so delicately copied by the midday sun, with quite a still air, are all banyan-trees, under whose shade everyone could remain out of doors without fear of sunstroke.

The Illustrated London News, 27 January 1872


The British eclipse expedition: sketch at Bekul

The proceedings of the scientific expedition, under the leadership of Mr. Norman Lockyer, sent by the British Government to Ceylon and Southern India, to make observations of the eclipse of the sun on Dec. 12, were related in our last week's paper, which contained two illustrations of their station at Bekul, South Canara, on the western or Malabar coast of India. The Illustration now given shows the scene outside the old fort at Bekul during the taking of the observations by Mr. Norman Lockyer and Captain M'Lear, who were assisted by General Selby, Colonel Farewell, Mr. Pringle. Mr. M'Ivor, Captain Christie, Captain Bailey, and Judge Walhouse, gentlemen belonging to the civil and military administration of the district. A number of astonished natives gathered around the tower, curious to learn what their European masters were doing with the big telescopes pointed at the sky. But nobody was allowed to intrude, and the operation was performed without hindrance or disturbance. There was one moment, indeed, when the terrified people, in their alarm at the mysterious affliction which had befallen the sun, were preparing to kindle a fire of brushwood for a propitiatory sacrifice. This would have caused a smoke fatal to the astronomical observation, but Captain Christie ordered the police to stop the attempted fire-lighting; and the natives obeyed.


The solar eclipse of next Tuesday is the last of a series of four - occurring in four successive years - which have led to remarkable scientific expeditions. In August, 1868, the great Indian eclipse took place, and along the path of the shadow were stationed two well-equipped English observing parties, as well as an Austrian party and two French parties. In August, 1869, occurred the American eclipse, when the moon's shadow traversed nearly the whole breadth of North America, and the observers were to be numbered almost by the hundred. Last December, as all must remember, the Mediterranean eclipse took place, when England alone sent out two well-equipped expeditions (comprising four observing parties), America again at great expense taking part in the work, Janssen escaping from beleaguered Paris in a balloon to represent French science, and Italy being represented by Fr. Secchi and his coad j utors in Sicily. And now, in the fourth eclipse of the series, India is again traversed by the moon's shadow, which passes on by Ceylon, Sumatra, and Java to North Australia. As was to be expected, British science will be represented in India and Australia. But England has done more than this, for she has sent out an expedition to Ceylon (under the command of our skilful spectroscopist, Mr. Lockyer). Government granting a sum of £2000 for this purpose, as well as the means of transport, camping, &c. France, too, sends out a party, under M. Janssen, who shares with Lockyer the credit of devising the means by which the solar prominence can be studied when the sun is not eclipsed.

As no total solar eclipse of any importance will occur after Tuesday next for upwards of two years, a considerable degree of interest is naturally felt by astronomers in the prospects of the various parties stationed along the central line of the approaching eclipse. A brief inquiry into the circumstances of the eclipse may be interesting even to many who eschew the technicalities of astronomy.

Figures I., II., III., IV., and V. exhibit the progress of this eclipse in a manner which I have long considered the simplest and most natural way of illustrating such phenomena. I find it difficult, indeed, to understand why this method has not hitherto been employed in our popular treatises of astronomy for illustrating not only eclipses, but the sea-sons and like subjects.

Of course, this is not the place to supply the want I have touched on; but I hope to exhibit the course and progress of the present eclipse in a way which no one will find perplexing.

1871 Eclipse Diagram 1

Let the reader conceive that he is placed at the sun at the moment when central eclipse is about to begin upon the earth. He would then see the earth as it is shown in fig. I. The arrow indicates the path on which the earth is travelling; and the imaginary polar axis is shown as a real line (-) slightly inclined, and the southern end tilted towards our observer in the sun. The moon is seen on the left, half her disc already overlapping the earth's face. The Indian peninsula, Ceylon, and Java are concealed from the observer on the sun, whose place is supposed to be at the middle of that half of the sun turned at the moment towards the earth. So that already Colonel Tennant and Mr. Pogson, in India, have the eclipse so far in progress that they cannot see the middle point of the sun's face.

But, instead of one observer on the sun, suppose the whole of the sun's visible half covered with observers: then there would be a tiny circle at the middle of that representing the moon in fig. I.- a circle tiny in our figure, but in reality occupying a space many miles long and wide on the earth - which not one of these observers, could see. This would be the true shadow, concealed from the whole orb of the sun. It is seen in fig. I., in the Arabian Sea, and it is there that central eclipse commences for the whole earth. The track which the shadow is to pursue is shown bv the curved black line (thicker towards the middle): but the actual course of the moon across the earth's disc, as seen from the sun, will be nearly straight, the turning round of the earth on her axis making the track on her surface a curved one.

But, before describing the further progress of the moon across the face of the earth, I must explain the dotted circle outside the moon. That incloses the region where the eclipse is in progress. All our imagined observers on the sun can see the part of the earth's surface lying outside this dotted circle, but every point within the circle is hidden from some of those observers - from so many the more as the point lies nearer to that central region which is hidden from all of them. Already, then, Janssen and his party at Java have the sun partially eclipsed. {A telegram received on Nov. 29 mentions that Janssen had gone to the Neilgherries. The original destination of his party was Java, and it is not clear whether he has decided on observing the eclipse on the Neilgherry Mountains, or has simply gone thither to communicate with the Indian observing parties there. The same telegram mentions that Mr. Lockyer is in communication with Colonel Tennant."}The observers in North Australia are doubtless making preparations for observing the moment when first contact will take place, but fig. I. shows us that the eclipse has not yet begun with them.

1871 Eclipse Diagram 2

The moon passes onwards with a slightly descending motion (as if making for the feathered end of the arrow in our figures), and at the end of fifty minutes the earth presents the appearance shown in fig. II. She has turned round by nearly an hour's rotation on her axis, as is shown by the advance of Africa into view (day, in fact, has begun along the eastern shores of Africa). But let the reader notice what progress the eclipse has made. The moon's centre has already passed South India and Ceylon, and the parties there are, let us hope, engaged in recording a series of successful observations. Where Lockyer and the rest of the Government expedition are stationed the sun shows more than half his face, for our figure shows Ceylon outside the outline of the moon's disc as seen from the sun's centre. Totality is now in progress near the south of Sumatra, and the French party in Java have but a few minutes to wait before their turn comes. At the North Australian station (supposing the observing parties to have selected the western shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria) the eclipse has just begun.

1871 Eclipse Diagram 3

Yet another interval of fifty minutes is supposed to have elapsed, and the earth presents the face shown in fig. III. It is now the true middle of the eclipse for the whole earth. Totality has passed in Java, and is in progress in the open sea between Java and Australia. If there are any ships at sea just there, the eclipsed sun lies nearly overhead, and the gloom upon the face of the ocean must form a strange contrast with the usual splendour of midday in the tropics. At the stations in India and Ceylon the eclipse is over. Very likely, however, Mr. Lockyer and his colleagues - supposing they have had good weather - are engaged in studying the solar prominences with the aid of the spectroscope, for comparison with the views (photographic or otherwise) obtained during the progress of totality.

1871 Eclipse Diagram 4

Yet another interval of fifty minutes, and the Australian observers are at work; for, as shown in fig. IV., the central shadow is passing the North Australian observing-stations. At Java the eclipse is nearly over. Let us hope Janssen has been as successful as during the Indian eclipse of 1868. It is past noon at his station, but still forenoon with Tennant in India and with Lockyer in Ceylon.

1871 Eclipse Diagram 5

Lastly, after another interval of about fifty minutes, central eclipse comes to an end for the whole earth. The sun is still partially eclipsed at the Australian stations, where the day is also far spent, though where the central eclipse first began (in the Arabian Sea) it is still early in the forenoon. The central shadow is passing away at a region in the Pacific Ocean (close to the equator), and there passengers on some passing ship, or savages on some small island of the Polynesian groups, may witness the strange phenomena of a black sunset, the sun sinking beneath the waves of ocean with the moon upon his face.

Space will not permit me to dismiss here - nor, perhaps, is this the proper place for discussing - the nature of the observations which are to be made at the stations along the line of central eclipse. The reader its doubtless aware that the great object of observation is the corona (or crown) of glory seen around the sun during total eclipses. It is specially hoped that photographic evidence may be obtained as to the nature of this strange solar appendage, for such it is now almost universally admitted to be. The plan of employing a photographic camera, devised by Mr. Brothers, F.R.A.S., and employed successfully by him in Sicily last year, is to be adopted at the Indian, Cingalese, and Australian stations. Formerly the telescope was employed in photographing eclipses; but the superiority of Mr. Brother's method is shown by the circumstance that he obtained a better picture of the corona during the last eleven seconds of totality than the American photographers (stationed at Cadiz) obtained with an exposure of a minute and a half. If clouds had not obscured the sky during the first two minutes of totality, Mr. Brothers would have obtained five pictures of the corona as good as the one he actually obtained.

Exceptional credit will be due to the spectroscopists if they achieve success, for they come to a field already thrice gleaned, and that by the most skilful workers.

It is a fact worthy of notice in conclusion, that almost exactly three years hence, at a time when the earth will turn the same face towards the sun as during the approaching eclipse, expeditions for which Parliament has already voted upwards of £10,000 will occupy various stations, shown in figures I., II., III., IV., and V., for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus of Dec. 8, 1874. So closely - by a strange chance - do the two events agree as respects the earth's aspect as supposed to be viewed from the sun, that it would require an acute eye to distinguish the aspect of the earth in figures I., III., and V. from my drawings of the earth (''The Sun," plates VIII., IX., and X.) as she will be seen from the sun at the beginning, middle, and end of the transit of Venus. Of course the relation is purely accidental, but the coincidence is so close that it is worth recording.

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