Landmark & Views

Sir William Herschel

England / Europe

The Herschel Observatory is named after Sir William Herschel (1738- 1822), King George III’s Astronomer (the first such appointment) and probably the most famous astronomer of the 18th century. He fled to Britain with nothing but his life having survived the defeat of the Hanoverians by the French in 1757 where he had been a drummer in the Hanoverian army. He quickly developed his musical ability and won an organ competition using a novel technique of placing weights on the keyboard to make it seem like he had more fingers and then through his fame won a job as organist at the Octagon Chapel in Bath. Whilst living in Bath he met Sir William Watson observing the sky through his seven foot telescope in the street. He started manufacturing his own telescopes by hand, adapting Sir Isaac Newton’s reflecting mirror telescope to improve the amount of light that could reach the telescope’s mirror and observer’s eye.

This endeavour took William Herschel from a musician earning £200 a year to selling telescopes for £5,000 in 1791 to the King of Spain. On March 13 1781 Herschel discovered Uranus. The remarkable feat was achieved through mapping the sky at night with his sister, Caroline, whilst he was sitting in the garden of his house in Bath, now the William Herschel Museum. He would call out his observations to his sister who would sit nearby with a torch and make notes of the observations so that he could see the stars without his vision being impaired by the torchlight. He was given a royal appointment as astronomer with an income of £200 for his discovery and so moved to Herschel House in Slough to be closer to court in London. He was to make Slough a place of scientific pilgrimage. In addition to discovering the planet Uranus, he also observed and catalogued over 800 double stars and 2,500 nebulae. He was the first astronomer to correctly describe the spiral structure of our Milky Way Galaxy. He once stated: ‘A knowledge of the construction of the heavens has always been the ultimate object of my observations.’ He continued his work of mapping the sky with his sister Caroline and discovered Infrared in 1800 and was acknowledged for the discovery, by actually being able to reproduce his discovery experimentally for the Royal Society of London. His son, John Herschel, attended Eton College briefly. The Herschel Astronomical Society still meets in the observatory.

  • Herschel Observatory, Eton

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  • Herschel Observatory, Eton

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Medal Sponsor

A medal was purchased for this point by: Eton Community Association