Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
Arthur Wolsey Blacklock
The minute book of the Ipswich Section of the Chaldaean Society refers to a founding meeting held in Ipswich on 04 August 1921. It lists the names of those present, including a Dr Wolsey Blacklock, a name that I had heard before. I aimed to find out as much as I could about him.
Blacklock isn’t a common name and enquiries at the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Astronomical Association failed to identify a member of either organisation so named.
Where else to look? Well, Allan Chapman in the Victorian Amateur Astronomer mentions in passing Blacklock as the person who taught, by correspondence, Roger Langdon, the Devon stationmaster, how to build and use a telescope. In addition, in the Astronomical Register, Blacklock is the author of six items of correspondence between 1867 and 1870. Each comes from a different address, ranging from "Old Stiene" in Brighton to Oxford Street, Manchester to Aberdeen and Godalming. The contributions cover planetary observation, the aurora and telescopes.
Arthur was born in Brighton on 14 October 1844. His father was Joseph Davidson (or Davison) Blacklock who ran two druggists shops at 32 Old Stiene and 109 Kings Road. His mother, Charlotte, died just four years later (maybe in child-birth?) Joseph re-married in 1851 to Emma Walton. The second marriage produced four children, with birth-years as follows:
Charlotte later achieved fame as a Suffragette and was awarded the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) Hunger Strike Medal in 1912. Following Joseph’s death in 1876, Emma took over the chemist's business, and ran it with Philip until she died in 1892 aged 76. Later census returns mention them as "soda water" suppliers.
The early schooling of Arthur is unknown, but he graduated as a MB (Bachelor of Medicine) in 1870 and MD (Doctor of Medicine) in 1872 from the University of Aberdeen.
Arthur had no fixed address while not studying at university. W F Denning (the Bristol meteor observer) organised a search for a supposed inter-Mercurial planet in early 1868; Blacklock contributed observations during March using a 100 mm reflector from Long Bennington, Lincolnshire. His address in July 1868 and during 1869 is in Manchester. The census taken in June 1871 lists him as assistant to Doctor William Parsons in Godalming, Surrey.
Arthur married twice, first in 1874 to Eliza Clarke Keeton of Belper, Derbyshire (who died in 1893) and again in 1906 to Annie Letitia Page, when he was 66 and his bride was 34! His second wife outlived him and died in 1960.
By 1875 he had settled in Gateshead. The 1881 census lists him living at 26 Mulgrave Terrace with his wife, two daughters (Mary Charlotte, born 1876 and Lilian Marguerite, born 1881 who died at 6 months of age) and two servants. Blacklock was practising medicine at the Northern Counties Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, 50 Blackett Street, Newcastle. By 1891 a son (Robert, aged nine, so maybe, only just missed the previous census) had joined the family. They cannot be found in the 1901 census and the 1911 return is rather strange, listing Arthur staying as the guest of a theatrical manager living in Chesterfield, but without his wife.
At various times Blacklock was a committee member of the Observing Astronomical Society and President of the Gateshead Camera Club. A short piece in the Amateur Photographer of July 1897 July demonstrates his combined interest in the two subjects; to quote him directly:
I would suggest that the maximum exposure with a fixed telescope is half a second, if the image is intended to be enlarged to 2½ inches, and it ought to bear this. The angular diameter of the moon may be taken roughly as half a degree, and it moves the same distance in two minutes, or 240 half-seconds, therefore if the final image is intended to be 2½ inch diameter, or 250/100ths of an inch, it will practically move 1/100th inches in half a second, and a longer exposure will cause blurring. This exposure is ample for the full moon in winter, but scarcely enough for the craters near the terminator at the quarters.
Blacklock’s connections with Ipswich are not well recorded but he appears to have lived in the town from the early years of the 20th century. The 1905 calendar of his alma mater lists his address as "The Gables, 35 Henley Road, Ipswich", although this is contradicted by the "Kelly's Directories" for Ipswich which has him living with his wife at number 29. There they ran a private nursing home from 1912, actually moving to number 35 in 1923. In 1935, Blacklock's name is no longer listed at the address (as he had died by then) and it is replaced by two members of the Page family. In 1941, Mrs Blacklock moved to 46 Anglesea Road and cannot be found after 1947.
Blacklock turns up in the May 1944 edition of Sky & Telescope. According to Charles Federer, in a letter written in 1876, Blacklock suggested that, in a Cassegrain telescope, a third mirror could be used to turn the beam from the secondary to the side of the tube, avoiding the need to perforate the primary mirror. Federer suggested that this arrangement should be referred to as the Blacklock arrangement (nowadays, it is referred to as the Nasmyth focus). There is also a passing reference to Blacklock in Amateur Telescope Making volume 1, where he discusses the ideal focal ratio of a reflecting telescope.
Blacklock died on 30 May 1934 of an unknown cause. He is buried in Ipswich Cemetery, Old Municipal Section H, with his wife, sister-in-law and other members of the Page family. His gravestone is shown to the right.
Thus I am sure that the "Blacklock" mentioned in the Chaldaean Society minute book was Arthur. At the time of the founding meeting in 1921, he was 80 years old and retired from practising, so may well have dropped the title "doctor".
The Ipswich Section of the Chaldaean Society appears to have been particularly successful with around 40 members. Blacklock contributed to this success by making telescope mirrors and reading a paper to the section in the 1922-23 session on "A Small Herschellian Telescope".
According to Mike Frost (BAA Historical Section Director), Blacklock published "hundreds" of pieces in the English Mechanic2, although I have yet to follow up this avenue of research.
I would like to thank Roger Jones (of the Society for the History of Astronomy) for contributions to this article.
The SAO/NASA ADS (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astrophysics Data System) website contains scanned copies of the Astronomical Register. The magazine ran from January 1863 to December 1886.
The English Mechanic ran from March 1865 to October 1926.
Bill Barton, FRAS