Rare 1860s telescope out for display

Ashburton Aviation Museum president Stephen Johnston with the Victorian-era With-Browning, Newtonian Reflector telescope on display at the museum.
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Ashburton College’s rare Victorian-era telescope is out of storage and on display.

But it’s not in a usable condition.

The With-Browning, Newtonian Reflector – named after Issac Newton – is sitting on display in the Ashburton Aviation Museum until plans on its future site are known.

It’s the latest move for the 1860s-era telescope which is owned by Ashburton College but used and maintained by the Ashburton Astronomy Group.

College principal Ross Preece said there is ‘‘no news on the new location on our campus (as yet)’’ and the telescope remains homeless after the little brick observatory at the back of Menorlue, on the grounds of the college, was demolished in March.

The telescope had been there since it was built in the late-1980s.

Ashburton Aviation Museum president Stephen Johnston said the telescope had been put on display in the museum at the request of Ashburton Astronomy Group’s Alistair Perkins, also a museum member.

It was available for people to see, but not able to be used.

A stand had been made for it to be displayed on.

The astronomy group has operated the observatory since the 1980s and had seen thousands of visitors over the years until it was demolished.

The special domed roof, which opens for viewing, has been kept in storage for a future site.

Early beginnings

The telescope began its New Zealand life in Dunedin with teacher James Pope, then Henry Skey, originally of London, who was a surveyor, meteorologist and astronomer.

It’s eyepiece has gazed into the skies and detected galaxies above New Zealand ever since.

It has seen Jupiter and its retinue of moons, Saturn and its ring system, the phases of Venus, the mountains and craters of the Moon, hues and polar caps on Mars, the beauty of Halley’s Comet above New Zealand from its first 1910 visit, and the impacts of Comet Shoemaker Levy on Jupiter in 1994.

The Ashburton College telescope, with then owner Henry Skey, of Dunedin, in 1890. Photo: Ashburton Museum & Historical Society Inc Collection

History posts from Ashburton Museum say when Henry Skey died in 1914, he bequeathed the telescope to his eldest son – Henry Fawsit Skey.

Most of the remaining family then moved to Ashburton, although Henry Fawsit lived in Christchurch. He was thought to have visited Ashburton frequently and, in likelihood, got to know the philanthropic Ferrimans – Elizabeth and Frederick.

They were the ideal people to pass his father’s telescope on to, along with a proviso it be properly housed.

By the mid-1910s it was in Ashburton in the possession of Frederick Zaccheus Duckett Ferriman, who was also a wellknown past real estate agent, philanthropist, benefactor, staunch temperance/ prohibitionist, Anglican and Borough councillor.

The telescope was first mentioned as being a gift from Elizabeth Ferriman to the Ashburton Borough School in 1918 at its newly opened buildings.

She had been one of the first four pupils at the school in her youth. However the school was unable to fund the observatory for it and had no-one skilled enough to use it.

The then-Ashburton High School observatory in 1927 soon after it was installed. The Ashburton College telescope, with then owner Henry Skey, of Dunedin, in 1890. Photo: Ashburton Museum & Historical Society Inc Collection.

It languished in storage for near-on a decade before it was given by Mr Ferriman to Ashburton High School on condition a suitable building was erected to house it.

An observatory was completed in November 1927 and used for many years until it was eventually demolished in 1972.

The next ten years or so were spent arguing over who was to pay for a new observatory with the revamped school on a new site.

An observatory was built on the present Ashburton College site with the historic telescope set in place at the rear of the Menorlue building and used by many.

Now, with the college’s multi-million dollar rebuild under way, and the historic Menorlue site due a makeover, the dismantled telescope has found its way to the aviation museum and still awaits plans for its forever home.