Transit of Venus : The Life & Adventures of Station B, Album 1

Transit of Venus

<p>This is the first of two albums containing c.100 sheets of caricature drawings by Lieutenant Evelyn James Wheelock Noble [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>link</a>] that give a chronological record of one of the five British expeditions to observe the 1874 transit of Venus. This expedition, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawai‘i), was led by Captain George Lyon Tupman, to whom the albums were apparently given, since they have remained with his family. Starting with the instruments and supplies leaving from Greenwich in May 1874 [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>4</a>], Noble depicts himself, his fellow observers and those they met on their travels, and their work in setting up a temporary observing station at Honolulu (known as Station B), carrying out observations and making calculations. The story, including the return journey, continues in the second album [<a href='/view/MS-TRANSIT-00002/1'>Transit 2</a>]. While lightly humorous and fairly unsophisticated, the style of the drawings, language and jokes are reminiscent of contemporary magazines such as Punch. The individuals depicted are generally recognisable, as are some of the landmarks and surroundings. The observing station and astronomical instruments are particularly accurately rendered, probably underpinned by training in topographical and technical drawing. Much attention is given to the discomforts of travel (e.g. the motion of the ship [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>14</a>]) and the Sandwich Islands (e.g. mosquitoes [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(26);return false;'>23</a>] and rain [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(44);return false;'>41</a>]). Fun is poked at individual foibles, foreigners, the local Hawaiian and immigrant British and American populations [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(40);return false;'>37</a>], including the recurrent figure of Major Wodehouse, the British Consul [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(47);return false;'>44</a>].</p> <p>The main purpose of the expedition was to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun on 8 December 1874 [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(49);return false;'>46</a>] but long series of observations were required to establish the accuracy of the instruments and to calculate the exact locations of the main and sub-stations. The images capture the hard and painstaking work of setting up the observing huts and instruments [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(25);return false;'>22</a>], maintaining and using them [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(41);return false;'>38</a>], the trials of night observation [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'>40</a>], the frustrations of the new photographic technology [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(50);return false;'>47</a>] and the endless computing work [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(52);return false;'>49</a>]. As well as the main observing station at Honolulu, there were substations at Kailua [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(37);return false;'>34</a>], headed by George Forbes, and Waimea [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(38);return false;'>35</a>], manned by Richard Johnson. They received assistance from those living locally and serving on ships in the area: the captains of HMS Scout, Ralph Cator, and of HMS Tenedos, Frederick Van der Meulen, did much to assist the expedition with personnel and chronometer runs between the stations to establish relative longitudes [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(51);return false;'>48</a>], [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(61);return false;'>58</a>]. Observations were completed on 8 February 1875, to the obvious delight of Noble and the other observers [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(62);return false;'>59</a>], although this was only followed by the work of dismantling, packing and transporting [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(63);return false;'>60</a>]. Many of the events can be cross-referenced with the official journals kept by Forbes (who shared the whole voyage out with Noble) [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00059-00069/1'>RGO 59/69</a>] and Tupman [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00059-00070/1'>RGO 59/70</a>], as well as other records and correspondence in the RGO archives [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>link</a>] .</p> <p>The drawings record travel on mail and naval ships (Pacific Steam Navigation Company Ship Illimani and HMS Scout), stops en route (including Bahia, Rio de Janeiro [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(12);return false;'>9</a>], Montevideo [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(13);return false;'>10</a>], Valparaiso, Santiago [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>12</a>]) and travel within the Sandwich Islands (Mount Tantalus [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(30);return false;'>27</a>], Kailua [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(36);return false;'>33</a>], Kona [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(58);return false;'>55</a>]). We see the hospitality offered within Honolulu, including a rare early depiction of the revived Hula dance [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(21);return false;'>18</a>], and by the royal court [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(22);return false;'>19</a>], [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(66);return false;'>63</a>], which welcomed the visitors [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(24);return false;'>21</a>]. During their stay, King Kalākaua [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>link</a>] made a diplomatic voyage to the United States of America. His return, after successfully negotiating a trade treaty, was greeted with celebration [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(64);return false;'>61</a>]. The album also includes photographs of the seven Station B observers [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(4);return false;'>1</a>] and their temporary residence [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(68);return false;'>65</a>]. There are two newspaper clippings from the Hawaiian Advertiser, one reporting on the observations of the transit [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(48);return false;'>45</a>] and the other a letter from a resident suggesting that the fact that the skies remained clear that day demonstrated the efficacy of prayer [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(46);return false;'>43</a>]. Both were treated sceptically and humorously by Noble in subsequent caricatures.</p> <p>Rebekah Higgitt<br /> University of Kent</p>

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