Catherine Rowe’s transit of Venus and a very special clock.
Catherine Rowe , curatorial intern from the University of Sydney, reports on her experiences:
Its here! Its arrived! No not the transit of Venus …….but the John Shelton Clock!
I think that my excitement over the transit of Venus is contageous! When I talked to friends about the event, I had a mixed response at first. Some looked rather puzzled and I could see their minds stretching back to high school text books about the solar system. But many vaguely related it to Captain James Cook, Tahiti and the mapping of eastern Australia. The message had gotten through from the exhibition of the last transit of Venus in 2004.
Just a few friends came up with stories. One such interesting story related to the Solitaire bird on the island of Rodrigues in the south Indian Ocean. Frenchman Alexandre-Gui Pingre recorded good information about this now extinct bird after voyaging to record the transit of Venus in 1761. His transit records, however, were poor due to bad weather. This represented a frustrated attempt to capture transit information and unlock the sectrets of the solar system.
Another story related to a successful recording by Captain James Cook and a George lll regulator clock, one of five made in London for the transits of Venus of 1761 and 1769. James Cook took one on his first voyage to Tahiti, whilst taking two on each successive voyage. Which clock went on which voyage has become something of an enigma and continues to be debated. But here was something tangible that was used for timing transits. These clocks would have seen five, possibly six transits of Venus since their creation. We can only hope to see two at the most since the next one is in 2117.
My friend, Martyn Cook, quite unexpectedly confessed that he owned one of the mysterious clocks and it was in Sydney! When I told Martyn of my internship at Sydney Observatory and the development of an exhibition, his face lit up. A loan was afoot!
It also transpired that Janet MacDonald, who was a Powerhouse Museum Trustee, also had spoken with Martyn Cook about the clock and with little hesitation he offered the clock for the exhibition now on show at Sydney Observatory. It was installed on 1st of June, just before the transit, and you can see other rare and interesting items relating to transits of Venus since Edmond Halley first made predictions about the process of using parallax after his observation of a transit of the planet Mercury on St. Helena.
As to my internship, apart from writing labels, sourcing images, artefacts and copyright information, I made the small models of the transit that you follow on a self-guided trail which I drafted so it was easy to find all things related to the transit. I was also involved in photographing the people who attended the event on the 6 June. This was an opportunity to not only research but be part of an historic event.
Make sure you visit the exhibition in its entirety until 15 August. The clock will stay in place until December 2012.