Monday, 17 September 2012

Solar Eclipse of Sun 9 May 1910

Solar Eclipse of the Sun 9 May 1910 in Tasmania

Report of the “Solar Expedition to Port Davey, Tasmania May 1910” gives the reader detailed information. 

Below I have given a brief outline of the expedition and included three photographs of the corona taken at Queenstown by the Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr. James Booton (Plate 34). Also the drawing of the corona by Mr.W.H.Wesley from the photographs taken by the Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr.James Booton and from a positive copy of a photograph taken by Mr.Darnley Sargeant (Plate 35).

The line of the total eclipse touched no land except Antarctic and Tasmania.  The first was impossible to access. The central line passed about 40 miles to the south of the island.  The season was winter, the country very mountainous, rainfall statistics high and the time of the eclipse was within one hour of sunset, so that the sun's altitude was only 7 or 8 degrees above the horizon. For these reasons no official expedition was sent from England, nor from any other country except Australia, as the chances of success were very small and the cost and time required to reach Tasmania was very great. Many instruments were however lent by the Royal Society in England.

Active preparations were commenced early 1909.  It was extremely difficult to obtain any information about the south coast of Tasmania, but an Australian expedition would go to Hixson Point, Port Davey.   29 cases of instruments left England on 3 February 1910 and arrived in Hobart 17 March 1910.  They were insured for a total value of 1050 pounds. The setting up camp in Port Davey commenced on 9 April 1910 with stores and equipment being delivered by "Wainui" for a one months stay in an uninhabited and desolate locality.

The northern line of totality followed a line from Zeehan on the west of Tasmania to Maria Island on the east coast, but owing to the shortness of totality so far north of the central line, only sites were considered that lay to the south of the latitude of Hobart.  It could hardly be foreseen that the only view of the eclipse would be from Queenstown, near Macquarie Harbour, which lies well to the north of this line. 

The observatory was about 600 yards from camp and a path had to be cut through 2 foot high thick bush to the top of the ridge.  Another track was necessary from the landing place for the instruments to the observatory, a distance of about a furlong. Gales blew day after day making preparations extremely difficult. A fire broke out on 17 April in straw within a packing box.  It took several days before the fire was finally extinguished, because peat once dry continued to burn below the surface flaring up as it reached scorched trees.

On 9 May 1910 half an hour before totality the instruments were ready as far as possible, and the observers took up their respective positions. There was to be a countdown - 15 minutes before, ten minutes before, two minutes before and the one minute for opening the slides. A 3 inch aperture visual telescope would be used and the image of the crescent thrown on a sheet of cardboard behind the eyepiece. The call to "Start" by view would continue until "Stop" was called.

After the eclipse was over all dark slides were taken direct to the tent and everyone was to write an account of the eclipse.  At the last moment when everything was seen to be hopeless, only one exposure was made.  This would save the slides from damage and would also increase the chance of results if there happened to be a small break in the clouds. "Go" was a called and at the "5 seconds after" everyone exposed a plate.  Far down on the western horizon was a streak of brightness that moved gradually up the sky.  At about 200 seconds a rush of light came up from the west, racing across the clouds, but it was impossible to say when it reached the party.  It was hoped they would obtain a snap of the crescent sun before it sank below the horizon, but nothing resulted.

The official description of the eclipse as follows:   "Approaching the time of total phase the sky was overcast by nimbus clouds, raining lightly but steadily.  The colour of the surrounding landscape was bluish-grey. At 130 seconds after the commencement of the total phase a light break in the clouds showed in the south-west (light Naples yellow in colour) and gradually extended across the sky from S.W. to N.W.  At 180 seconds after the commencement of the total phase a general brightening developed suddenly and continued fitfully until the end of totality.  This fitful brightening towards the end of the total phase was probably due to the varying density of the clouds, and is supported by the fact that the rain ceased soon after the ending of the total phase, and to a hazy sun being seen later through the thin clouds and through the break in the western horizon a faint green colour developed in the cloud breaks, which gradually faded as night developed". 

The work of demolition began at one.  By the next morning the expedition party left the spot where they had worked in rain and mud for over a month on perhaps the most inhospitable coast that exists on a habitable land. 

At Zeehan and Strahan the partial phase had been seen in a clear sky, but not totality.  At Queenstown, up in the mountains above Macquarie Harbour, was the only place that had seen it all. 

Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr J.Booton were lucky enough to obtain some photographs of the corona, taken with a Thornton Pickard half plate camera with the back combination of the lens removed, giving a quarter inch image, and extremely good for so small a camera and without clockwork.  The exposures were about 2 seconds and the stop F22 and the plates used were Imperial Special Rapid.

The Queenstown correspondent of the "Sydney Mail" writes:  
“On the day of the eclipse, heavy lowering clouds enveloped the mountains, and hung down to the foot hills, so that even much of a familiar landscape was not visible.  But, as if by appointment, a rift appeared, and quickly the grey gave place to bright blue, and the sun descended into it like a jewelled ship gliding into a calm sea.  What a rush there was for smoked or coloured glasses, which had been put by in the belief that they would not be required.  It was all so unexpected that it came as a sudden and delightful surprise.  There had been no wait, no anxiety as to whether this, or that, or the other thing would transpire.  It was simply the turning of an anticipated disappointment into a complete realisation.  The unfortunate part about it was that camera had been left at home by those who had made elaborate preparations.  Still, there were some who had their “picture-takers” with them, but very few have since been reported as having obtained good results; probably the occasion was too much for them, and they became too flurried”.

There is an account of the eclipse by Mr.E.Carns Driffield, M.Aust.I.M.E., superintending engineer of the Mount Lyell railways, which has not previously appeared in print: 
“Even as late as three o’clock in the afternoon, although the rain had then ceased, the outlook was hopeless, but a friend and myself decided to climb to the top of the Flux Quarry Hill and chance our luck, as it were.  The prospects were too gloomy to even take any instruments with us, and the theodolite and even the smoked glass were agreeably surprised to see the western sky rifting into broken cloud line, with every appearance of improvement to follow.

Our hopes began to rise to higher pitch as the light became stronger, indicating greater tenuity in the cloud veil, and in less than a quarter of an hour we could just see the hazy outline of the sun through the clouds, with about six digits, or nearly half the face from the western limit eclipsed.  Just then we were (very fortunate for us) swelled by the boisterous advent of about a dozen school children all equipped with coloured or smoked glass and copy books.  We gladly availed ourselves of their generous offer of the use of their glasses.  With all my instruments ready adjusted lying uselessly in my office in the valley below, the situation had its lesson even to our more  mature years.  The clouds became more detached and tenuous, and by 3.45 we were able to obtain occasional glimpses of the sun quite unobsecured.  Although about two-thirds of the disc was then eclipsed there was very little perceptible diminution in the daylight, which I attribute to the fact that the forenoon of the day had been so clouded and dark that the dispersing clouds and brighter sun, although clouds just below the sun, about 20 degrees long and 8 or 10 degrees across, and we hoped enthusiastically that totality would occur in this space.  And as if by a miracle it did. 

Slowly the sun descended out of the cloud banks into this space, bursting into full view about 4.5. The sight from this out to the end of totality, and for some time afterwards, was absolutely unobscured and perfect, and never shall I forget the grandeur of it all.  Steadily the light diminished as the moon’s black disc gradually enveloped the luminous crescent, now but one digit in breadth.  In appearance this crescent was like a quivering, molten bath of quicksilver, and seemed to scintillate with prismatic rays of light.  The eastern limit of the sun was gradually reduced to a glowing crescent band and totality ensured about 4.15.  At this supreme moment the sight was too enthralling to fully absorb and realise, much less to permit of any adequate description being attempted.  The gaunt, fire-swept hills of Queenstown, with their black peat covering, quivered in an awesome light; and the great mass of cloud horizon below the sun glowed with indescribable tints and hues.  The denser masses of cloud showed mainly in purple tints, while the more tenuous rifts among them with salmon and orange light like a myriad of subterranean fires.  The sepias of the hills were tinted with spectral colours not to be described, and only to be seen to be understood.  The air felt distinctly colder, and the darkness was equal to a medium twilight.  Faces looked pale and ghostly, and the situation was weird in the extreme.  A solemnity fell upon the little party.

We were too engrossed with the scene to observe times correctly, and I questioned whether totality lasted more than two minutes.  In that brief interval how eagerly we drank in the ravishing splendour before us.  The moon’s disc appeared in an immense black circle in the sky, set in an azure blue lake, surrounded on all sides by cloud banks, each exhibiting a colour scheme of entrancing glory.  Encircling the moon’s disc, intensely black, was the beautiful pulsating chromosphere of the sun, emitting fluctuations of yellow and orange coloured flame like rays, from which streamed in all directions rays of multi-coloured light, delicate pink and orange predominating.  From the eastern limb, on the upper half particularly long streamers, flexing strongly to the north, were observable all through totality.  The streamers from the western limb were much shorter and of more uniform totality.  Without even the aid of a field glass, one’s whole being was wrought with vexation at the inability to pry more closely into these wonderful shafts of light.

While wrapt in silent contemplation of the majestic grandeur before us, totality ended, and an apex of brillant dazzling light shot suddenly from the sun’s western limb on its lower half just as if a gigantic light had been suddenly switched on.  Having watched the moon’s disc gradually moving off the face of the sun now setting behind the horizon clouds, we turned our steps homeward filled with mixed feelings of joy at the good luck which had attended us, and of solemnity at the majesty of the scene which will never be effaced from my memory”.

Description of the Corona of 1910 by W.H.Wesley, Assistant Secretary, R.A.S:

The photographs from which the drawing has been made were the following:
1. Four negatives taken by the Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr.J.Booton with a Thornton-Pickard half plate triple extension camera with back combination of lens removed.  The exposure of one plate is given as 2 seconds; the other plates had apparently similar exposures.  Diameter of moon’s image 4mm.4.

2.  Positive copies of a photograph taken by Mr.Sargeant with a small camera of short focus; the details of exposure are not given, but the great deformation of the moon’s image caused by the diurnal motion shows that the plate was exposed during the greater part of totality.  The diameter of the moon’s image in the direction unaffected by the diurnal motion is about1 mm. 5.

The negatives by Messrs.Macdougall and Booton are very sharply defined and give excellent pictures, notwithstanding their small scale.  But their extension is very small; the corona in no part extends to more than a fourth of the moon’s diameter from the limb.  Mr.Sargeant’s minute photograph, on the other hand, extends in parts considerably therefore simply drawn it in outline, superposed on a drawing from the other photographs which show the inner corona.  On Mr.Sargeant’s plate the line of the terrestrial landscape is shown, and this permits the picture to be oriented with approximate correctness. The photograph showing the inner corona agrees so well with the others that there is not much uncertainty about the orientation.

The most striking feature of the corona shown on the small extension plates is an unusually wide rift, arranged pretty symmetrically about the South Pole, and extending for nearly 50 degrees along the limb.  Along this rift the corona is almost absent in the short exposure plates – only the faintest indications are given of the bases of the polar rays.  In Mr.Sargeant’s photograph this rift is entirely filled up to a height of nearly a diameter, probably with the usual polar rays, but the over-exposed small scale picture gives no indication of anything but the general mass.

The great southern rift is bounded on the east by a well-marked mass, such as is frequently seen at the edge of a polar rift.  This mass forms the base of a fine ray of a clearly synclinal character, extended in Mr.Sargeant’s photograph to nearly one and half diameters from the limb, in direction not far from radial.  A well-marked gap separates this great ray from the general equatorial mass on the east, which presents no very distinctive gestures.

At the North Pole there is no rift corresponding to that at the South, though the corona has somewhat less extension than in the equatorial regions.  The details on the western side are not of a very well-marked character.  The edge of the mass bounding the southern rift on the west much more nearly approaches the tangential than the corresponding mass on the east.  In the outer corona two or three broad, ill-defined, and somewhat parallel rays run out to more than a diameter from the limb.

Comparing the corona of 1910 with that of 1909 it is evident that the former shows fewer distinctive features.  The corona of 1910 appears to belong to the type associated with the period intermediate between the maximum and minimum of solar activity.  It much resembles the corona of August 1896, as photographed by M.Hansky in Novaya Zemlya, but the poles appear reversed, the North Pole of 1896 resembling the South Pole of 1910. The long ray on the south-east of the 1910 corona decidedly recalls the similar but still longer streamer photographed by Hansky in 1896.

The most characteristic features in the 1910 corona are the unusually wide rift at the South Pole, without any corresponding rift at the North, and the long ray, with its edge of double curvature, extending from the synclinal group on the east of the great southern rift.

Plate 34 – Three photographs of the Corona.
Taken at Queenstown by the Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr.James Booton.

Photographs of Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun taken by Rev.L.S.Macdougall in Queenstown 9 May 1910

Plate 35 - Drawing of the Corona by Mr.W.H.Wesley.

From the photographs taken by the Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr.James Booton and from a positive copy of the photograph by Mr.Darnley Sargeant.

Drawing of the Corona by Mr.W.H Wesley from photographs taken by Rev.L.S.Macdougall and Mr.D.Sargeant

Photograph of Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun by Mr.D.Sargeant 9 May 1910

“Report to the Hon.Minister of Education on the Total Solar Eclipse of May 9th, 1910, in Tasmania” by G F Dodwell, B.A., F.R.A.S., Government Astronomer for South Australia.
Included in the Report are 5 photographs of the Total Phase taken by Rev.L.S.Macdougall at Queenstown, Tasmania and a photograph of the Drawing of the Corona by Mr. E.C.Driffield.
Rev.L.S.Macdougall sent his negatives to England for examination and discussion.  Mr.Macdougall writes: “I exposed four plates during the total phase, each for two seconds, at f22, in a Thornton-Pickard half-plate camera, working at full (triple) extension, with a back combination of the lense removed.  The plates used were Imperial special rapid ……………”
Mr.Macdougall writes as follows “Too much praise cannot be given to Mr.Driffield for this production, and I am inclined to think that it puts out of court any other attempts to make a drawing to represent one’s visual impressions of the eclipse, as it would not only be hopeless to make a better or more faithful representation; but anyone who saw the eclipse and also saw Mr.Driffield’s drawing would, in any attempt of his own to portray the scene, be decidedly influenced, consciously or unconsciously by Mr.Driffield’s work.  There are but two crititicisms I have to offer; one is that the photo fails to give any adequate representation of the colour which Mr.Driffield attempted in the original with marked success, and the other is that in the terminals of the upper prominences the impression given by the drawing is one of velocity away from the centre, whereas the impression intended to be conveyed is rather one of scintillation.  Apart from this I can offer no suggestions of alteration to bring the drawing into greater faithfulness to the marvellous sight that was vouchsafed to us”.

Rev.L.S.Macdougall has written in his diaries his own record of the total eclipse of the sun and of particular interest are entries on 9 May 1910, 8 June 1910, 18 July 1910, 6 October 1910, 22 November 1910, and 23 February 1911. 

On 9 May 1910 I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) paid a visit to Jim Booton, a young amateur photographer whom I had promised to help.  It was their intention to climb one of the neighbouring hills in the afternoon and photograph the total eclipse of the sun, but the outlook all morning seemed likely……  Shortly before 4pm the weather seemed inclined to break, and we decided to take our chance of seeing the eclipse by climbing one of the hills to the south west of Queenstown, overlooking Howard’s Plains.  And then, behold, as though by the deliberate intervention of a Power unseen the clouds and wintry weather were brushed aside and we had a gorgeous view of what is probably the grandest of all celestial phenomena; the Total Eclipse of the Sun…….  We reached the summit of the hill at about 3.45pm when the moon was about midway across the sun’s disc.  Some minutes were given to the adjustment of the camera, a Thornton-Pickard, which we used with full extension and a single lens, and obtained an image on the focussing screen about 1/4in in diameter.  We gave four exposures during the phase of totality, each of about 2 seconds at f22…….The scene was indescribably grand.  The clouds opened like a great curtain and rolled away to right and left of the landscape, remaining in sight about the horizon to reflect the marvellous colours which manifested themselves at mid eclipse.  The meniscus of the sun gradually became smaller as the moon rolled on, and went out suddenly, leaving us in the most uncanny sort of twilight.  Being so near the edge of the area of totality it did not become sufficiently dark to see more than two stars, probably Mercury and Alpha Tauri.  With us the total phase lasted only about two minutes and the prominences of the corona extended about two diameters all round.  The emergence of the sun when the total phase was over was the grandest sight of the whole event.  It came forth like a great jewel from concealment.  Such times as these make one sigh for the pen of a Hebrew seer or a writer of Homeric poems.  We descended the hill a few minutes after the total phase was over and proceeded at once to develop the plates (Imperial Special Rapid).
Rev.L.S.Macdougall's drawing of Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun in his diary 9 May 1910

On 26 May 1910 Leslie Macdougall and James Booton received a letter from Mr.McClean, leader of the Astronomical Party that went to Port Davey to view the Eclipse.  It reads:

Menzies Hotel,
23 May 1910

Thank you so much for the Eclipse photographs.  I cannot say how delighted I am to have them: after our miserable failure at Port Davey.  When examined under a glass they appear to have very minute and accurate detail, and on that account I am wondering whether you would feel inclined to part with any of the negatives at your own price.  I only hope that if you do not wish to that you will not feel insulted by my offer, which is made with the sole desire to be able to examine the details and if possible tabulate them.  They would of course carry your names, wherever and whenever they appeared, either in print or as lantern slides.

If you can do it, best for my purposes would be those that show the greatest length of streamers, provided that the image is a definite circle.

It would also be of great use to use if you could mark which was the top of the plate, so that I may know the directions of the streamers.  In one print the sun is, I think, just about to re-appear, and this helps a good deal.

My address in London is F.K.McClean, Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdopm, 166 Piccadilly, London.

If there is anything I can do towards the Church, I shall be delighted to do it, as one good turn deserves another: and you certainly have done me one.

Yours very sincerely,

We arranged to take some prints off and forwarded by the next English mail.

On 8 June 1910  I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) spent the greater part of this morning printing off as many postcards of the eclipse photos, and in the afternoon Jim Booton called and we packed the negatives securely and despatched them to Mr.F.K.McClean at his London address, The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 166 Piccadilly, London. Our photo was the only available evidence, as none of the astronomical parties had succeeded in seeing the eclipse at all, or in obtaining any records of it.  This of course increases greatly the scientific value of our photograph, a copy of which has been requested by the Government Astronomer of South Australia.

On 18 June 1910 I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) paid a formal call upon Mr.E.Carns Driffield, M.Inst.C.E.Eng., the Superintending Engineer of the Mount Lyell Railways.  He it was who made a brilliant drawing of the Solar Eclipse of last May, which I attested last Tuesday and we had a very interesting chat about the matter.  He presented me with a photo of his drawing, with the signatures of the co-observers attesting, and also gave me a complimentary pass over the haulage of North Lyell, whereof I availed myself at 4pm.

Mr.E.Carns Driffield's drawing of Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun on 9 May 1910 with co-observers attesting to its accuracy

 On 6 October 1910 I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) received an acknowledgement of the receipt of the negatives of the total eclipse of the sun last May, together with a cheque for fifty pounds for the same.  This was very much more than I expected would be received, and when the amount can be collected one third of it should go to the Trustees of the Queenstown Methodist Church.

On 22 November 1910 I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) wrote a letter to G.F.Dodwell Esq. M.A., Government Astronomer of South Australia, thanking his for his present of a copy of his elaborate printed report of the Solar Eclipse of 9 May 1910, which contains verbation extracts from my previous letters to him, together with prints from the negatives that J.Booton and I secured of the Eclipse.

On 23 February 1911 I (Rev.L.S.Macdougall) I had a consultation with my senior Circuit Steward over the present state of the Circuit Fund, which has recently received a donation of seven pounds ten shillings, being half of the sum of fifteen pounds which came to me as my share of the cheque for fifty pounds that was received from Mr.F.K.McClean for the four negatives of the Solar Eclipse that were taken by Jim Booton and myself last May. The remaining seven pounds ten shillings of this amount goes to the Trust Fund of the Queenstown Methodist Church.

"Waverley Gazette", Wednesday 20 October 1976:

"He eclipsed them all" - An article written at the time Melbourne was to experience a total solar eclipse of the sun on 23 October 1976.

This article was in the "Waverley Gazette" at the time Melbourne was to experience a Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun on 23 October 1976 - 66 years after Rev.Leslie Macdougall earned worldwide fame for himself, by being the only man on the planet to successfully photograph the solar eclipse on 9 May 1910.

"The Age", Friday 22 October 1976: 

"66 Years later, nothing new under the sun".

Mrs Beatrice Macdougall was one of the few people who knows what the 1910 solar eclipse looked like.  She can't remember the event but she has a rare photograph taken by her late husband.  The Rev.Leslie Macdougall, a Methodist Minister was the only person to successfully photograph the eclipse from Queenstown, Tasmania.

The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, which had tried unsuccessfully to take pictures of the eclipse, later bought Mr.Macdougall's negatives for 50 pounds.

Mrs. Macdougall, of High Street Road, Glen Waverley, is [pictured with a photograph of her late husband and his diary entry of the eclipse.

She will be watching tomorrow afternoon's eclipse in safety on television.

Beatrice Macdougall with her husband's diary entry of the total solar eclipse of the sun on 9 May 1910

If you wish to contact the author Joy Olney (grand-daughter of Leslie Macdougall), please email:

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