Letters to Sir Norman Lockyer, 1869-1919

Scope and Content

The file contains 13 letters from the following correspondents to Lockyer: Hooker [Sir Joseph D. Hooker] 1869; William Pengelly 1869; J.J.S. [Professor J.J. Sylvester] 1869; A. Macmillan 1871; Duke of Devonshire 1873; Dr. H. Helmholtz 1874;Alexander Macmillan 1877; Thomas A. Edison 1878; J.J. Thomson 1899; R.T. Glazebrook of the National Physical Laboratory 1903; Henry S. Roscoe 1907; E. Rutherford 1914; and George A. Macmillan 1919.

Also included is a typescript 'List of English gentleman who are invited to make nominations of candidates for the Nobel prizes in Physics and Chemistry for the year 1904'.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer, was born in Rugby in 1836, the only son of a surgeon-apothecary, Joseph Hooley Lockyer. He was educated privately in England and he also studied languages on the Continent. At the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the War Office, and married Winifred James in the following year. He developed interests in astronomy and journalism, and in 1863 began to give scientific papers to the Royal Astronomical Society. He proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science, discovering the theoretical existence of helium (a chemical not then known on Earth), and was awarded a medal by the French Academy of Sciences in the same year for developing a new technique to observe solar prominences at times other than eclipses.

In 1869 Lockyer founded the journal Nature, which he edited until a few months before his death, and which remains to this day a major resource for international scientific knowledge. In 1870 he was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction, which over the next five years reported on scientific education and resulted in the government setting up a laboratory of solar physics at South Kensington. To further this work Lockyer was transferred from the War Office to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington in 1875. Here he organised an international exhibition of scientific apparatus, as well as establishing the loan collection which eventually formed the nucleus of the collections of the Science Museum.

Throughout this period, Lockyer continued to be active in astronomical observations and in spectroscopic studies in the laboratory of the College of Chemistry; he also wrote several books on astronomy and spectral analysis. Lockyer also studied the correlations between solar activity and weather, and developed interests in meteorology. In 1878 he was given charge of the solar-physics work then being carried out at South Kensington, being made Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory. Lockyer also became a lecturer in the Normal School Science in 1881, and became the first professor of astronomical physics in 1887, a post which he held until 1901. (In 1890 the School was renamed the Royal College of Science, which later became part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology). Lockyer continued his work as Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory until 1913 when the laboratory moved to Cambridge, with the original laboratory site being used in part in the building of the Science Museum. At that point, he moved to Devon with his wife where they had built a retirement home at Sidmouth. On the suggestion of Francis McLean, the son of the astronomer and philanthropist Frank McLean, Lockyer established a solar observatory at Sidmouth. This observatory was set up for astrophysical observations, and was called the Hill Observatory (renamed the Norman Lockyer Observatory in 1921), which is still in existence today. Lockyer died in Salcombe Regis, Devon, in August 1920.

Access Information

Usual EUL arrangements apply.


Listed by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 18 Feb 2004, and encoded into EAD 2 June 2004. Biographical details are taken from the Dictionary of National Biography.

Other Finding Aids

A rough handlist is available.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Found in the papers of Professor George Dixon Rochester after his death in 2001, and given to the University Library in 2003 by a private donor. George Rochester was a member of the Physics department at Manchester University 1937-1955, subsequently taking up the position as Chair of Physics at Durham University in 1955, where he remained as head of department until his retirement in 1973.

These letters are clearly strays from the main run of Lockyer correspondence currently forming EUL MS 110. In 1969, these letters were reproduced in the centenary issue of the journal Nature (vol. 224), and appear to have been made available for publication by Dr W.G.V. Rosser (a colleague of Rochester at Manchester University, and subsequently a member of the Physics Department at the University of Exeter, who at that time were responsible for the Lockyer Observatory where EUL MS 110 was stored). At some point, the letters currently forming EUL MS 236 became separated from the main collection (EUL MS 110), but precisely how they ended up in the possession of Rochester is unknown.

The centenary edition of Nature contains several articles about the founding of the periodical in 1869 by Alexander Macmillan, publisher, and Norman Lockyer, astronomer. Lockyer edited Nature until 1919, only relinquishing responsibility a few months before his death in 1920.

Related Material

Other letters of many of the correspondents contained within EUL MS 236 are found in EUL MS 110, the correspondence and papers of Sir Norman Lockyer. There are also six other collections relating to Norman Lockyer and the Norman Lockyer Observatory held at Exeter. 1. EUL MS 72, the papers of the observatory c1913-1989; 2. EUL MS 114, papers on loan from the Royal Astronomical Society relating to Lockyer; 3. EUL MS 128, papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory; 4. EUL MS 186, papers by Lockyer or relating to him from Sid Vale Heritage Centre; 5. EUL MS 236, letters to Sir Norman Lockyer; 6. EUL MS 246, Papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory (University of Exeter). In addition the University is temporarily looking after papers (1991-) of the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.

Other papers of Lockyer's are held at the following repositories: Royal Astronomical Society Library; Royal Geographic Society; Imperial College Archives; British Library and Cambridge University Library. Other papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory are held at the University of Leicester (Special Collections).


Not known.