Lockyer Research Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection includes the personal correspondence and some of the research papers of Sir Norman Lockyer. Amongst the research papers are two boxes of eclipse notebooks 1870-1811, lecture notes 1870-1898, notes about articles, an early but mostly empty observation book, papers relating tot he Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction 1871-77, papers relating to the transfer of the Solar Physics Laboratory to Cambridge 1911-12, and other papers relating to education, lectures and addresses. Other personal papers include those arising from his being awarded honorary degrees and his attendance at public functions

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer was born in Rugby in 1836, the only son of a physician, Joseph Hooley Lockyer. He was educated privately in England and on the Continent, and at the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the War Office. From his father he inherited an interest in the sciences, and in 1863 began to give scientific papers to the Royal Astronomical Society. He proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science generally, and in 1868 discovered the theoretical existence of helium, a chemical not then known on Earth. In 1869 he founded the journal Nature, which he edited until a few months before his death, and which remains to this day a major resource for 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, and here he established a loan collection which formed the nucleus of the collections of the Science Museum. On the foundation of the Royal College of Science in 1890, Lockyer was appointed Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory and Professor of Astronomical Physics, a post which he held until his retirement in 1913. In that year he moved to Devon and established a solar observatory at Sidmouth. He died in Salcombe Regis in August 1920. [details abstracted from the DNB]


The letters are sorted in order of correspondent's surname, with the exception of the letters congratulating him on his KCB, which are separate. Other files are still unsorted, mostly being in the same order as received.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply

Acquisition Information

The Norman Lockyer Observatory deposited these papers at about the time it was wound up as a corporation in 1989-91. They became the property of the University Library in 1995.


There are five collections relating to Norman Lockyer and the Norman Lockyer Observatory at Exeter. 1. EUL MS 72, the papers of the observatory c1913-1989; 2. EUL MS 110, the correspondence and papers of Sir Norman Lockyer from the observatory; 3. EUL MS 114, papers on loan from the Royal Astronomical Society relating to Lockyer; 4. EUL MS 128, papers from Donald Schlapp relating to Lockyer; 5. EUL MS 186, papers by Lockyer or relating to him from Sid Vale Heritage Centre. In addition the University is temporarily looking after papers (1991-) of the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.

Other Finding Aids

There is a handlist of the correspondence compiled by Dr George Wilkins; other material is presently unlisted

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL arrangements apply

Custodial History

The papers were kept at the Norman Lockyer Observatory until 1982. In that year a great deal of Lockyer-related and Observatory-related material began to come to the University Library on loan, including the material in this collection. On the winding-up of the Corporation in 1989-91, it was decided to offer Norman Lockyer's own papers in the first instance to the Science Museum. In 1995 the Science Museum agreed that the correspondence and papers of Sir Norman Lockyer should remain at, and become the property of, the University of Exeter. These papers thus were withdrawn from the initial collection (EUL MS 72) and separately identified.

Related Material

AJ Meadows, Science and controversy: a biography of Sir Norman Lockyer (1972).