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Help and advice for Charles Grover, the Rousdon star man

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Charles Grover, the Rousdon star man

by

Jerry Grover <jerryg[at]globalnet.co[dot]uk>

My g g grandfather Charles GROVER is buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Church, Rousdon. The head stone, in the form of a stone cross, also commemorates his wife Elizabeth. Fortunately, Charles left a lot of evidence of his life, in the form of an autobiography, and other writings. He was born 7 March 1842 in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. After a rudimentary education he was apprenticed to a brush maker, a common trade locally. The appearance of Donati's comet in 1858 first drew his attention to astronomy, and he watched this beautiful object night after night. He bought a small telescope and started meticulous recordings of his astronomical observations. He married a Chesham girl, Elizabeth BIRCH on 5 August 1862 and in January 1864 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, George Charles. In 1869 the family went to London. Charles's work had come to the attention of John BROWNING, an optical instrument maker, who offered him a job.

In the course of his work Charles met many astronomers of the day, and spent some of his spare time attending lectures on all things scientific, at which he operated the 'magic lantern'. A second son, Charles Henry, was born on 14 February 1881, but the boy died aged 5½ months. In 1882 Charles met Mr. John COLES, at that time Keeper of the Map Room, and Instructor in Astronomy and Surveying to the Royal Geographical Society. He told Charles that several expeditions were planned to observe the forthcoming transit of Venus across the face of the sun, and one party was going to Brisbane, Queensland. Captain William George MORRIS of the Royal Engineers was to be in charge, with Lieut. DARWIN (son of Charles DARWIN), and an un-named man of the Royal Engineers as assistants. Mr. Cuthbert E. PEEK was going out with this party as an independent observer at his own expense, and needed an assistant. Would Charles like to take up the post?

After a little thinking about it, because he had a reasonable and interesting job at Browning's, Charles signed an agreement for the expedition in July 1882. Following a 60-day sea voyage and a land journey that needed five drays, each with twelve horses, for transport, they arrived at Jimbour, Queensland in December 1882. Here, in the grounds of Jimbour House, they erected two temporary observatories.

Cuthbert must have been impressed with his assistants's work because when he returned to England in August 1883 he employed Charles as his Astronomer, in charge of the observatory that he had built on his estate at Rousdon. Charles became known as the star man. In addition to the astronomical observatory, there was a meteorological observatory where readings were taken twice daily. Charles and his family lived in the northerly half of the East Lodge of the estate, and in 1886 his son George Charles married the daughter of an estate gardener, Mary Ann COLLINS.

Mr. Cuthbert PEEK became a Baronet on the death of his father Sir William Henry PEEK in 1898. Sir Cuthbert died at the age of 46 on 6 July 1901, but Charles continued his astronomical work for almost another twenty years. Results were published by the Royal Astronomical Society. Charles died on 16 February 1921 and Dr. W. LANGRAN of Axminster attended. The death was reported to Dr. E. R. TWEED (coroner for East Devon). The following is taken from his obituary in the local paper.

The Rector (the Rev. R. SPURRELL) officiated at the funeral, assisted by the Rev. J. R. STARFORTH (vicar of Axmouth). Mourners were the Hon. Dowager Lady PEEK (Widworthy Court), the Hon Mrs. Grenville PEEK, Mr. and Mrs. WILLIAMS, Mr. C. H. A. BAKER, Mr. ALLEN (Rousdon Mansion), Mr. and Mrs. A. WISCOMBE (Mayor and Mayoress of Lyme Regis), Mr. and Mrs. H. PEARCEY, Mr. J. PADY, Mr. and Mrs. H. E. FOXWELL (Lyme Regis), Messrs E. STEWARD and H. ELLIS (Lyme Regis), Mr. G. H. GERRY, Mr. and Mrs. WOODS (Beer), Mr. Reg. SILVER (Beer), Mr. and Mrs. C. FREEMAN, Mr. and Mrs. COLLINS, Mrs. and Miss PAUL, Mrs. CRITCHARD, Mr. CRITCHARD jun, Mr. and Mrs. SMITH, Mr. and Mrs. J. LOVERIDGE, Mr. S. TATCHELL, Mrs. SPURRELL, Miss SPURRELL, Mr. SPURELL, Mr. and Mrs. STAFFORD, and Mrs. GILES. The principal mourners were Mrs. GROVER (daughter in law), and Mr. GROVER (grandson). Acting as bearers by special request were the following employees on the Rousdon Estate: Messrs. LEWTELL, FLATMAN, ROWE, TOLMAN, HELLIER and CRITCHARD.

Most of Charles's reference books and writings were ultimately dispersed amongst his eight grandchildren. Some of these works have now been transcribed and/or scanned onto CD for posterity. This includes my greatest find, which came as a result of an enquiry to the Rootsweb Devon Mailing List. With the help of two kind people in Devon I found one of Charles's observing books that has never been in our family hands, but had been handed down through the family of another worker on the Rousdon Estate. The owner, Mike HAWKER, had been trying to find out more about the author, and, when we met, he generously took the view that I had more claim to it than he had. The book bears a label that says it is Volume 2, which raises the question - Where is Volume 1?

Sources.

"Fifty Years an Astronomical Observer" by Charles Grover - unpublished.
"Observations of the Sun, Moon and Planets" - Volume 2 by Charles Grover - unpublished.
"The Observatory" Number 308 August 1901 - Obituary of Cuthbert PEEK

This document is copyright Jerry Grover, and may be reproduced for private study only. © June 2001