Moon Man Nasmyth

While growing up, when I wasn’t busy playing with hammers, I was intrigued by the Moon and I would act out Lego explorations of the Lunarscape. Two interests that that I have in common with engineer James Hall Nasmyth – whose invention of the steam hammer I explored in an earlier post.

Astronomy was one of Nasmyth’s passions and when he retired in 1856, he had more time to devote to scientific investigation.

He used this 20-inch reflecting telescope for looking at the Moon and Sun.

Nasmyth's 20 inch reflecting telescope (Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library)

I first came across it on a visit to our Blythe House store, and I was drawn to the huge grey iron lump of a telescope amongst a display of slender wood and brass ones. You can really see his history in making industrial machinery.

Nasmyth used his chunky telescope to make detailed drawings and plaster models of his observations, and co-wrote a book with James Carpenter called The Moon, Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite.

It was impossible at the time to photograph all that he could see through his telescope, so instead he photographed his plaster models for use in the book.

Plaster relief model of a portion of the Moon

Plaster relief model of a portion of the Moon by James Nasmyth (Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library)

So two of our museum objects – a massive hammer and a lumpy telescope – have led to me on a journey through the story of James Hall Nasmyth. I jumped for joy last year when I saw that that same lumpy telescope was taken from storage and put on display as the entrance piece of our new Cosmos & Culture exhibition.

Nasmyth's telescope at the entrance of Cosmos & Culture

Nasmyth's telescope at the entrance of Cosmos & Culture (Science Museum)

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