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The Story of the Herschel's
The Story of the Herschel's

Thu, 23 Nov



The Story of the Herschel's

By Charles Draper William Herschel was born in 1738 in Hanover into a family of military musicians, but as soon as he could escaped this life to make his way as a musician in England in the mid 1750s. He secured the plum appointment of organist at the new Octagon Chapel in Bath in 1766,

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Time & Location

23 Nov 2023, 19:00 – 21:00

London, 90 Mycenae Rd, London SE3 7SE, UK

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And quickly became a dominant figure in musical life in the City. But his interests were turning to astronomy, and his practical skills enabled him to make reflecting telescopes that proved to be the best of his day. He soon embarked on systematic observations of the night sky, which led to the chance discovery of Uranus in 1781 that brought him international fame, and a move, eventually to Slough, as the King’s Astronomer. He had earlier rescued his sister Caroline from a life of drudgery back in Hanover to be first his housekeeper, and then a fine singer. But in Slough she became his observing assistant, and it was this observing partnership that enable them to undertake the first systematic survey of deep sky objects, and to put papers to the Royal Society about his findings that made theirs a key founding partnership of modern astronomy. William’s son John proved a highly talented individual who shone as a mathematical scholar in Cambridge. After some hesitation he followed his father as an astronomer, and after further cataloguing by Caroline completed his father’s work by extending it to the southern skies during a 5 year stay in South Africa in the 1830s, returning to great acclaim. He had earlier written the first book in English on the philosophy of science that helped inspire Darwin. He did extensive experimentation in chemistry, particularly on the interaction with light, and was a key contributor to the development of photography. He had early and lasting friendships with some of the key thinkers of his day, and was widely regarded as its leading scientist. He was also persuaded to follow Isaac Newton’s example by serving for a while as Master of the Royal Mint. After that he was glad to retire as far as he could from public life, spending his final years in the company of his large and happy family.

William, Caroline and John were the key members of this family, but their stories do not finish with John’s death in 1871….


Charles Draper was born and brought up in London. He went to Highgate School, and then Cambridge University. He was interested in astronomy from an early age, and thought of being an astronomer, but spent his time at university doing too many other things and joined the MOD instead. He retired from his Whitehall career in 2009, and returned to astronomy, helping to revive Bath Astronomers from 2010, and taking over the Chairmanship of what is now the Herschel Society in 2016.

The Society was founded in the 1970s to rescue the house in New King Street where William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. This is now the very successful Herschel Museum of Astronomy, which is run alongside other Bath Museums by the Bath Preservation Trust. The Society continues to work closely with the Museum on a wide range of activities. It also organises lectures on astronomy today and in the past. It encourages greater knowledge and performance of William Herschel’s music. It established and now runs in association with the Royal Astronomical Society the Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship to support women astronomers early in their careers. It also works closely with Bath Astronomers.

Charles remains a keen amateur astronomer who is happiest star hopping across deep sky objects with his 12” Dob. He leaves electronics and imaging to others.

He met his wife Julia through a choir in London. They have three adult sons and live in Bath.

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