Funds sought to repair historic Townsend telescope

Astronomy enthusiasts are appealing for funds to help restore the historic Townsend telescope damaged in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Kershaw and telescope
REPAIR JOB: Graeme Kershaw has the almost impossible job of repairing the earthquake-battered telescope.
Photo: Olivia Bascand.

The severely damaged remains are lying in a corner of the University of Canterbury department of Physics and Astronomy, in the hands of experienced technician Graeme Kershaw.

Now, Kershaw’s team is on a mission to raise an order of $100,000 for the telescope’s restoration.

A Facebook page created for the telescope is appealing for donations to boost the few thousand dollars that have already been raised.

According to the University’s Physics and Astronomy department, the delicate gears of the clock drive and governor that drove the telescope were not badly damaged and, even though many of the crushed pieces are beyond recovery, the whole instrument can be restored.

Kershaw said undamaged parts would be stripped off the telescope and put onto a replacement tube.

He hopes the telescope will one day find itself back in the newly repaired Art Centre tower.

The Townsend telescope was made in 1864 by a famous telescope maker Thomas Cooke and Sons of York, and shortly after was installed at James Townsend’s home in Christchurch.

Canterbury College built the observatory tower after Townsend donated his prize possession to the community, and the telescope was installed there in 1896.

Kershaw said after the February earthquake, the team at the Art Centre was meticulous in the recovery of the telescope, with only 3 tiny pieces left unaccounted for.

“The biggest surprise and delight came from the fact that we discovered the lens, which is like the engine of your Rolls Royce, was 100 per cent intact,” Kershaw said.

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Karen Pollard said that what makes a telescope is its optics.

“As long as the optics are in one piece, you can rebuild the telescope.”

Pollard said, before the earthquakes, the telescope used to be operated by students and staff at the University on clear Friday nights during the winter months.

“There’s a big history there of public outreach, teaching students, showing the public the night sky and teaching them about astronomy,” Pollard said.

Also rescued from the Art Centre rubble was the telescope’s log book, which recorded the June 1996 centenary of the telescope’s installation at the Canterbury University College, and the coins from the telescope’s donation box.

_Olivia Bascand for The Mail