S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Meadows, Lieutenant William (astronomy)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

William Meadows, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was appointed as first assistant at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, on 30 May 1831, following the resignation of Captain W. Ronald*. He and his wife embarked at Portsmouth on 22 August that year, arriving at the Cape on 4 November. During their journey HM Astronomer at the Cape, Reverend F. Fallows* had died. His successor, Thomas Henderson*, arrived in March 1832. Meadows, observing with the transit instrument while Henderson used the mural circle, was inspired by Henderson's zeal and between them they made nearly 10 000 measurements of star positions during little more than a year. These constituted the first large body of accurate fundamental positions in the southern hemisphere.

Henderson left the Cape on 28 May 1833, leaving the observatory in Meadows's care. The couple lived in the east wing of the observatory and both disliked its swamp-like and undeveloped surroundings. On 23 December that year Meadows wrote to the South African College excusing his non-attendance at the college's annual prize giving, as the observatory was temporarily on an island on account of the floods and he could not get across to Cape Town.

Henderson's successor, Thomas Maclear*, arrived in January 1834 and was not impressed with the Meadows family. They must have been a cheerless couple, as Maclear later that year described them as "the most melancholic, discontented croaking helpless couple I ever met with" (Warner, 1979, p. 34). Maclear was particularly irked by the insolent behaviour of their servant, a Mrs Lee, and eventually ordered Meadows to send her away. Unwilling to comply, Meadows indicated that he would resign and requested three months leave to return to England. This was granted by Maclear and the family, including Mrs Lee, left the observatory on 1 December 1834, sold their effects a week later, and departed for England on 25 December. They arrived in England on 28 February 1835.

A few years later, when Maclear was writing up the transit observations made during 1834, it became clear that the observations entrusted to Meadows were poorly recorded and therefore of little value.

List of sources:
Gill, D. A history and description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. London: HMSO, 1913.

Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

Warner, B. Astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town: Balkema, 1979.

Warner, B. & Warner, N. Maclear & Herschel, letters & diaries at the Cape of Good Hope, 1834-1838. Cape Town: Balkema, 1984.

Compiled by: C. Plug