S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Ensor, Mr George Edmund (astronomy)

Born: December 1873, Temuka, South Island, New Zealand.
Died: 9 June 1943, Pretoria, South Africa.

George Edmund Ensor, radiographer and amateur astronomer, was the son of Alfred William Ensor and his wife Augusta Carolina, born Hart. He qualified as an electrician and resided in Geraldine, South Island, New Zealand, in the late eighteen-nineties. In October 1899 he came to South Africa as a private on the ship Waiwera to fight for the British in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). He remained in South Africa after the war and at some time qualified as a radiographer. In October 1913 he gave a demonstration of X-rays before members of the Transvaal Biological Society in Pretoria. During the nineteen-twenties he worked in the X-ray Department of the Pretoria Hospital.

Ensor's main interest outside his profession was in variable star astronomy. He started his observations of variable stars in 1926 and by 1940 had submitted nearly 15 000 observations to the American Association of Variable Star Observers. From 1926 he was the director of the Variable Star Section of the Astronomical Society of South Africa, a position he held until at least 1934. He also served as joint vice-president of the association for 1932/3 and as a member of its council to 1938.

Before commencing his variable star observations Ensor was already active in astronomy for a brief period. For example, he reported on "A partial eclipse of the moon, 8th February 1925" in the Journal of the Astronomical Society of South Africa (1925, Vol. 1(5), pp. 156-157). That same year he discovered a new comet (C/1925 XI, popularly known as Ensor's Comet of 1925) which, however, turned out somewhat of a disappointment. It showed signs of becoming quite bright, but as it approached the sun it became diffuse and faded out, never to be seen again. In April 1932, on successive nights, H.E. Houghton and Ensor independently discovered another comet, while both were observing the same nearby variable star.

Ensor was also an active lunar occultation observer for the Greenwich Observatory in the United Kingdom. His reputation among astronomers was such that the astronomer royal, Frank Dyson, consulted him during a visit to South Africa on the most appropriate site at which to establish the Radcliffe Observatory. The observatory was eventually established on a hill near Pretoria, within a few meters of the place recommended by Ensor.

Ensor was married to Alice Catherine Anne, born Kirton, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

List of sources:

Haagner, A.K. et al. The Transvaal Biological Society. South African Journal of Natural History, 1918, Vol. 1(1), pp. 24-32.

Houghton, H.E. Some South African amateur astronomers. Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa (MNASSA), 1947, Vol. 6(5), pp. 39-42 and Vol. 6(6), pp. 45-52.

Journal of the Astronomical Society of South Africa, 1923-1939, Vol. 1-4: Paper by Ensor, Office Bearers, Lists of members.

Long, A.W. The foundation and development of the Astronomical Society of South Africa. Journal of the Astronomical Society of South Africa, 1930, Vol. 2(4), pp. 153-180.

Moore, P. and Collins, P. The astronomy of southern Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1977.

National Archives Repository (TAB), Source MHG, Vol. 0, Ref. 2940/43: Death notice, last will and testament, George Edmund Ensor.

New Zealand History online. http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/soldier/edmund-george-ensor

SpringerReference. http://www.springereference.com/docs/index.html Search for Ensor, George Edmund.

Compiled by: C. Plug