S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Franklin-Adams, Mr John (astronomy)

Born: 5 August 1843, London, England.
Died: 13 August 1912, London, England.

John Franklin-Adams, son of John Adams, was educated in England, Berlin and Le Havre and travelled extensively in Spain, Italy, Russia and Scandinavia during his early years. As a result he had a considerable command of modern languages. In 1863, like his father before him, he joined the insurance firm Lloyds of London, where he eventually held a senior position. He married in 1879 and had two sons and three daughters. Though interested in astronomy and photography from an early age, he began working as an amateur astronomer only around 1890. As a wealthy businessman he could afford the best equipment. His first telescope was a 100 mm refractor, which he transferred to an observatory attached to his holiday home in Machrihanish, Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1897. Subsequently he added a 152 mm equatorial, a transit instrument and various clocks. In 1900 he accompanied an observing party from the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, to observe a total solar eclipse in Spain. From the Cooke telescope company in York he acquired several photographic telescopes, including a fine equatorial with a 254 mm lens which he used to make a series of star charts of the northern hemisphere. This work established his reputation.

By 1902 Franklin-Adams was suffering from what appears to have been severe gout and decided to come to the Cape Colony to seek a cure and to photograph the southern heavens. He arrived in July 1903, though his assistant, a Mr Kennedy, had arrived a month earlier to set up his equipment. Franklin-Adams stayed in Cape Town near the Royal Observatory during alternate periods of two weeks to practise astronomy. The intervening periods of two weeks each, when his work would have been disrupted by moonlight, were spent at the warm baths of Caledon to receive treatment. He approached both endeavours with optimism and great enthusiasm. However, his work schedule contained insufficient time for thorough preliminary testing of his equipment. As a result the mounting of his superb lens did not allow for its precise positioning, while his wooden telescope tube and plate-holder did not allow precise adjustment and did not guarantee that the axes of the guiding and photographic telescopes would remain exactly parallel. Despite the advice of David Gill*, HM Astronomer at the Cape, that these shortcomings should first be corrected, Franklin-Adams decided to continue with his work programme. After seven months his survey of the southern sky was complete. However, the photographs did not have the highest possible quality. He realised this after his return to England, when the suggested changes had been made to his equipment, and therefore made a new and improved series of photograps of the northern celestial hemisphere. This work was done at an observatory attached to his new home at Hambledon, near Godalming, and reported on in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1906, 1908, 1909 and 1910. He also published two papers on the prevention of dew deposits on telescope lenses in the same journal in 1910 and 1911.

Franklin-Adams planned to return to South Africa in 1909 to re-photograph the southern sky, but his affliction prevented him from so doing. Instead he presented his 250 mm equatorial telescope to the Transvaal Observatory in Johannesburg, with all the necessary attachments, a building to house it, and an assistant (R.J. Mitchell) to set up the equipment and demonstrate the procedures to be followed. The instrument came to be known as the Franklin-Adams Star Camera. The survey was completed by R.T.A. Innes* and his staff just before Franklin-Adams died in August 1912. The resulting astronomical atlas of 206 charts covering both hemispheres was published between 1900 and 1914, with a second edition in 1920. It set a high standard and proved particularly useful for research on the distribution of stars. Meanwhile the instrument had been used by H.E. Wood* in 1910 to obtain what were probably the best photographs of Halley's Comet taken during its return that year. Later it was used also for the observation and discovery of asteroids, and the photographic observation of variable stars.

Just before his death Franklin-Adams donated another instrument to the Transvaal Observatory, a twin telescope consisting of a 152 mm photovisual refractor and a 178 mm visual refractor. The object lens of the photovisual refractor could be fitted with a prism to produce spectra of stars in the field of view. Like his earlier donation this instrument was ideal for mapping projects. Around this time he wrote a paper on "Stellar photography", which was published as one of the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1913.

Franklin-Adams was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in April 1897. He was a keen musician and during his younger years acted as organist and choir master at All Saints' Church in Putney. During 1870-1871 he accompanied a volunteer ambulance to the Franco-German War. He held a high office in the Free Masons.

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

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by J. Franklin-Adams.

Hers, J. The birth of the Transvaal Observatory. Elektron, February 1991, pp. 6-7.

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

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Obituary: John Franklin-Adams. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1912/13, Vol. 73, pp. 210-213.

Transvaal (Colony). Transvaal Observatory: Annual Report of the Meteorological Department for the year ended 30th June 1909. Pretoria: Government Printer, 1910.

Vermeulen, D. Living amongst the stars at the Johannesburg Observatory. Johannesburg: C. van Rensburg, 2006.

Wood, H.E. The history of the Union Observatory, Johannesburg. South African Journal of Science, 1926, Vol. 23, pp. 168-171.

Compiled by: C. Plug