Total Solar Eclipse: 1905 August 30


This drawing of the 1905 eclipse was given to me by my grandmother, who had obtained it from a Mrs Hamilton-Meikle of Strathpeffer, Scotland, some years ago. I have done a little research into the circumstances of the drawing. I have had to make a few assumptions and the details presented below may not be entirely correct. If you can add anything to this history, then please do let me know.

The Drawing

The RAS library holds '104. F. Dawtrey Drewitt: mezzotint of total solar eclipse, 30 Aug. 1905, Spain, 2 copies.' I suspect that mine is a third copy of the same drawing. I will check this, and see what, if any, dedications, the RAS copies have when I am next at Burlington House.

Georgetown University in Washington DC, USA, has another copy of the drawing as detailed about halfway down this page. Note that their text is incorrect in that it implies that Drewitt was with the BAA expedition aboard the S.S. Arcadia, when in fact he was on the S.S. Ortona. The dedication on this copy is to J.R.G. Exley.

Detail of the solar corona.

Detail of the dedication.

The Artist

Dr Frederick George Dawtrey Drewitt (1848 - 1942) was a pathologist by profession, but had other interests including zoology, botany and presumably astronomy. He was a fine artist and his water-colours were exhibited at the Royal Academy. According to the above reference Dawtrey was born in Burpham, Surrey (near Guildford) but records at show that he was actually born at Burpham, near Arundel, in West Sussex (only 12 kilometres from where I live!).

The Eclipse

The 1905 August 30 eclipse was a member of Saros 143, a later member of that series occured on 1995 November 24, which I observed from India. The next eclipse in the series ( a hybrid Annular-Total) will occur on 2013 November 3 when the track will pass off the coast of western Africa before running across equatorial Africa. The1905 track started in Canada, crossed the Atlantic, crossed Spain, where Drewitt observed it from near Torreblanca, and then went on to North Africa. This was the last total solar eclipse to be seen from Libya until 2006 March 29. There was a big expedition to Labrador to observe the eclipse. The maximum duration of 3 minutes and 46 seconds occured over northern Spain, so if the Ortona was on the centre line, Drewitt must have had just about the maximum time possible to make his drawing.

The Royal Greewich Observatory archives contain the papers of the eighth astronomer royal, William Christie, detailing ... expeditions to observe the solar eclipses of 1898, 1900, and 1905, beginning the tradition of Royal Observatory eclipse expeditions.

An account of the eclipse, which includes a mention of the ships 'Orotona' (sic) and Arcadia, appears in Popular Astronomy vol.13 pp.491-498.

There is an interesting account of the eclipse (in French) as observed in Sfax, Tunisia, by the abbot Theophilus Moreux at together with a drawing, showing a corona very similar to that depicted by Drewitt.

The Ship

The drawing was made onboard the S.S. Ortona. The Ships List reveals that a ship called the Ortona was built in 1899. She was used for the Australia service of the Orient Line - Pacific Steam Navigation Company until 1906, and then transferred to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Later she was renamed the Arcadian and ended up being torpedoed in the Eastern Mediterranean during the First World War.

The Ortona left London, bound for Australia on August 25th and intercepted the eclipse path off the coast of Majorca en-route to Australia as reported in this article from the Evening Post of New Zealand from 1905. One hundred passengers were onboard the ship specifically to view the eclipse, including Sir Oliver Lodge a key player in the invention of wireless telegraphy. The eclipse observers left the ship at Marseille, its next port-of-call. The ship made its way across the Mediterranean before heading through the Suez Canal.

There was a reference on the Internet that read 1905 The 14th of October, the SS. Ortona from London arrive in Brisbane via Sydney with a Mr. Urry on board, unclassified. See also

S.S. Arcadia/BAA Expedition

A second ship, the S.S. Arcadia, was also in the Mediterranean for the eclipse, stationed near to the Ortona at 0 36' East, 39 48' North. Mr G. F. Chambers arranged the trip which left Tilbury, also on August 25th (JBAA Vol. XV, Number 9). The BAA publication The Total Solar Eclipse 1905, contains extensive reports from both ship- and land-based observers.

The Dedication

The drawing is dedicated to Mrs Grove-Hill with Dr Drewitt's kind regards. I thought I would have no chance of identifying Mrs Grove-Hills, but in fact Edmond Herbert Grove-Hills (1864 - 1922) was President of the RAS 1913 - 1915, and secretary of the Royal Institution 1915 - 1922. It seems very likely that Drewitt would have known Grove-Hills. Grove-Hills married Juliet Spencer-Bell in 1892, and I surmise that this was the person to whom Drewitt presented this drawing.

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Copyright Nick Quinn, 2011