Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
Journal 43

Astronomical Publishing in Edinburgh
in the 19th Century

[ Based on the talk given at the January 2001 meeting of the Society ]

I'd like to start by welcoming members to the 21st century. The topic of this talk came to mind last year when I gave a talk on Thomas David Anderson and Hector Macpherson Junior, both of whom had been influenced in astronomy by books published by Gall and Inglis, publishers. I wanted to know more about this small Edinburgh firm. I started by searching our Library for books they published and began to realise that there was quite a lot either published in Edinburgh or by authors with connections with Edinburgh.

The result is a rather odd mix of history, biography and, much more interesting I'm sure, pretty pictures (only some of which I have been able to include here).

Gall and Inglis publishers

In 1874 James Gall established a printing firm specialising in religious works. When in Paris in 1825 he saw specimens of French books for the blind and decided to design a script which could be used by blind and sighted people alike. This was taken up by the Edinburgh Blind Asylum (which he helped to found) as well as similar institutions in London and Glasgow. He was Master of the Merchant Company in 1850.

In 1810 his son, also called James Gall, had joined the firm but left in 1874 when he decided to pursue a career in the church. As Rev James Gall jnr he founded the Carrubbers Close Mission. As well as writing on religious matters (often from a rather unorthodox standpoint) he had an interest in astronomy. It was his "Easy Guide to the Constellations" and his "People's Atlas of the Stars" that brought him to my attention.

As part of his work in trying to get the celestial sphere on to flat paper he developed a special map projection in which tries not to distort the shapes of the constellations too much. Another advantage of this was that it didn't distort the sizes of continents as much as the commonly used Mercator projection. It was re-invented by Arno Peters in 1967 and it was adopted by UNESCO.

Most of Gall's work was on religion but there is a fascinating book called "The Stars and the Angels" in which he not only argues for the existence of other inhabited planets but descibes the view that Gabriel would have had on his way from heaven to earth to tell Mary that she would have a baby next Christmas. He died at the age of 87 in 1895.

When James Gall jnr left the firm his place was taken by his future brother-in-law, Robert Inglis. The firm later passed to his family line although the Gall name was kept alive by the sons.

James Gall Inglis, Robert's son, was a partner in the firm from 1880. At that time the main business was publishing 'Ready Reckoner' tables - used commonly until the advent of the pocket calculator. He was a member of the ASE, its librarian, and from 1930 to 1932 its President. He was on the committee to deal with the Lorimer Bequest. He was a friend of A P Norton and became the publisher of "Norton's Star Atlas".

Harry Robert Gall Inglis was James' younger brother and produced "Contour Road Atlases". He was a keen mountaineer. Both James and Harry died in 1939.

Robert Morton Gall Inglis was James' son and took his father's interest in astronomy and his uncle's in mountaineering. He also continued the family tradition of involvement with the Church.

He was President of the ASE between 1971 and 1973 and donated the Star Finder made by Sir William Peck which we have on display in the Playfair Building. He also collaborated with Norton and, following Norton's death, produced revised versions of the Atlas. He died in 1975 and the firm passed out of the family. It was wound up some time afterwards. In his will he left a substantial bequest to the ASE.

Other Authors and Publishers

Of course, astronomical publishing in Edinburgh didn't start in the 19th Century. We have in our library a 12th edition of "Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton's Principles" by James Ferguson. This was first published in 1756 and was a favourite work of William Herschel. Ferguson (25/4/1710 - 16/11/1776) was educated at Edinburgh University despite being self-taught before that. He was supported by his patron, Maclaurin. He later worked as an instrument maker in London and gave lectures on astronomy. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1763.

Sir David Brewster (11/12/1781 - 10/2/1868) was Principal of St Andrews University and later of Edinburgh University. He was Secretary of the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution in 1815 and founder of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Astronomical Society. He wrote on many aspects of physical sciences, especially polarisation and optics. In 1865, he published "More Worlds than One" discussing the problem of determining whether life existed only on the Earth.

Another Professor who had a great influence on astronomy in Edinburgh as Professor John Playfair (10/3/1748 - 19/7/1819), founder of the Astronomical Institution. He wrote "Outlines of Natural Philosophy" and contributed a section on "Physical Astronomy" for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

An interesting book in the Society's library is "A Series of Discourses on the Christian Revelation viewed in connexion with the Modern Astronomy" which was published by John Smith & Son in Glasgow in 1817. This was by Rev Thomas Chalmers who was one of the leading lights in the Church of Scotland and later led the 'Disruption' and the setting up of the Free Church. He had given a series of sermons including this material, in which he stressed the 'plurality of worlds' - that is the belief that God had created many inhabited worlds. Brewster took up this view as did many other evangelicals such as Rev James Gall jnr.

We have two copies, one of which was presented to the ASE by J Gall Inglis and was owned by one of his ancestors in 1843 (when Chalmers chaired the Disruption Assembly of the Church of Scotland). It was originally presented by Chalmers himself!

James Nasmyth is best known as the inventor of the Steam Hammer which was one of the major developments of the Industrial Revolution. He was born in Edinburgh and brought up in York Place, where he used his father's spy-glass telescope to look at the moon. Later, when he was living in England he continued his astronomy, inventing a particularly odd form of mounting which allowed the telescope to move in altitude and azimuth without the observer having to get up from his seat.

He co-authored "The Moon" in which he compared the effects of shadows on mountains, especially volcanoes, in order to illustrate the shape of lunar features.

My favourite picture by Nasmyth, however, has to be in his autobiography. In 1827 the Society of Arts (later the RSSA) gave him a grant of £60 to build a steam carriage. He build this and drove it up and down Queensferry Road. Then he scrapped it as there was not thought to be any commercial value in it.

The Royal Observatory itself generated a certain volume of publications over the years. Of particular note are the official 'Edinburgh Observations' - mostly written by Charles Piazzi Smyth. Quite a few of these contained the results of Thomas Henderson's work. Some volumes of these are in our library. The annual reports of the Astronomer Royal make fascinating reading in that they contain material about all the problems Smyth was having with the Observatory and his accounts of the time service which I covered in my talk a couple of years ago. After the move to the Blackford Hill we also see a complete catalogue of the Crawford Library being produced. We have a copy of this in our library as well.

Smyth, of course, didn't just produce official reports. We have a copy of his "Teneriffe, an Astronomer's Experiment" published in London in 1858. This was the first book to contain stereographic photographs. This is an account of a trip he made, having borrowed a friend's boat, and the astronomical observations he made at the foot of the mountain and at its peak. This led to the suggestion that observatories should not be in or near cities but at the tops of mountains - something that seems obvious to us now. He also wrote extensively about the Great Pyramid and we have a reprint of his "The Great Pyramid - its secrets and mysteries revealed".

Matters of interest to astronomers also appeared in the publications of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Scottish Society of Arts. Indeed most of the details of the time service appeared in the Transactions of the RSSA - written by Smyth, Frederick Ritchie and Edward Sang.

One of the great map-making dynasties in Edinburgh was the Bartholomews. They produced engraved plates of maps for other publishers before going into their own publishing business. John Bartholomew kindly gave me a couple of photocopies of star maps. As John is one of our members I felt that it would be a bit cheeky to try to tell the story of his family business. Something that I found particularly interesting was that it was one of his ancestors who is credited with reviving the name 'antarctica' for the southern continent which was only just being mapped. One great project of the firm was to produce a seven volume "Physical Atlas" the final volume of which was to be written by Prof Ralph Copeland, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland. (I have since been told that this project was never completed.)

Bartholomew maps were supplied to Thomas Nelson and Son who produced many atlases and text-books.

"A Popular History of Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century" appeared in 1887, published by Adam & Charles Black of Edinburgh. This was written by Agnes Mary Clerke. You may remember a talk given about her by Dr Mary Brück a few years ago.


When I was in London at the Royal Astronomical Society Library in December I came across a beautiful "Atlas of Astronomy" by A. Keith Johnston of Edinburgh, published in 1855. This didn't just have maps in it but many wonderful illustrations. Later, when I was going through some of the Society's library I realised that we had an 1869 "School Atlas of Astronomy" by Johnston. This has many plates that are the same as the earlier work but a greatly expanded text. It also had added engravings covering the 1866 Leonid Meteor Storm and Spectroscopy.

William Peck was born in Castle Douglas in 1862 and, although not having any formal education in astronomy, by the age of 21 was giving lectures in Edinburgh. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1885. He was employed by Robert Cox MP to run a private observatory at Murrayfield where he used a 13 inch newtonian reflector, now at the Calton Hill.

Following the grand opening on 24th October 1898, of the City Observatory, Peck ran it on behalf of the City making use of the 22 inch reflector that was the City Dome. He gave regular lectures on Astronomy at the observatory and around the city and had frequent visitors come up to see through the telescopes. He always tried to encourage the study of astronomy, was involved with at least three local astronomical societies and was President of the British Astronomical Association's East of Scotland Branch.

Knighted in 1917 he was Honorary President in 1924 of the newly formed Edinburgh Astronomical Association. This association changed its name in 1938 to "The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh". He died on 8th March 1925 and is buried at Warriston Cemetery.

Peck published a number of popular works on Astronomy, many of which were technically in the 20th Century but one of particular interest is his "Popular Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy" published by Gall and Inglis in 1890.

We have a number of original glass plates of the moon in the Society's collection taken by Peck with the 6 inch Cooke telescope. We also have some plates that, as far as I can tell were never published in the 19th, or even the 20th Centuries. Solar eclipses in Edinburgh always bring bad weather and we have an example of a cloudy sun in eclipse. These were taken at this observatory near the end of the 19th century - on 28th May 1900.

Exhibition of books

Many of the books that I have referred to are available in our library for your inspection - please don't take them away as most are for reference only.

Graham Rule