RÜMKER Christian Karl Ludwig (1844-62)


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A collection of 90 letters with some astronomical calculations, mostly relating to astronomical observations  from Hamburg, with some from Lisbon (whither he went in March 1857 for health reasons), but with one document  relating to the sale of lands at Picton in Australia (dated September 1844), between Karl Rümker and the English gentleman and amateur astronomer John Lee of Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, mostly addressed to him in London at Doctors’ Commons. Some of the letters are clearly copies There is one letter from Rümker’s wife written after his death (21 December 1862, detailing the circumstances of his demise in Lisbon.   The letters (13) from George Rümker, illegitimate son of CKL Rümker date from between 1848 and 1854 and are written from the Observatories at Durham and Oxford.   The letters are all endorsed in a small neat hand (Lee’s) with details of sender and date etc.   The letters whilst of technical interest also have much else to interest, such complaints about the exorbitant charges of the bookseller Asher in Berlin for sending books, accounts of the breaking of Rümker’s telescope in Lisbon, and so on. There is also a copy of ‘Articles of agreement …13 september 1844 between Charles Louis Rümker of Hamburg the Vendor of the first part, Adolphus William Young of Sydney… and William Lumsdaine of Sydney  the purchaser of the third part’ concerning the sale of land and dwelling at Picton, Australia. One of the letters refers to the ‘equatorial telescope’ at Hartwell House.     The family papers of Lee are in the British Library (Add. MSS. 47490-93), together with a number of items from the Lee collections (including one Arabic manuscript), but there are also papers in the Bodleian, and in other institutions from Canada to Australia.     There are also 2 other items, one printed (a pastoral letter dated 1849 from Thomas Darling addressed to the parishioners of St. Michael Paternoster & St Martin Vintry), and the other the passport dated 5 November 1864 of Mr. Reuben Townroe ‘going to France, Italy and Austria on the Public Service.’ Reuben Townroe (1835-1911) was  born in Sheffield He worked as an assistant to Godfrey Sykes on the architectural decorations for the South Kensington Museum (V&A) and completed these after the latter's death in 1866. In later years he worked as a modeller of brickwork and a draughtsman.

PROVENANCE: There was a sale at Sotheby’s in April 1938 of books from Hartwell House, and it is likely that these items were also sold at about this time.


1. Christian Carl Ludwig Rümker (1788-1862) astronomer, was born on 18 May 1788 at Stargard, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany, the son of J. F. Rümker, court-councillor. He early shewed himself of a mathematical bent, but he was sent to the Builders’ Academy, Berlin, where he qualified in 1807 as a master Builder. He did not fancy the trade and worked for two years in Hamburg teaching mathematics, coming to England in 1809. From 1809 until 1811 he served as a midshipman for the East India Company, before transferring to the Merchant Navy. He was seized in 1813 by a press  gang, be became an instructor of sea cadets, and with officer’s rank served on HMS Benbow, Montagu, and Albion. In about 1816 he became interested in astronomy, on which his first publication, based on observations at Malta, appeared in 1819 in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal.   He left the navy in 1819 and went to Hamburg where he taught navigation, but recommended to Sir Thomas Brisbane by Capt. Peter Heywood, his commanding officer on board HMS Montague, he was engaged as private astronomer to the new Governor of NSW, arriving at Sydney in 1821 where he worked at Brisbane's private observatory at Parramatta, and where on 2 June 1822 he rediscovered Encke's comet. For this achievement Rümker was awarded a silver medal and £100 by the Royal Astronomical Society and a gold medal by the Institut de France. The grateful governor bestowed on Rümker a land grant of 1000 acres (405 ha) at Stonequarry Creek (Picton), named by Rümker Stargad, to which he retired in 1823. There, on Reservoir Hill he continued his observations and discovered two comets in the constellation Lion. He later on (1828) acquired more land there, and in May 1826 he was recalled to Paramatta where in September discovered a new comet in the constellation Orion. On 21 December 1827 Governor Sir Ralph Darling appointed him government astronomer; he was the first to hold that title in Australia. In February 1828 the Senate of Hamburg elected him director of its school of navigation, but Rümker did not wish to relinquish his Australian position. In January 1829 he went to London to obtain new instruments for the Parramatta observatory and to persuade the Royal Society to print his Astronomical Observations Made at the Observatory at Parramatta in New South Wales. This was done in 1829 as a supplementary volume to the Philosophical Transactions, and it was paid for at government expense. On the point of a return to Parramatta, he quarrelled with Sir James South (1785-1867), one of the founders of what became the Royal Astronomical Society, who was instrumental in the dismissal of Rümker from British government service in June 1830. Rümker then returned to Hamburg, where in 1831 he became director of the school of navigation and in 1833 director of the Hamburg observatory. In 1831 he published in Hamburg, On the Most Effectual Means of Encouraging Scientific Undertakings, a bitter pamphlet about his dismissal. He dedicated to Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane (1773-1860)  governor of NSW from November 1821, and himself an keen astronomer, his Preliminary Catalogue of Fixed Stars Intended for a Prospectus of a Catalogue of the Stars of the Southern Hemisphere Included Within the Tropic of Capricorn now Reduced from the Observations Made in the Observatory at Parramatta (Hamburg, 1832). In later years Rümker was hugely active. The Catalogue of Scientific Papers (1871), compiled by the Royal Society of London, lists 233 papers by him in various scientific journals, and he was honoured by many learned societies. In 1850 the King of Hanover conferred on him his gold medal for arts and science, but he was most satisfied in 1854 when the Royal Astronomical Society gave him its gold medal. In one of the letters in the present group written in 1856 he tells us that he has been living ‘upwards of 2 ½  years in the harbour of Malta (La Valette) on board of the Montague with Captain Heywood…I was much on shore…’ In 1857 he was granted permanent leave for health reasons, and, as these letters relate, he went with his wife (Mary Ann Crockford of Clerkenwell, whom he married in 1848) to Lisbon, where he continued to reduce his Parramatta observations, as well as well as supply others.  In Hamburg his illegitimate son George F. W. Rümker succeeded him as director of the Hamburg observatory. He died at Lisbon on 21 December 1862 and was buried in the churchyard of the English church at Estrella. ‘When awarding the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society to Rümker, the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-92), said that Rümker's dismissal was 'the greatest misfortune that happened to Southern Astronomy'’.   GEORGE WILHELM FRIEDRICH RÜMKER (1832-1900) his son began at an early age to be interested in astronomy, taught at the Hamburg Navigation School, studied in Berlin (1851) and in 1853 came for two years to Durham Observatory in the United Kingdom, and returned to Hamburg in 1855. After his father’s departure for Lisbon, George took over in Hamburg. His links with the navigational school and the use of astronomical data for such purposes remained strong throughout his life. The obituary by R. Schorr in Astronomische Nachrichten, volume 152, p.127 pays full tribute to him as scientist and man. He died on 3 March 1900.       2. JOHN  LEE (1783–1866), antiquary and astronomer, was born John Fiott on 28 April 1783. The Fiotts originated from Dijon in the old kingdom of Burgundy; but among his maternal ancestors were Chief Justice Sir William Lee and the statesman John Hampden. He assumed the name of Lee by royal licence on 4 October 1815 under. Educated at Mackworth in Derbyshire he was admitted pensioner at St John's College, Cambridge, on 21 November 1801. He graduated BA as fifth wrangler in 1806, and received a travelling scholarship.  He went to Göteborg, saw the importance in the area of shipbuilding, immediately bought copies of all the books on that subject for Cambridge University Library. He reached the outskirts of Copenhagen on the eve of the assault under Nelson and witnessed the actual attack and the ensuing conflagration. Before returning to Britain in February 1808 he visited various other places in Scandinavia, to two of which, Stockholm and Uppsala, he was to return.. In April 1808 he was elected a fellow of St  John’s. In 1816 he was made Doctor of Laws at Cambridge. Fiott next tried a taste of naval life, by joining the Walcheren expedition in which his brother Lieutenant Fiott was involved, before returning to the university in September and remaining there until March 1810. He then joined HMS Woolwich on convoy to Gibraltar, and travelled in then Mediterrean, where at Aleppo he met the famous traveller Burckhardt, who advised him on the purchase of manuscripts, coins, and medals. These later formed part of the renowned library and museum at Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire.. Tempted to excavate again in the north of the. He was in Spain during the summer of 1813  and later made a visit in May 1814 to Elba, where he witnessed Napoleon's arrival before touring Italy. From there he returned to Britain in July 1815. 1815 and the death of his uncle brought Lee not only his new name but also the valuable estates of Colworth in Bedfordshire, Totteridge Park, and others, and these were augmented in 1827, when he inherited from Sir George Lee, sixth baronet, the estate of Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. Before that bequest arrived, however, he resumed his law studies, took his degree and was admitted in November 1816 as advocate in Doctors Commons’, where he held various offices, and occasionally practised. Admitted at Gray’s Inn in July 1863 he was made a QC and bencher in 1864. Most of the letters in this collection are addressed to him at Doctors Commons. His scientific interests were strong. He was a keen astronomer, and a founder member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1824, acting as treasurer and later president. In 1831 he built an observatory at his house Hartwell (later demolished), a house with its contents and parkland, described in detail in a volume called Aedes Hartwelliana, illustrated by Annarella Smyth wife of Lee’s friend Admiral William H. Smyth (1786-1865), the author of the volume. The Smyth family lived nearby and were frequent visitors at Hartwell, and Smyth’s famous equatorial telescope (illustrated in the book, and mentioned by Rümker in one of these letters from Lisbon dated May 1857) has been preserved and is now at the Science Museum.  It was Smyth who also designed the observatory.   From 1815 Lee's life was divided between the law, country life and science. He took up the study of astronomy; he was a founder member of the Astronomical Society in 1824 and one of its most energetic fellows and a generous benefactor, holding various offices including 1861-2 that of president.  These interests led to an extensive correspondence with the leading astronomers of Europe, many of whom came to visit him as friends whom he entertained generously. The entertainment did not however  extend to the provision of alcohol; he was vehemently teetotal, an enemy of tobacco, and in his religious beliefs a firm and opinionated Protestant. He was equally opposed to the lighter forms of literature. He was a man of sparse personal expenses, which enabled him to be generous to others; he gave, for example, 1000 guineas to the foundation of the Buckinghamshire Infirmary. Lee was elected to the Royal Society (1831) and to the Society of Antiquaries; his antiquarian interests, which are documented in the pages of Aedes,led him to accept the vice-presidency of the Buckinghamshire Architectural and Archaeological Society. In 1830 he assisted in the formation of the British Meteorological Society, of which he was treasurer and later president. He was the first president of the Numismatic Society in 1837, a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830, and member of the Society of Arts, the Geological Society, the British Archaeological Association, the Syro-Egyptian Society, the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and the Chronological Society, and many others. He attended regularly at meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a collector of rocks and fossils.  Lee published a few papers in Archaeologiabut paid for the publication of works compiled by Admiral Smyth, namely, the descriptive catalogue of his Roman brass medals (1834) and  Aedes Hartwelliana of 1851, with its Addenda (1864), and The Cycle of Celestial Objects (1860), commonly known as Speculum Hartwellianum.   Lee was a firm Liberal in politics and keen supporter of female suffrage. He stood as an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Aylesbury (1835), Stafford (1847), and Buckinghamshire (1835, 1841, 1852 (when he was defeated by Disraeli), and 1863). According to his obituarist in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Lee's final appearance on the hustings in 1863 found him dressed as ‘perhaps the last man in England that sported in public a blue coat with brass buttons and yellow waistcoat’. He was twice married, first to Cecilia Rutter in 1833, and later to Louise Catherine Wilkinson. There were no children of either marriage. Hartwell House was acquired by Thomas Cook of travel fame, and still belongs to the Cook Trust which leases it to the National Trust. It is today an hôtel and spa. Its contents were sold in 1938. (This account is adapted from that in ODNB with some additions and corrections)

Stock Code: 216273

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