Scientific Plaque No.2: Sir Howard Grubb, Observatory Lane, Rathmines

Sir Howard Grubb, Observatory LaneThe premises that this plaque concerns were built around 1866 when Thomas Grubb got a contract to build the biggest telescope of the southern hemisphere. Thomas was largely occupied at this time with his work as engineer of the Bank of Ireland so his son, Howard, was taken out of college before he had finished his degree to help with the business. The telescope that resulted was erected in 1869 and was “an icon of Melbourne during the boom decades following the 1850s goldrush”. It was heavily damaged in a bush fire in 2003 however there is a project to restore it.

When the restoration is complete, the Great Melbourne Telescope will stand not only as an artifact of Melbourne’s past but also a monument to the achievements of the Grubbs. The plaque on observatory lane will pale in comparison. Unfortunately, their optical works no longer exist. One can easily imagine a museum, akin to the National Print Museum, where people could marvel at the methods used by the “Rembrandt of the lens making age”.

In 1925, the company was bought by Sir Charles Parsons and relocated to Newcastle. They continued making telescopes, including the William Herschel and Isaac Newton telescopes, until 1985.

Thomas Grubb was born in 1800. In 1834 he built a 15 inch reflecting telescope for Armagh Observatory and later a 12 inch refractor for Dunsink Observatory. Around the age of 40, he was appointed the engineer of the Bank of Ireland, a job that saw him designing machinery for printing and numbering bank notes. Along with various astronomical instruments he also made cast iron billiard tables and patented a photographic lens. His interest in photography gave him a connection to Mary Rosse. In 1864 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. Two years later he got the commission for the Great Melbourne Telescope. It was to be the second largest telescope in the world, the first being that of Lord Rosse which had limited movement. He died in 1878.

Howard Grubb was born in February, 1844, in Leinster Square, Rathmines, Dublin. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1883 and knighted in 1887. Along with his work on astronomical tools, he made surveying instruments and periscopes for the earliest British submarines. During the war he moved to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, for easier supply. Work in Dublin was suspended. After the war, due to the economic situation, the company had to be saved by Sir Charles Parsons. Howard died in 1931.

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