Restoring the Townsend Telescope

CEISMIC is excited to announce that we are collaborating with the UC Department of Physics and Astronomy to document the restoration of the Townsend Telescope. The department is currently raising funds to fully restore the historic telescope after it was damaged in the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

Technician Graeme Kershaw sitting among the damaged parts of the Townsend Telescope.

A collection of material about the telescope is now available in CEISMIC. This includes documents about the history of the telescope, images of the earthquake damage to the telescope and the Observatory tower at the Christchurch Arts Centre, and documents outlining the restoration process. More material will be added to this collection as the restoration project continues. CEISMIC also aims to digitise the telescope’s visitor book, which includes entries by visitors to the Observatory over the last thirty years.

The Townsend Telescope in the Observatory at the Christchurch Arts Centre. Technician Graeme Kershaw used this photograph to identify and label the telescope’s parts after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

The Townsend Telescope is a 6-inch refractor telescope made by Thomas Cooke and Sons of York in 1864. It was gifted to Canterbury College in 1891 and has been housed in the Observatory tower since it was opened in 1896. For over a hundred years, the telescope was available to the Christchurch public on clear Friday nights, free of charge. Today the telescope is the only part of the Arts Centre still owned by the University of Canterbury.

Rubble from the Observatory in the South Quad of the Christchurch Arts Centre.

During the 22 February 2011 earthquake, the telescope was damaged when the Observatory collapsed, and then again when a digger searched the rubble for trapped individuals. After weeks of painstaking search, the staff of the Christchurch Arts Centre recovered the most of the telescope – only three small pieces were never found.  Crucially, and despite damage to the surrounding parts, the objective lens was found intact and undamaged. This discovery made the rebuilding of the telescope possible.

The telescope’s objective lens.

Currently the telescope is packed away safely in the mechanical workshop of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Technician Graeme Kershaw has been tasked with the restoration and estimates that it will take 2000 hours of labour to complete. This work will be undertaken at the University, with some new materials needed to rebuild the more damaged components.

The UC Foundation and Alumni Association are helping raise the funds needed to undertake this restoration. You can donate to the cause through UC Alumni and Fundraising. Every dollar raised brings the department closer to their goal: to rehouse the restored telescope in the newly rebuilt Observatory tower at the Christchurch Arts Centre, and to return this beloved instrument to the Christchurch community