Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grahamstown Observatory Museum

My visit to Grahamstown with Chaos Boy started on a high note with our visit to the Natural Science Museum but he got bored at the History Museum, so when I told him that we were going to a third museum he was obviously a bit reluctant to go in case it was boring again.  Oh well, I'm the dad and I make the decisions, so off we went to the Observatory Museum.

This building was originally a 19th Century jeweller's shop and family home and it's connection with the identification of the Eureka, South Africa's first authenticated diamond, in 1867 prompted De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited to purchase the building and restore it in 1981.  After the restoration it became part of the Albany Museum Complex. 

The original owner of the building, Henry Carter Galpin, was a watchmaker and jeweller who lived in Grahamstown from 1850 until his death in 1886.  His special interests - optics, astronomy and the measuring of time - are impressively reflected in this gracious multi-storeyed building.  Galpin built a Meridian Room in the house where he could ascertain the precise time of local noon - 14 minutes behind South African standard time.  Which means that if you hear the world will come to an end at a certain time, go to Grahamstown and you will have 14 minutes extra.  In the nearby Telescope Room visitors will find his 8-inch reflector telescope which was initially installed in the rooftop observatory and for which the house got its name.
But the main reason we were here was to see the only Victorian Camera Obscura in the Southern Hemisphere.  On arrival at the museum we were taken up the stairs to a little dark room on the roof.  Here, through a system of lenses and mirrors in the revolving turret in its roof, this ingenious device projects an full colour live panorama of the town and its activities onto a flat viewing surface in the darkened room.  In the picture you can see Chaos Boy looking at the image.  It looks so real that he kept on touch it, specially when a car drove by or somebody was walking past.

On the way back down you get an opportunity to have a look at the rest of the museum.  The Victorian Floor is made up of five rooms of fine furnishings recapture the atmosphere of an upper middle class home of the time.  After our visit I asked Chaos Boy if he was glad that we went.  His answer, "Why didn't you tell me that we will see that thing in the dark with the whole town on it?"  I did try....

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