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Ralph Copeland

Ralph Copeland

Ralph Copeland

Dr. Ralph Copeland succeeded Charles Piazzi Smyth as Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1889. Born at Moorside Farm near Woodplumpton, Lancashire in 1837, he emigrated to Australia after leaving school where he worked on a sheep farm before trying his hand at gold mining. Deciding to return to England in 1858 he observed the great comet (Donati) during the voyage home.

Continuing to study astronomy while serving his time as a locomotive engineering apprentice, along with a group of fellow apprentices he fitted up a small observatory at West Gorton near Manchester.

Devoting himself to astronomy, he matriculated at the University of Gottingen in 1865, obtaining a degree four years later by submitting a dissertation on the orbital motion of x Centauri, before joining a German expedition which had been formed to explore the east coast of Greenland.

In 1871 Dr. Copeland was appointed assistant astronomer at Lord Rosse’s observatory at Birr Castle, Parsonstown. Three years later, in addition to being elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, he was also appointed assistant of the Dublin University observatory at Dunsink. In 1876, Dr. Copeland was appointed Director of the Earl of Crawford’s observatory at Dun Echt, Aberdeen.

In 1882 he sailed to Jamaica to observe the transit of Venus and travelled to South America to test the slopes of the Andes as a suitable site for astronomical observation. Five years later he travelled to Russia in an attempt to observe the total solar eclipse.

In 1889 Lord Crawford presented his library and astronomical instruments to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Appointed that year as Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Dr Copeland was given the task of transferring the observatory from the Calton Hill to a new location on Blackford Hill on the outskirts of the city.

He travelled to Vadso in 1896, India in 1898 and to Santa Pola on the south-east coast of Spain two years later to observe solar eclipses. Following an attack of influenza his health began to fail. Scotland’s third Astronomer Royal was buried in Morningside Cemetery Edinburgh in 1905.