Bath Museum buys astronomer Caroline Herschel’s guest book

A portrait of Caroline Herschel with an illustration of the planets of the solar system. Image: Royal Astronomical Society.

German-born Herschel (1750-1848) moved to the UK to be with his brother William Herschel (1738-1822) and they started out as musicians before later becoming famous astronomers.

They lived at 19 New King Street in Bath, which now houses the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.

The guestbook is a vellum-bound volume, compiled by Caroline from the mid-1780s, when she and her brother were living in Datchet, near Windsor. Written in Caroline’s own hand, it lists more than a hundred names of people who have come to see them – often including the king and queen, accompanied by members of the court – to look through William’s telescopes.

Scientists, writers, artists, politicians and foreign royalty are all present. Joseph Haydn, Benjamin Franklin and Fanny Burney are among the guests.

The book had been on long-term loan to the museum since 1996 – kindly provided by Dr and Mrs A Koester – and the museum recently had the opportunity to purchase it.

Caroline Herschel's guestbook

Caroline Herschel’s guest book was purchased by the Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath. Image: Bath Preservation Trust.

Friends of National Libraries backed the deal to buy the book for £6,000. He donated £5,000, with the remaining £1,000 coming from museum reserves.

The museum is dedicated to the many achievements of the Herschels. William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 using a telescope of his own home design. Later the couple were joined by William’s son John (1792-1871), who also became an astronomer.

Among Caroline’s accomplishments was the discovery of several comets, including periodic comet 35P/Herschel–Rigollet.

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