|TRANSIT OF VENUS / U.S. VISIT
The transit of Venus 8 years later was the cause of some amusement at Dunsink. Ball, in preparation for the event, had ascertained that the transit would occur at about 3 in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the December sky. Between the observatory and the scheduled position of the Sun was a tree in a neighbour’s field. Ball asked his neighbour, a Mr Rathborne, if he thought it was right that the tree should be allowed to stand between his telescope and the transit.The neighbour being a layman asked if the transit could be arranged to happen in some other place. When Ball explained that this was not humanly possible, his neighbour obliged and the offending tree was chopped down forthwith. Unfortunately Ball had only a fleeting glimpse of the transit. It had been snowing all day and only for the briefest of moments was there a break in the clouds, when he was able to see Venus in mid transit. Nevertheless it was something he always remembered, and he commented later that it was a phenomenon which would not be witnessed again by any human eye, until the flowers are blooming in the June of AD2004.
Well that is what is recorded and he knew the dates were correct, but one wonders if he was not just repeating someone else’s words, as I have read a report by William Harkness of the US Naval Observatory which included this forecast: (S & T)
“There will be no other transit of Venus till the twenty-first century of our era has dawned upon earth, and the June flowers are blooming in 2004.” I may be wrong, the phrase “flowers are blooming” could be co-incidence.
It was not long after that when he started to have trouble with his right eye. Despite all the best attentions of doctors and opticians, the problem worsened and he eventually lost all his sight in that eye. This effectively put paid to any more serious observing, so he concentrated on his writing and his lectures.Much later in 1897, and on the advice of a doctor friend, he had the eye removed and replaced with a glass one.
In 1884 he made his first transatlantic trip to Canada, with the British Association on the SS Oregon to lecture in Montreal. Also on the tour was John Couch Adams, of whom we shall hear more later.
Whilst he was there he visited the Niagara Falls, and was much in awe of the spectacle before him. He was particularly impressed by the circular rainbows and the mighty roar of the water.
This was the first of several visits across the Atlantic, his next one at the request of Percival Lowell, to lecture at his Institute in Boston. No doubt he would have heard the famous rhyme:
So this is good old Boston
The home of the bean and the cod
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots
And the Cabots talk only to God
A reference to the mega-rich blue-blooded families of Cabot and Lowell.
Let me turn now to his UK lectures.
He must have had remarkable stamina to keep up this seemingly endless round of tours. Remember his only modes of transport were the railways and horse drawn carriages, and ocean liners of course. He almost missed his first lecture in Boston because the Atlantic crossing took an extra day. He arrived with just an hour to spare.