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John Tebbutt: The Hawkesbury stargazer who lit up the skies

Jun 23, 2023

The Hawkesbury is paying tribute to one of its brightest stars, the legendary astronomer John Tebbutt. Born in Windsor in 1834 to a farming family, Tebbutt had a passion for the night sky that propelled him to become a pioneering astronomer, leaving a lasting mark on the world of science.

Despite his fascination with the vastness of the universe and distant worlds, Tebbutt never ventured beyond Australia. Instead, he immersed himself in the natural beauty of the Hawkesbury region during his early years. However, his unyielding curiosity and love for stargazing sparked an incredible journey of exploration and observation that forever transformed our understanding of the cosmos.

The only son of a Windsor sheep farmer, John Tebbutt left a remarkable legacy to the world of astronomy.

Driven by an irresistible urge to uncover celestial wonders, Tebbutt constructed his own backyard observatory. Night after night, he gazed up at the stars, meticulously recording his observations. Even today, Peninsular House and Tebbutt’s Observatory proudly stand on Palmer Street in Windsor as testament to his passion and life’s work.

Tebbutt’s most remarkable achievement occurred in May, 1861 when, at the young age of 26, he independently discovered a dazzling comet. This extraordinary celestial body, now known as the “Great Comet of 1861” or “Comet Tebbutt,” gained international recognition and catapulted him to fame within the astronomical community.

Of his discovery that night, Tebbutt later recounted; “While scanning the western sky with the unassisted eye on the evening on May 22, I discovered just below the constellation Columbia a hazy looking object which, from my familiarity with that part of the heavens, I regard as new.”

Yet Tebbutt’s impact extended far beyond his own groundbreaking discoveries. He generously shared his knowledge with the public through articles, almanacs and charts. He opened up his observatory to the public, hosting viewings and delivering inspiring lectures that captivated both young and old alike.

John Tebbutt discovered the “Great Comet” at the age of just 26, from his Windsor observatory.

In tribute to his multifaceted contributions, Tebbutt was honored with a moon crater bearing his name and his portrait adorning the Australian $100 note, commemorating his life’s work.

To celebrate the extraordinary life of John Tebbutt, the Hawkesbury Museum is hosting “Starry Night: The World of John Tebbutt.” This special exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore Tebbutt’s original telescopes and delve into his meticulous observations.

Starry Night, the Hawkesbury Regional Museum’s latest exhibition, is now open and available online 24 hours a day at www.hawkesbury.nsw.gov.au/museum/exhibitions/online-exhibitions

A free curator talk will be held on Monday, 26 June at 10am at the Museum. Bookings essential via Eventbrite http://hawkesburymuseum.eventbrite.com

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