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Sir John Frederick William Herschel FRS (1792-1871) was the son of the 18th century giant of astronomy Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) and nephew to William’s great collaborator Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848). Inevitable, therefore, that John should become an astronomer too and one of the 19th century’s leading men of science. He served as a Secretary to the Royal Society, made substantial developments to the nascent art and science of photography (inventing the blueprint, for example) and would follow in Sir Isaac Newton’s footsteps in becoming Master of the Royal Mint.

The Royal Society’s copy of Herschel’s diary is one a series of annual gatherings for the period 1834-1870. It was transcribed by family member Louisa Gordon in 1910 and is a splendidly legible version. This volume for 1838 finds Herschel at the Cape in South Africa, packing up his astronomical instruments and observations, preparing for a journey home to England aboard the 'Windsor'.

7 January 1838
The diary commences with Herschel attending a levee of General George Thomas Napier (1784-1855) the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and then returning the favour by showing the star Canopus and other astronomical features to the Napier family at his Feldhausen observatory. Thomas Maclear FRS (1794-1879), mentioned here, was Astronomer Royal in the Cape Colony and became a great friend and collaborator of Herschel’s during the latter’s stay in South Africa. “La Cailles Station” was the site of geodesic observations made by Nicholas Louis de Lacailles (1713-1762), later revised by Maclear.