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Herschel Memorial
Claremont, Cape Town, Western Cape

Date:c1838
Type:Memorial
Status:Extant

The most significant memorial [to Sir John Herschel] is the Herschel obelisk. On 28 November 1838 the Cape Governor, Sir George Napier, presided over a public meeting at which a committee was elected to raise funds for a permanent monument to the Herschels. The committee decided on an obelisk, and funds were raised by donations from the friends of the Herschels in Cape Town. The stone for the memorial was quarried at Craigleith, near Edinburgh, and shipped to the Cape, where it was erected in 1841.

[...] John had retained a small part of Feldhausen when he left – the deed of transfer specified that 'Sir John Herschel in disposing of that estate does reserve the circle of sixty three feet diameter… together with two rows of fir trees surrounding the said circle as a protecting fence'. The circle is centred on the position of the 20-feet telescope.

The piece of ground around the obelisk was given to the Claremont municipality by the Herschel descendants in 1906, and in 1934 the obelisk was declared a national monument, one of the first to be so recognised. Today it is within the playground of Grove School. Its base is hollow and enclosed on only three sides, so that the granite cylinder that Herschel purchased and set at the centre of rotation of his great telescope can be seen. On one side of the obelisk there is a plaque which reads: 'During a residence of four years in this colony Sir John Herschel contributed as largely by his benevolent exertions to the cause of education and humanity as by his eminent talents to the discovery of scientific truth'.

To astronomers, the Herschel obelisk is looked upon almost as a shrine – it is where one of the greatest of their number laboured for four years and produced a unique book that laid the foundations of our knowledge of the southern heavens.

(Warner, 2006: 171)


Writings about this entry

Richardson, Deidré. 2001. Historic Sites of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. pg 79
Shorten, John R. 1963. Cape Town : A record of the Mother City from the earliest days to the present. Cape Town: JR Shorten in association with Shorten and Smith Publications. pg 115 ill.
Warner, Brian. 2006. Cape landscapes : Sir John Herschel's sketches 1834-1838. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press. pg 170-171