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The auction was for a telescope. But this was not just any telescope; it was, in fact, a remarkable mid-19th-century marine six-draw telescope handmade by Archibald Hilson Ross, who, it turns out, went on to become the 10th mayor of Dunedin.
I was intrigued and determined to find out more about this astronomically talented burgomaster.
Archibald Hilson Ross was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1821. He lived for several years in Sunderland, where he was a town councillor and a guardian of the poor. In an 1852 Sunderland Echo advert, his business address was given as 216 High St, Bishopwearmouth, where he was selling chronometers and Davy lamps and is listed as an optician and maker of philosophical and mathematical instruments.
Ross must have had some talent, as one of his instruments, a self-compensating barometer is listed in the official catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition.
Ross emigrated to Dunedin, in 1859, where he accepted a position as chief draughtsman in the survey office. Later he restarted his business as an optician and carried it on from a shop in Princes St until a few years before his death. Ross was politically active, serving as mayor of Dunedin between 1880 and 1881 and as member of Parliament for Roslyn from 1884 to 1890.
As well as being politically active and a skilled optician, Ross has been described as a careful astronomical observer, taking a keen interest in observing the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1882.
Having found out all of this information about the mayoral telescope-maker, I was determined to bring this instrument to Dunedin; I put in a bid and, hey presto, I won!