O B S E R V A T O R Y,
M A D R A S, 1837


HIS HIGHNESS THE RAJAH OF TRAVANCORE, already celebrated for the munificence with which he promotes the education and mental improvement of his subjects, resolved in the latter part of last year on the establishment, at his capital, Trevandrum, of an Observatory of a superior kind; with the double view of affording his aid to the advancement of astronomical science, and of introducing by its means correct ideas of the principles of this science among the rising generation under his government; and having confided to me the superintendence of the institution as Astronomer, I take this early opportunity of introducing it to the notice of the public, by a short description (which may be enlarged hereafter) of the three great features of its future usefulness, viz. the building-the instruments-the locality-convinced that the description of a new Observatory so situated, and established with such objects, succinct and somewhat in perfect as at this early stage it must necessarily be, will still be received with lively interest, not only by astronomers in particular, but generally by the many who are now contemplating, with sympathy and admiration, the rapid strides with which intellectual culture is advancing among our native brethren of India.


When it devolved on me to design a plan by which the liberal intentions of His Highness might be carried into the most complete effect, it became with me a matter of serious consideration, how the utmost benefit to science might be derived from the opportunity afforded by the proposed institution, without making any very great demand on the funds of the state; and I very soon came to the conclusion that no outlay, beyond what was absolutely necessary to effectiveness, should be made on the building, but that no expense should be spared in procuring instruments of such a size and quality made use of, a rank second to none in the world. Being supported in this view of the case by Colonel Fraser, the British Resident at Travancore (a gentleman most pre-eminently qualified to judge on such a matter), the plan now to be explained was sanctioned by His Highness, and the building has since been completely and most satisfactorily erected by Lieutenant Horsley, of the Madras Engineers, through whose kindness I am enabled to accompany this with two perspective views, a plan, section, and elevation, which will render but a short verbal explanation necessary.

The extreme dimensions (i.e. including the verandahs) are seventy-eight feet in length, east and west, and thirty-eight feet in breadth, north and south; these, although small compared with most other public Observatories, will, it is hoped, prove amply sufficient for all useful purposes.

The hill on which the Observatory is erected is a solid mass of laterite, in which graphite is largely disseminated, and is so hard as to be penetrated with great difficulty; but little depth was therefore required for the foundations, which are accordingly only sunk one foot below the surface, on which the granite bases for the instruments are erected – this surface is, by excavation, three feet below the general level of the soil outside, and three and a half feet below the floor of the observing rooms. On it is erected, nearly to the height of the floor, but without contact with it, or with the surrounding walls, a solid mass of granite masonry for each instrument, consisting of large pieces of stone clamped together; that in the transit room (a) is ten feet long, by four feet broad; that in the circle room (c) ten feet square, and that in the centre room (b) six feet square. The walls are two feet in thickness, built of squared stones of laterite, and afford a clear height in the observing rooms of seventeen feet. The meridional openings are three in number, each two feet wide, and extend across the building to within three feet of the ground on each side-they are well secured and conveniently laid open by shutters covered with canvas, and painted, and having slips of copper over the abutments. The roof is flat, and on the centre of it is erected a wooden circular building, of nine feet diameter, with a revolving dome which covers a solid pillar of granite, coming up through the centre room without contact with floor, roof, or any part of the building, and terminating about three feet above the flat roof. This pillar is two feet in diameter at the top, and four feet at bottom, and is erected on the granite base of six feet square-the pillar consists of five pieces in the form of a frustum of a cone. Two other revolving domes of the same size are placed over the circular rooms at the southern corners of the Observatory, which are square turrets of solid masonry. The roof or terrace is conveniently approached by two stair-cases outside the building, and winding round the turrets. The verandahs are divided into small rooms as sleeping apartments, computing offices, library, etc.

The clear dimensions (inside) of the transit room (a) are 14 ft. by 12.
Do..................... of the circle room (c) ................14 ft. by 12.
Do..................... of the centre room (b) ............... 20 ft. by 12.

The breadth of the verandah is eleven feet.

On the north and south faces, and let into a panel, formed in the parapet wall, are to be placed marble tablets, bearing an inscription, as follows:-




Sree Padmanabha Dassa Vunchee
Baula Rama Vurma Koola Shakhur
Kireeta Putee Swatee Rama Rajah Bahadoor
Munnei Sooltan Shemshair Jung.

A.D. 1837.

JOHN CALDECOTT, Esq. – Astronomer.
W.H. HORSLEY, Esq. Madras Engineers – Architect.

The inscription on the north face being in English and that on the south a translation of the same in Malayalim.
This building was commenced last October, and is now finished, with exception of a little work connected with the granite pillar in the centre room.


Will comprise – 1st . A transit of five feet focal length, and of four inches aperture – ordered from Mr. Dollond, with very particular instructions, that it shall be the most perfect in his power to make. This will be placed in the western meridian room.

2d . A transit clock to be so placed, in a recess cut into the granite pillar in the centre room, as to be easily seen and heard by the observer at the transit instrument, when the door between the rooms is open. This is intended to be as perfect a piece of workmanship as London can furnish.

3d. 4th. Two mural circles of five feet diameter, to be both placed in the eastern meridian room, on the opposite faces of a solid granite wall – one instrument being intended for direct observations of polar or zenith distances, while the other makes simultaneous observations by reflection from quicksilver in the manner now practised at Greenwich. These two instruments are ordered respectively from Mr. William Simms, and
Mr. Thomas Jones, with the same instructions as to perfection as those given to Mr. Dollond for the transit instrument.

5th. A clock, exactly similar to the transit clock, to be placed in a corresponding recess on the opposite side of the same pillar.

6th. An altitude and azimuth instrument, having 18 inch, and 15 inch circles, with three micrometrical microscopes to each, made by Mr. Simms, to be placed on the top of the granite pillar above the middle room, and under the revolving dome No.1. This instrument having been ordered by me, for my own use, about two years ago, has just arrived at Madras, and is now on its way to me by land.

7th and 8th. Two powerful telescopes, one of the refracting and the other of the reflecting kind, with micrometers and all appurtenances for observations on the double stars, etc. to be placed under the revolving domes Nos. 2 and 3.

Besides these principal instruments, the Observatory will be completely furnished with meteorological, magnetic, and pendulum instruments and apparatus; and the assistance afforded by His Highness in the observing and computing departments, is as complete and liberal as every other part of the establishment.

I may here mention that until these instruments are received from England, observations will be carried on with small but very excellent ones of my own – consisting of the altitude and azimuth circle above-mentioned-a thirty inches transit instrument – an equatorial, by Troughton and Simms – a forty-six inches refracting telescope-chronometers – reflecting circle, etc. etc.

I also take this opportunity of announcing that a system of hourly observations throughout the day and night, of the thermometer, barometer, and hygrometer, has already been commenced at this Observatory, the result of which will be duly made public: and this, as supplying an important deside ratum in the science of meteorology, will doubtless be received by all cultivators of that branch of physics, with the consideration and gratitude which the present Rajah of Travancore will by it eminently entitle himself to.


The Trevandrum Observatory stands on an insulated hill, about sixty feet high, an 195 ¾ feet above the level of the sea (as ascertained by levelling), from which it is distant, in a straight line, about two miles. It commands an extensive and beautiful view of an undulating and finely variegated country towards the north, the east, and the south-and (overlooking the declivity towards the sea and its fringe of cocoa-nut trees) of the sea horizon to the west. The eastern view is terminated by the Ghat mountains, the highest of which subtend an angle of about 2o 15’, the low hills to the north intercept only 45’: and from N.N.W. to S.E. the view extends to the sensible horizon itself. The country intervening between the Observatory and these boundaries, on the land sides, consists of hills covered with low jungle, having strips of rice-ground meandering between them, and topes of trees interspersed. On a cliff, between three and four miles distant to the south, and of the same elevation above the sea as the Observatory hill, are built walls of masonry, intended to receive three meridian marks; and to the north an equally eligible situation may be selected for those in that direction.

The geographical situation of the Observatory, as nearly as I have yet been able to ascertain it, is as follows:-

Latitude 8o 30’ 35” north.
Longitude 76o 59’ 45” or 5h. 7’ 59” east.

These positions cannot, I think, be in error to the amount of 5” in latitude, or of 2” (in time) in longitude – they will, however, be settled with more precision shortly.

With the expression of my earnest hope, that the Trevandrum Observatory may hereafter take an important part in celestial research, and prove useful to science,
I shall conclude this brief account.

(From the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, for July 1837)

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