Background and List of Letters from Ralph Copeland to Fred Holloway

Ralph Copeland Fred Holloway

The following are links to images and transcripts of 12 letters plus a couple of odd pages that Ralph Copeland, the 3rd Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1890 until his death in 1905 wrote to Fred Holloway, one of my Great Great Grandfathers, between 1896 and 1905.

They contain many references to Ralph's family and represent what was obviously a close friendship over many years. It's not completely clear what the origin of this friendship was. They seem to have met in the Manchester area (Gorton) in their mid 20's. There is a reference in letter 8 to constructing a small observatory there in 1863 and also references to Gorton foundry. Gorton Foundry was the home of Beyer-Peacock - a firm that made locomotives there until 1966. .Fred according to various birth and marriage certificates was an Engine Turner and I speculate that they developed some connection through their line of work if not before. (An engine turner was/is someone who uses machines (e.g. lathes) to engrave patterns on metal.)

I have since learned from Hermann Bruck's book, "The Story of Astronomy in Edinburgh" that Ralph Copeland did indeed work at Gorton Foundry in 1863. He studied engineering whilst teaching himself mathematics, leaving there in 1864 to go to Gottingen in Germany to study. There is also a reference in Bruck's book to the small observatory mentioned above.

The twelfth and final letter is actually written by Ralph's widow, Theodora, just after his death. She was originally German. See here for more information on Ralph's family and relations.

The letters were all written from the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. I'm not certain where Fred was living during all of that time - I can't find him in the 1901 census. He appears to have spent most of his time in Birmingham at various addresses, but may also have been in Manchester and even London. His employment seems to have been anything but stable.

Frederick Edward Holloway married Elizabeth Jane Williams in 1862 in Harborne, Birmingham. He was the father of Emily, (Ethel) Phyllis, Lavinia, Ralph and Harry. He outlived Ralph Copeland by just 5 months, dying on March 31,1906 of cancer of the pancreas. He is buried in Yardley Cemetery in Birmingham with his wife (who lived until 1922.)

The letters were apparently passed on through Phyllis Holloway, sister of Emily. She ended up living with Emily's daughter (Elizabeth Percival, nee Kempson) and her family in Edinburgh (ironically very close the observatory where they were originally written) and later High Wycombe and Virginia Water. She was very proud of her father Fred's relationship with Ralph Copeland and kept the original letters, passing them onto her niece, Elizabeth Percival. It's possible that the son-in-law who's promotion is referred to in one of the letters is Frank Kempson, Elizabeth's father.

I have taken them to the Observatory for them to view - it was a strange feeling taking them back to their place of origin - things have gone full circle.

I have jpeg'ed the scanned pages down to about 50 - 60 K each. They are still legible but won't stand much blowing up. If anyone would like higher resolution images (up to 200 dpi Tiff, PDF or JPEG,) please email me at the link on the left.

I have transcribed all the letters. There are a few words I was unable to decode - particularly in the later letters. If you want them in word format rather than html then again email me at the link on the left.

The first images are two odd pages - (click here for a transcript) - that are pages 5 and 6 of what appears to be the first letter in the sequence. They give a bit of Ralph's family history, including the death of his first wife in Gottingen in 1866. She was his first cousin, Miss Susannah Milner of the Vicarage, Barnoldswick.

Letter 1 - 4 pages written May 10th 1896 discusses Fred visiting the observatory - which is still being built at the time. - click here for a transcript

Letter 2 - 3 pages written May 20th 1896 contains instructions to Fred on how to get to the Observatory from the rail station in Edinburgh. - click here for a transcript

Letter 3 - 6 pages, incomplete, written June 21st 1896 is written after Fred's visit to the observatory. - click here for a transcript. Fred left two days before Ralph's eldest daughter visited from Germany. She is recorded in the Visitor's book as being there on 29th May 1896 (Mrs Elizabeth Diechmann,) so I surmise he arrived around about Saturday 23rd and left on the 27th.

Hermann Bruck's book notes the eclipse viewing expedition to Norway, consisting of four members including his son Theodore. They transported many tons of equipment, but all for naught as the event was obscured by cloud.

Letter 4 - 4 pages written December 23rd 1898. It appears that this is after a visit by Ralph to Germany, where somewhere along the way he visited Fred and his family. - click here for a transcript

Letter 5 - 4 pages, incomplete, written August 2nd 1901. Fred had obviously moved to Birmingham by this time and Ralph had just found his address again. - click here for a transcript

Letter 6 - 4 pages written January 16th 1903 - click here for a transcript

Letter 7 - 8 pages written January 23rd 1904 - click here for a transcript

Letter 8 - 4 pages written September 10th 1904 by his son Theodore on Ralph's behalf. Theodore was a judge in India at the tender age of 26! - click here for a transcript

Letter 9 - 4 pages written November 20th 1904 - click here for a transcript

Letter 10 - 8 pages written September 24th 1905 - click here for a transcript

Letter 11 - 6 pages written 3rd October 1905, partially on Ralph's behalf by his daughter Agnes. This letter shows his seriously declining health. - click here for a transcript

Letter 12 - the final one - 3 pages - is written 29th October 1905 by his widow just after Ralph's death on 27th October 1905. She describes reading Fred's final letter to him around October 9th - that being the last letter that was read to him. - click here for a transcript

I have done a little more research through the various Scottish and English online census and birth, marriages and deaths records into Ralph's family