Isaac Roberts 1829-1904

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Isaac Roberts
Isaac Roberts

Isaac Roberts was born in Denbighshire, Wales on January 27th 1829 but his family moved to Liverpool when he was six years old. In 1859 he moved to Birkenhead, no 26 Rock Park, and after completing his education he became apprenticed to a company of builders, John Johnson and Sons, in Liverpool at the age of 15. Upon the completion of his apprenticeship, he was quickly appointed as manager and by the age of 30, he had wound up the company and set it up his own business based in Hatton Garden with the son of the previous owner as his partner. Amongst works of note, the company built the water works in Boundary Road, Birkenhead and also the hotel complex at Lime Street Station, Liverpool.

He developed an early interest in astronomy and in 1878 had his own telescope sited at his home. He eventually became so interested that he experimented in astrophotography and in 1886 he displayed his discoveries to a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was showered with honours by the academic world and in 1895 received the Royal Society gold medal, its highest honour. He is accepted as the first person to have taken photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy more than two light years away from Earth which he did using long exposure photography in the main largely pioneered by him and his name in the world of astronomy stands alongside those of Hubble and Huggins at the forefront of those who have developed our understanding of cosmology.

He married his first wife in 1875 but having been widowed, married his second wife, Dorothea Klumpke in 1901, having met her in a hot air balloon during a lunar eclipse expedition. After his decision to retire early in 1890 he left Merseyside and moved to Crowborough, Sussex and devoted his life to his astronomy and died suddenly in 1904 aged 75. He was cremated and his ashes remained in Sussex until 21st July 1908 when following permission from the High Court, his remains were brought to Flaybrick for interment in a specially prepared vault designed along the lines of a structure in the Temple of Philae and Isis in Ancient Egypt. He has a crater on the dark side of the moon jointly named in his honour.

It was intended that his second wife Dorothea would eventually rest with him at Flaybrick but sadly she died in October 1942 and due to the war, it was not possible for her body to be brought back to England; she was laid to rest at the San Francisco Columbarium Cemetery.