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Ōtautahi set to look to the stars once again with historic telescope

27 June 2022

#Philanthropy@UC Stargazing is set to return to Ōtautahi Chirstchurch thanks to a generous donation and the careful restoration of Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Townsend Teece six-inch refractor telescope.


Gifted to Canterbury College in 1891 by amateur astronomer and Canterbury wine merchant, James Townsend, the telescope was housed in the Arts Centre Observatory Tower since opening in 1896. 

A rare scientific instrument, it was built in 1864 by Thomas Cooke and Sons of York, England and was used for public viewings every clear Friday winter evening until the observatory’s collapse in the February 2011 earthquake.

UC’s Associate Professor and Director of the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory Karen Pollard, describes the telescope as “one of Cooke’s early telescopes with beautiful optics and an excellent example of the workmanship.”

Following the earthquake, the telescope was recovered from the rubble having suffered extensive damage to the housing, but miraculously with the original lens intact.

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“The lenses are the very heart of the telescope, without them full restoration couldn’t have been possible,” says Professor Pollard.

The telescope is of significant historical and scientific value to Ōtautahi Christchurch and was used by Townsend to observe the 1882 Transit of Venus; a rare astronomical event seen by Captain James Cook 113 years earlier and right before he charted Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastline.

According to Professor Pollard, the transits, astronomy and navigation are intimately tied with the history of Aotearoa New Zealand and Ōtautahi Christchurch.

The importance of the telescope has led to the generous donation by economist and UC Alumnus Professor David Teece, Leigh Teece, and their family. 

“Astronomy is an important part of the university’s history. The Townsend Teece telescope is powerful enough to give kids - sitting on the shoulders of Galileo - their first glimpse of the moons of Jupiter and other celestial bodies. Anything we can do to pique curiosity and encourage young and old alike to engage with science and technology is good for society,” says Professor Teece.

With the Arts Centre Observatory Tower set to open this year, Professor Pollard says the telescope is in the final stages of restoration.

“There is still a little bit of work to be done on the driving mechanism, which is the final piece of work before the telescope can be placed in the dome. The plinth is in place and the pier has been orientated in the completed dome ready for the telescope.”

The restoration work was initially carried out by Graeme Kershaw, who served as a technician in the mechanical workshop of the UC’S Physics and Astronomy department for 51 years. His wife Dale Kershaw supported him in the restoration work until he passed away in May 2018.

Dale has continued her role supporting the restoration of the telescope fulfilling her promise to Graeme to ensure the telescope is completed and rehoused, something she says makes her quite emotional.

“Graeme brought the telescope home to our garage to restore and since then it has become phenomenally important to me as he put his heart and soul in it.”

The Arts Centre Observatory Tower will now feature as the entrance to a boutique central city hotel providing hotel guests and the public an opportunity to view the telescope and for UC to resume public viewings.

“The telescope is a historic Christchurch icon. It blends elegance and function and reminds us that the early citizens of Christchurch were aesthetically sensitive and could blend form and function as they championed discovery and learning,” says Professor Teece.

Once housed, UC will continue to offer student-guided public stargazing on Friday evenings with new space for a story gallery and museum devoted to the restoration of the telescope, astronomy and science.

Townsend Teece telescope 3
Townsend Teece telescope 2
Townsend Teece telescope 5
Townsend Teece telescope 1
Townsend Teece telescope 6

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