In memoriam – Graeme Kershaw

01 June 2018

Last week astronomers, physicists and other staff members at the University of Canterbury were saddened to farewell Graeme Kershaw, who served as a technician in the mechanical workshop of the Physics and Astronomy department for 51 years.

  • Kershaw_NWS_block

    After Graeme Kershaw retired in 2016, he worked on the restoration of the University of Canterbury’s historic Townsend Teece Telescope, which was damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. This 2016 photo shows Graeme Kershaw working on the damaged telescope in his workshop (pictured above left is the telescope in its pre-quake original state).

Last week astronomers, physicists and other staff members at the University of Canterbury were saddened to farewell Graeme Kershaw, who served as a technician in the mechanical workshop of the Physics and Astronomy department for 51 years.

After Graeme retired in 2016, he worked on the restoration of the University of Canterbury’s historic Townsend Teece Telescope, which had been housed in the Christchurch Arts Centre’s Observatory tower for more than a century. The telescope is a 6-inch refractor made in England in 1864, which was made available by UC for public viewing. It was recovered from the rubble of the Observatory tower amid the February 2011 earthquake. The restoration project was being undertaken thanks to a donation from UC alumnus Professor David Teece and his wife Leigh Teece from California. Sadly the work was not quite complete when Graeme passed away after a short illness.

Director of the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory, Astronomy and Astrophysics Associate Professor Karen Pollard, UC College of Science, says that having worked on the Townsend Teece Telescope through his long career as a specialist technician at UC, Graeme Kershaw was uniquely positioned to undertake the detailed work needed to restore the historic telescope. 

“Just last month [May], Graeme was visibly delighted to be able to demonstrate the restored telescope at the astronomy exhibition held at The Arts Centre as part of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) conference,” Associate Professor Pollard says.

“He had completed the main work on the telescope itself, including restoring the brass tube, optics, finder scope and clock-drive mechanism. The final part is to remount it on its plinth and restore the tracking wheel mechanism, so that the Townsend Teece Telescope can once more track stars and other celestial objects across the night sky above Christchurch.

“We are pleased that his wife Dale, who was assisting Graeme in his work, will assist with the remainder of the restoration,” Associate Professor Pollard says.  

Director of Alumni & UC Foundation Jo Dowling recalls working with Graeme. 

“I had the great privilege of working with Graeme Kershaw and his wife Dale on the fundraising campaign to restore the Townsend Teece Telescope which was damaged when the Observatory Tower at The Arts Centre came down in the February 2011 earthquake.  His passion for the project, his commitment to UC and our wider community was always obvious to see,” she says.

Professor John Hearnshaw recalls that Graeme specialised in astronomical instrumentation, and during his career made a major contribution to the instruments at the UC Mt John Observatory.

“I first came into contact with Graeme in 1975 when he was working on the Cassegrain échelle spectrograph, based on drawings from the Smithsonian Institution. This instrument was completed in 1977 and was the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere,” Professor Hearnshaw says.

“I count at least eight big projects we did together, me throwing ideas to Graeme about what I wanted, him putting them into practice with amazingly ingenious mechanical and optical designs for astronomical instruments at Mt John. His work was characterised by great attention to detail, superb craftsmanship and innovative designs.”

About the Telescope:

The Townsend Teece Telescope was made in 1864 by Cooke and Sons of York and London. Whether it was made for James Townsend or not is not clear, nor is the exact time of its arrival in New Zealand. However it is known that James Townsend used it to observe the 1882 transit of the Sun by Venus. The telescope was installed at James Townsend's home in Park Terrace until, in his seventies, James Townsend wished to donate his prize possession to the community.

The Townsend Teece Telescope was restored in the late 1970s to near-new condition and offered good views of the Moon, planets, stars and star clusters and other bright objects. In March 1996, the Townsend observatory reached its first 100 years.

The Townsend Observatory was located in the Christchurch Arts Centre (Hereford Street side) and was opened to the public on clear and partly cloudy Friday nights during New Zealand Standard Time (outside daylight savings months). These public viewing sessions were operated free of charge by UC staff and students for the promotion of astronomy.

For further information please contact:

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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