It is probably no coincidence that the brewer Lassell built his 24-inch telescope at a time when the Albert Dock was being dug: this was a boom time for suppliers of beer due to the influx of thirsty navvies.
It was estimated that blasting out the sandstone with gunpowder put the navvies at a higher risk of being killed than British soldiers at Waterloo. How much the effects of drink added to the accident rate no one can say for certain: it was common for a navvy to have eight to 12 pints at work, not counting what he drank in his own time. Beer was supplied on-site to prevent them slipping off to the pub to keep their thirst at bay.
Boom time or not, Lassell was not a man to waste his pennies, as the surviving written evidence confirms. His astronomical observations were recorded on homemade notebooks or ones originally meant for other purposes: some have business accounts, sermon notes and memoranda at one end and astronomical material at the other.
The home-made examples, containing many of his observations using the 24-inch telescope, consisted of large sheets of paper folded and cut into pages, then stitched inside brown-paper covers. Fragments of addresses and stamps on these covers show that the brown paper was second-hand to start with.
On the other hand, Lassell also liked to show style. The earliest portrait of him, an 1845 Daguerrotype, shows him in a flashy chequered waistcoat, while in the later Royal Astronomical Society presidential portrait he rejects the formal frock coat for the height of fashion, a short jacket with braided collar.
Other lifelong friendships made through astronomy included William R. Dawes, the Ormskirk physician, astronomer and Nonconformist minister, and the Manchester engineer James Nasmyth.
It was Nasmyth who build the steam-driven grinding machine designed by Lassell to make the 24-inch mirrors and who almost certainly made the famous telescope's heavy iron parts in his foundry at Patricroft.
Lassell's notebooks record the exact position, in angles of time, of friends' homes, such as Mr Roskell the watch-manufacturer in Church Street, and Mr Findlow and Miss Harrison in Bootle.
In 1851 Lassell and another friend, a Mr Stannistreet, travelled to Sweden to observe a total eclipse of the sun. But Lassell came dose to blinding himself -- the solar heat focused through his powerful refracting telescope shattered the dark glass in the eyelens. It is not an observing procedure modern astronomers would follow or recommend.
When Queen Victoria visited Liverpool in 1851 Lassell was the only local notable whom she specifically asked to meet, and it was said that she rose and advanced to meet the astronomer as he entered the room. This was something at the time which was almost unheard of and was an indication of Her Majesty's regard for him and his work.
| Maintained by Michael Oates
Last modified October 4, 2005