Restoring the Townsend Teece Telescope

Graeme Kershaw has embarked on a three-year project to restore the 152-year-old Townsend Teece Telescope.  Here, he shares just what that entails.


As most people may now realise the exhibition of the badly broken and damaged parts of the Townsend Teece Telescope are on display on the ground floor of Matariki (Registry building). Along with the telescope parts is a display of many historical pictures and documents in the form of posters and a presentation.

For me, this telescope is of particular significance and importance. As a very young teenager, it was the first ‘real’ telescope I had ever looked through and I became a regular visitor to the observatory on the Friday open nights. As chance would have it, I became a member of the staff of the Dept. of Physics in early 1966 and the very first job I was given there was to build a new lens cap for the Townsend.

Over the following years I was one of the technicians who maintained the telescope and was part of a restoration project in the early 1970s. There was a charm associated with this telescope that seduced me into a caring maintenance relationship and kept me involved until 2008 when I carried out repairs to the telescopes ‘clock drive’.

I was saddened to hear that the Tower that housed the telescope was badly damaged in the September 2010 earthquakes and any attempts to recover it were deemed too dangerous. Those plans were postponed until such time that the earthquake aftershock sequence had diminished to a safe level. As we all know, that didn’t happen and the whole observatory was destroyed in the February 2011 quake.

In the months that followed, I was excited to find that the telescope, although badly damaged, was in fact repairable especially since it was found that the lens was totally undamaged. Since this is the ‘heart’ of the telescope, it was totally sensible to restore it. With this in mind, I volunteered to restore the telescope as a retirement project, starting mid-2016.

As a consequence of this decision, serious fundraising was undertaken by UC alumni, which culminated in a large sum of money being donated to the restoration fund by Prof. David Teece with the restored telescope to be renamed accordingly.

The exhibition, to me, is the beginning of an amazing journey to restore the telescope. This instrument is very near and dear to me and I now have the opportunity to return it to its former glory. This telescope needs to be returned as close as humanly possible to its original condition and only those parts that have been fatally damaged will be replicated using new materials.

Without a doubt the restoration project will challenge my skills and energy to a level seldom experienced by me over the last 50 years of my career at the University. I am very hopeful that those who literally shed tears when they saw the level of destruction will smile as they admire the views they will experience when they once again gaze in amazement at the heavens above.

The exhibition is on display in the Matariki building until 8 July.

Through the lens