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Herbert Hall Turner

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Herbert Hall Turner (1861-1930)

1930 Obituary[1]


Professor H. H. Turner, F.R.S., of Oxford, who gained distinction as an astronomer, a seismologist and a popular writer and lecturer, was suddenly taken ill while attending the Geodetical Congress at Stockholm, and died there a few days later, on August 20.

Herbert Hall Turner, the son of John Turner, was born at Leeds in 1861, and proceeded from the Modern School of Leeds to Clifton College and to Trinity College, Cambridge, which subsequently elected the second wrangler and Smith’s prizeman a Fellow. By 1884 he was senior assistant at Greenwich Observatory, and in 1893 he was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy and director of the University Observatory at Oxford, an appointment which he still held at his death. His chief work at Oxford was connected with the international scheme of mapping the heavens; when this work was resumed after the war, he was elected chairman of the committee of the International Astronomical Union which dealt with this scheme, in recognition of the energy and ability he had exhibited. He wrote some 200 papers on astronomy and other scientific subjects, sometimes advancing bold views which met with more criticism than support. Thus his sun spot theory and his views on the two star-streams of J. C. Kapteyn found little approval, but his improvements of the technique of deducing the position of stars by photography were highly valued. His popular astronomical books where on Modern Astronomy, Astronomical Discovery, the Great Star Map, and A Voyage in Space, this last based upon the Royal Institution Juvenile Lectures of 1913. Turner took part in the eclipse expeditions of 1896 to Japan and of 1905 to Egypt, was President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1903 and, since 1919, foreign secretary of that Society. His interest in seismology made him a member, and soon chairman, of the British Association Committee on Seismological Investigations, which will issue its 35th report this year. When John Milne died in 1913, Turner took over the control of the Milne observatory at Shide, Isle of Wight, and subsequently removed the bureau to Oxford, where he set up a Milne instrument in the basement of a Clarendon Laboratory. This modest installation has recently been enlarged in new buildings, the completion of which he has not seen. Turner’s seismological work was statistical and analytical, not experimental. Of an energetic, kindly, jovial disposition and wide interests he stood up for his own standpoint in many controversies. He married Miss A. M. Whyte, of Blackheath, and leaves one daughter. Turner was honorary general secretary of the British Association in the period 1913 to 1922. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896, and received many honorary degrees and distinctions from British and foreign institutions."

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