1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii

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Expedition leader George Lyon Tupman at the telescope in Honolulu.

The 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii was an astronomical expedition by British scientists to observe the December 8 transit of Venus at three separate observing sites in the Hawaiian Islands.[1] It was one of five 1874 transit expeditions organized by George Biddell Airy, Astronomer Royal at the Royal Observatory. The purpose of the expedition was to obtain an accurate estimate of the astronomical unit (AU), the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Previous efforts to obtain a precise value of an AU in 1769 had been hampered by the black drop effect.


George Biddell Airy began preparations for the expedition in 1869, and procured funds in June of that year. Airy spent 1870–71 acquiring the necessary supplies and equipment. He made George Lyon Tupman a member of the team in April 1872. The team was composed of seven men: George Forbes, Henry Glanville Barnacle, John Walter Nichol, Frances E. Ramsden, E. J. W. Noble, George Lyon Tupman, and Richard Johnson.[2]


In June 1874, the expedition team of seven British men led by George Lyon Tupman, left Liverpool in two groups carrying 93 tons of provisions on the HMS Scout. They stopped along the way in Valparaíso, Chile; they reached Honolulu Harbor on September 9. The team manned observing stations on three different islands. The primary observing station was established by George Lyon Tupman on the island of Oahu in the Apua district of Honolulu. Two auxiliary stations were built, one in Waimea, Kauai and another in Kailua, Hawaii, manned by George Forbes and Henry Glanville Barnacle.

Charles Darwin's son, Leonard Darwin, was a photographer on the 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to New Zealand, after which he traveled to Hawaii aboard the Mikado to meet the team in Honolulu.


George Biddell Airy published an Account of Observations of the Transit of Venus in Hawaii in 1881, with more than 200 pages about the expedition.


  1. ^ Chauvin 2004; Lomb 2011, 132-134.
  2. ^ Chauvin 2004, 42-49.