Maria Theresa Short
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Maria Theresa Short was an entrepreneur who increased public access to scientific equipment in Edinburgh in the 19th century.
The Short Family
In the early 18th century, the Short family were scientific instrument makers in Edinburgh’s Southside. In 1776 their son Thomas leased some land on Calton Hill and built a Gothic House to display his instruments to the public. As a condition of his lease, the local council demanded that female relatives of Thomas could not inherit the building and its contents. When he died in 1788, his wife and children did not inherit it.
Short’s Observatory – Calton Hill
In 1827 Maria Theresa Short returned from the West Indies claiming to be Thomas’s daughter. She claimed his Great Telescope, which was housed in the City Chambers, for her inheritance. She set up a Popular Observatory, which she opened in a wooden hut next to the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill. After continuous disagreements with the local council, the Lord Provost called for the observatory to be pulled down. Despite her protests, this was done in 1851.
Short’s Observatory – Castlehill
In 1849 Maria married Robert Henderson, and in 1852 bought the Laird of Cockpen’s townhouse on Castlehill, now known as Old Town, Edinburgh. With the help of sponsors she added an extra two floors and a viewing platform with a dome housing a camera obscura. The building is nowadays known as the Outlook Tower. In the 1861 census, she and her husband were recorded as living in the tower. She was noted as being 58 years old, but if she had really been the daughter of Thomas Short she would have needed to be 82. Therefore, it seems unlikely that she was actually his daughter. In 1869, she died, "aged about 70" in the Outlook Tower. Her husband continued to run the attraction until it was taken over by Patrick Geddes in 1892.
Edinburgh in the 19th Century (1901)W.M.Gilbert
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions reading material