Thomas William Webb

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T. W. Webb, from the coverplate in the 1917 edition of Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes

The Reverend Thomas William Webb (14 December 1807 – 19 May 1885) was a British astronomer. Some sources give his year of birth as 1806. The only son of a clergyman, the Rev. John Webb, he was raised and educated by his father, his mother having died while Thomas was a small child.[1] He went to Oxford where he attended Magdalen College. In 1829 was ordained a minister in the Anglican Church. He was married to Henrietta Montague in 1843, daughter of Mr. Arthur Wyatt, Monmouth. Mrs. Webb died on 7 September 1884, and after a year of declining health Thomas died on 19 May 1885.[1]

Through his career T. W. Webb served as a clergyman at various places including Gloucester, and finally in 1852 was assigned to the parish of Hardwicke near the border with Wales. In addition to serving faithfully the members of his parish, T. W. Webb pursued astronomical observation in his spare time. On the grounds of the vicarage or parsonage he built a small canvas and wood observatory that was home to instruments including a small 3.7" (94mm) refractor. Webb acquired progressively larger refractors and reflectors with which the observations in the guide were made. The largest telescope was a 9-1/3" (225mm) silver on glass reflector used from 1866 until his last observation in March 1885. It was at Hardwick that he wrote his classic astronomical observing guide Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes in 1859 for which he is best known today. This work was written as a guide for the amateur astronomer, containing instructions on the use of a telescope as well as detailed descriptions of what could be observed with it. After Webb’s death it was revised by T. H. E. C. Espin (1858-1934) and expanded to two volumes. This work became the standard observing guide of amateur astronomers worldwide, and remained so until well into the 20th Century, gradually supplanted by more modern guides such as Burnham's Celestial Handbook.

The title's reference to "common telescopes" refers to refractors of 3 to 6 inches and the somewhat larger reflectors that were commonly available to the amateur observers of the day.

Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes was first published in 1859. It was continually published through to the 6th edition in 1917. In 1962, the reprinted edition was published by Dover Publications, Inc., edited and revised by Margaret W. Mayall. The 1962 edition is still readily available and widely used, while earlier editions have become collectors items and are quite rare.

Asteroid 3041 Webb and lunar crater Webb were named after him.[2]


  1. ^ a b T.W. Webb, Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, 1917, Longmans, Green and Co., London
  2. ^ Webb, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN)

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