Webb, Thomas William

The Reverend Thomas William Webb (December 14, 1807 ““ May 19, 1885) was a British astronomer and faithful clergyman.

The lone son of a clergyman, the Rev. John Webb was raised and educated by his father in absence of his mother who died in Webb’s early childhood. He travelled to Oxford to attend Magdalen College. Soon after, he was ordained a minister by the Anglican Church in 1829. In 1843, he married Henrietta Montague. Mrs. Webb died on September 7, 1884. Webb followed shortly thereafter, and died May 19, 1885.

T.W. Webb served as a clergyman in various places until he was assigned to the parish of Hardwick near the border of Wales in 1852. On the grounds of the parsonage where he served the members of his parish, he built a small observatory made of canvas and wood to practice astronomical observation in his spare time. He began with an amateur collection of refractors and kept promoting up to larger refractors and reflectors with which he eventually made some very significant observations. During this time at Hardwick, he wrote his classic astronomical observing guide in 1859 entitled, Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, for which he is best known today. This two volume work was written to be a tool to the amateur astronomer, providing instructions on how to use a telescope as well as specific descriptions of what to look for. It was the standard observing guide for amateur astronomers globally in its time, and continued to be so well into the 20th century, steadily displaced by more modern guides such as Celestial Handbook by Robert Burnham.

The title’s mention of “common telescopes” is indicative of refractors of 3 to 6 inches and somewhat larger reflectors that were readily available to amateur observers of the day.

Although Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes was originally published in 1859, it was continually reprinted through the sixth edition 1917, with revisions made by Rev. T.E. Espin. Dover Press published a final addition in 1962. Early editions are very rare, but the 1962 version is widely available and still utilized often.