Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Appeal for information regarding 1913 suffragette bombing of Edinburgh Royal Observatory

In something of an unintended coincidence, just after I posted an article describing the life of Williamina Paton Fleming, a Scottish woman who travelled to Boston and became a female astronomer, famous for identifying and classifying the Horsehead Nebula, the BBC published an appeal for information regarding the suffragette bombing of Edinburgh Royal Observatory in 1913.

Plea over Edinburgh Royal Observatory suffragette bomb mystery

In a further coincidence, Williamina Paton Fleming died on May 21, 1911, two years to the day after the bombing.

Although I could not have known the BBC was going to publish its appeal, I had noted how, for the time, it was an unusual achievement for a woman to have become not only an astronomer, but to have become a noted astronomer.

I’m not sure how much of Willimaina’s success was a result of being in America, rather than Britain where, in 1913, the suffragettes began a campaign of destruction driven by the Women’s Social and Political Union and led by Mrs Emily Pankhurst and her daughter, which included a firebomb attack on the grandstand of Ayr Race Course. They also set fire to important buildings such as Leuchars Railway Station, and the Whitekirk in East Lothian.

According to the BBC article:

The bomber was never caught following the blast that shattered windows, splintered floors and cracked stone on the observatory’s tower on 21 May 1913.

The bomb, a jar with gunpowder, exploded at 01:00 when nobody was inside to be injured.

Blood, a ladies’ handbag and a note were found at the scene.

Scrawled in ink on a scrap of paper was the phrase: “How beggarly appears argument before defiant deed. Votes for women.”

Dr John Davies, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, told the BBC Scotland news website: “The bomber, or bombers, were never caught so we don’t know anything about them, but if any of their grandchildren are still in Edinburgh, we’d love to meet them and find out more so we can update the display in our visitor centre.”

Mrs Pankhurst said about the WSPU’s activities: “We don’t intend that you should be pleased.” The then Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Ralph Sampson, certainly was not.

He described the attack as “an outrage”.

Nobody was ever charged with the attack.

At the time, the observatory only employed men.

Today, the current director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, which runs the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, is Prof Gillian Wright.

A piece of the jar used in the bomb is on display at Edinburgh Royal Observatory.

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Williamina Paton Fleming – Scottish astronomer « Secret Scotland


May 23, 2013 - Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , ,

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