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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Agnes Giberne: A Lover of Science


"Look at that dim star, shining through a powerful telescope with faint and glimmering light. We are told that in all probability the tiny ray left its home long before the time of Adam.
There is a strange solemnity in the thought. Hundreds of years ago - thousands of years ago - some say, even tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago! It carries us out of the little present into the unknown ages of a past eternity."--Agnes Giberne (The Story of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, p. 104, published in 1898)

Agnes Giberne was born in 1845 in the state of Karnataka, India, where her father was in military service. Major Charles Giberne was directly descended from the nobleman Jean De Giberne who migrated to England in the seventeenth century. Agnes acquired her interest in science and the natural world from her father.

Agnes acquired her literary interest from her mother, Lydia Mary Wilson. She began to pen stories at age 7. She was a prolific British author who wrote fiction with religious themes and science books for children. Most of her writing was done before 1910.

From Giberne's book Sun, Moon and Stars
In the nineteenth century it was unusual for a woman to be involved in astronomy. Yet, Giberne became one of the most popular astronomy writers of her time. Through her writings she was able to present basic astronomy to children and women in the Victorian Age.

She was interested in many branches of science. In 1890, she became a founding member of the British Astronomical Association. In addition to astronomy, she also wrote on geology, oceanography, and meteorology. 

Her book Sun, Moon and Stars: Astronomy for Beginners was first published in 1879. The foreword was written by Charles Pritchard, a professor of Astronomy at Oxford University. The book was printed in several edition and sold 24,000 copies in its first 20 years. She wrote a sequel titled Radiant Suns (1894).

These were but two of many books written by Giberne in which she made science accessible to children and beginners. Other volumes include The Starry SkiesThe World's Foundations (Geology for Beginners), This Wonderful Universe, and The Upward Gaze.


Artist's impression of midnight on Saturn
from Giberne's book Sun, Moon and Stars. (Wikipedia)


Agnes was a devout Anglican. She wrote with the catechism in mind. Some of her smaller works were written for the Religious Tract Society.

Agnes Giberne's prayer is quoted in over 100 books published in the early 20th century:
Gracious Saviour, gentle Shepherd,
Children all are dear to Thee;
Gathered with Thine arms and carried
In Thy bosom may we be;
Sweetly, fondly, safely tended,
From all want and danger free.
Tender Shepherd, never leave us
From Thy fold to go astray;
By Thy look of love directed
May we walk the narrow way;
Thus direct us, and protect us,
Lest we fall an easy prey.‎

Agnes lived most of her life at 25 Lushington Road in Eastbourne, United Kingdom. This was a popular seaside town often visited by Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson) who stayed at 7 Lushington Road, not far from where Agnes lived until her death on 20 August 1939, at age 93.

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