Smith, Elske v. P. , (Elske van Panhuys), 1929- , compiler. Photographs of Boyden
Station in South Africa, circa 1930s-1950s : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Call No.: HUY 178
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Smith, Elske v. P. , (Elske van Panhuys), 1929-
Title: Photographs of Boyden Station in South Africa
Date(s): circa 1930s-1950s
Quantity: 0.35 cubic feet (1 document box)
Quantity: 182 photographs
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Boyden Station was established by Harvard University in 1889 to allow for observations
from the Southern Hemisphere. The observatory was originally located in Arequipa,
Peru, but was relocated to a spot near Bloemfontien in the Orange Free State, South
Africa in 1927 due to better weather. The collection includes 182 photographs, which
probably date from the 1930s to 1950s. The images depict Boyden Station, as well as
its surrounding areas, including employees, equipment, and local South African residents.
Transferred to the Harvard University Archives in October 2016.
The photographs were transferred to the Harvard University Archives from the Harvard
College Observatory's Plate Stacks; it is unknown how or when they were received by
the Plate Stacks.
This collection was processed in August 2017 by Olivia Mandica-Hart. Processing involved
a collection survey and the creation of this finding aid. This finding aid was created
by Olivia Mandica-Hart in August 2017.
Titles enclosed in brackets were devised by the archivist; otherwise, titles were
transcribed from an original list of the photographs. Unless specifically indicated
by the archivist, all photographs date from the 1930s to the 1950s.
This document last updated 2018 February 22.
Open for research.
Smith, Elske v. P., (Elske van Panhuys), 1929-. Photographs of Boyden Station in South
Africa, circa 1930s-1950s. HUY 178, Harvard University Archives.
The Harvard University Archives also holds the Records of Boyden Station, Bloemfontein,
South Africa, 1907-1956 (UAV 630.110) and Miscellaneous items relating to Boyden Station,
1887-1951 (inclusive) (UAV 630.451).
The Harvard College Observatory was founded by the Harvard Corporation in Cambridge,
Massachusetts in 1839. Boyden Station was established in order to make astronomical
observations from the Southern Hemisphere, and was originally located in Arequipa,
Peru. The station was moved to a spot near Bloemfontien in the Orange Free State,
South Africa in 1927 due to better weather conditions; the South African climate was
considered better suited to astronomical observations because it had less cloud cover
The research activities at Boyden Station focused on photographic and photoelectric
observations of stars and star fields in the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds, and
variable stars in the Southern hemisphere. Astronomers at Boyden discovered several
comets and asteroids.
Financial issues at Harvard almost led to the closure of Boyden in 1954, but several
European countries (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Sweden) contributed
to funding the observatory. Harvard, which had transferred the title to the Smithsonian
Institution, withdrew its financial support in 1976, when the station was donated
to the University of the Free State, which continues to operate the observatory today.
Elske van Panhuys Smith, astronomer and solar physicist, was born on November 9, 1929
in Monte Carlo, Monaco. She came to the United States in 1943 and received her B.S.
in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1950, her MA in 1951, and her PhD in 1956.
She married Henry J. Smith in 1950; Smith served as Superintendent of the Boyden Station
of the Harvard College Observatory in South Africa from 1952 to 1954. She was on the
faculty at the University of Maryland for more than 15 years and was dean and director
of the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. She retired
in 1995 and returned to Massachusetts.
Photographs are arranged in their original order as received.
The collection consists of 182 black and white photographs of various sizes, which
date from approximately the 1930s to 1950s, and depict views of the Boyden Station
and its surrounding area, station buildings, Observatory employees, telescopes, and
other scientific equipment. Also includes photographs of Africans on staff at the
Observatory, including an employee named Izaak, as well as African settlements, various
snakes killed at the station, children in special dress, and a Bantu wedding ceremony.
According to a note accompanying the collection, the photographs came from Elske van
Panhuys Smith via Owen Gingerich. The precise date of the photographs is unclear;
Smith's husband, Henry J. Smith, served as Superintendent of the Boyden Station of
the Harvard College Observatory in South Africa from 1952 to 1954, and some of the
photographs may date from this time period. However, most of the photographs seem
to relate to the construction and installation of the 60" telescope, which was installed
at the station in 1933. It is possible that Smith took the photographs back to the
United States after she and her husband left the station in the mid-1950s.
- [Typewritten photograph list] Box 1, Folder 1
Date: January 1997
Scope and Contents: Typed list with numbered descriptions of the collection's photographs. Includes a
handwritten note, "List of historical photos of Boyden Station in South Africa. From
Elske v P Smith via Owen Gingerich, 1/1997."
- Views from Harvard Koppie 7 photographs Box 1 Folder 2
Scope and Contents: Includes seven landscape photographs. Title on the photograph list says, "Views from
Harvard Koppie (that is what the koppie was referred to as far as I can recollect)."
Biographical / Historical: A "koppie" or "kopje" is a South African word referring to a small hill that is located
in an otherwise flat area.
- General views of Boyden Station at different times 8 photographs Box 1 Folder 3
Scope and Contents: Title on the photograph list says, "General views of Boyden Station at different times
(note height of trees!): Patrol cameras platform, 8" Bache, 10" Metcalf, 13" Boyden,
24" Bruce (Later ADH building), Administration Building."
- General views of Boyden Station facing in opposite direction, toward 60" telescope
turret 4 photographs Box 1 Folder 4
- Administration building 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 5
- Director's Residence [and] garage, servant's quarters 16 photographs Box 1 Folder 6
- Gardens, etc. at Station 6 photographs Box 1 Folder 7
- Administration building [and] Residence 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 8
- 60" telescope 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 9
- 60" telescope turret at various stages of construction 7 photographs Box 1 Folder 10
- Wheel system for rotating turret 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 11
- Construction of 60" telescope building entrance 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 14
- Origin of 60" telescope turrets parts? 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 15
- Unloading of parts of 60" telescope 4 photographs Box 1 Folder 16
- 60" telescope RA mount, with Pareskevopoulos? 1 photographs Box 1, Folder 18
Date: [before 1951]
Biographical / Historical: John Stefanos Paraskevopoulos (1889-1951) was Superintendent of the Boyden Station.
He was born on June 20, 1889 in Greece, and received his Doctorate of Science from
the University of Athens in 1910. In September 1923, Pareskevopoulos accepted the
Superintendent position from Harvard College Observatory Director Dr. Harlow Shapley,
a job he held until his sudden death in 1951.
- 60" telescope mirror in crate 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 22
- 60" telescope - note Grubb Parsons plaque 2 photographs Box 1 Folder 23
Biographical / Historical: Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Co. Ltd. was a telescope manufacturer, more commonly
known as Grubb Parsons. It was originally founded in Dublin, Ireland, then based in
Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
- 60" telescope ready for operation (see also 7) 2 photographs Box 1 Folder 24
Scope and Contents: Includes two nearly identical photographs.
Processing Information: The "see also 7" part of the title refers to the original numbered photograph list;
number 7 on the list is "60" telescope."
- 60" telescope, rods may be part of re-figuring system 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 26
- 13" refractor: Boyden refractor 2 photographs Box 1 Folder 28
- Izaak and Mike Bester (?) at 13" refractor 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 29
Biographical / Historical: Michael Bester had many responsibilities as an employee of the Boyden Station, including
Scope and Contents: Includes three photographs of two men, one of whom is shown climbing into the refractor.
- Mike Bester at one of patrol cameras 2 photographs Box 1 Folder 31
- 24" Bruce telescope 18 photographs Box 1 Folder 32
Scope and Contents: Title on the photograph list says, "24" Bruce telescope (Bruce was dismantled in 1950
and replaced by ADH, Armagh-dunsink-Harvard telescope)."
Biographical / Historical: The 24 inch Bruce Astrograph was a refracting telescope built in 1893 by Alvan Clark
[and] Sons. After being used for many years at the Observatory in Arequipa, Peru,
it was brought to Bloemfontein and housed in a building with a roll-off roof. Harlow
Shapley discovered the Sculptor and Fornax dwarf galaxies, the first of their kind,
with plates taken by this telescope. In 1950, it was replaced by the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard
- Bruce telescope building 2 photographs Box 1 Folder 33
- 10" Metcalf telescope [and] building 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 34
Biographical / Historical: The Metcalf was one of the most historically important instruments at Boyden. The
telescope did ground-breaking work, especially at the Harvard Southern Station and
during its early years at Bloemfontein. The 10" Metcalf was built by Joel H. Metcalf,
a noted amateur astronomer of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The telescope
contributed to numerous publications by South African and international astronomers.
- 8" Bache telescope? 3 photographs Box 1 Folder 35
Biographical / Historical: The Bache telescope was first used at "Mount Harvard" near Chosica, Peru, where the
first photometric measurements of Southern Stars were made in May, 1890. It was also
used in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Willows, California; Arequipa, Peru; and Bloemfontein,
- "Native" African compound or settlement on Koppie 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 36
- African staff, Izaak 2nd from left 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 37
- African staff, Izaak on left 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 38
- Izaak with snake 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 40
- Bantu wedding - Izaak at far right? 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 41
Scope and Contents: Photograph depicts a bride and groom, as well as two male wedding guests.
Biographical / Historical: Beginning in the 1920s, Africans from South Africa were at times officially referred
to as "Bantu" by the apartheid regime. The term "Bantu" is derived from the word for
"people," common to many of the Bantu languages, and is used without pejorative connotations
in other parts of Africa. However, the Oxford Dictionary of South African English
describes its use in a racial context as "obsolescent and offensive" because of its
association with white minority rule and the apartheid system.
- Bantu child dressed for special occasion 1 photographs Box 1 Folder 42
Astronomy -- Research
Harvard University -- Astronomy
Boyden Station (Bloemfontein, South Africa)
Astronomical observatories -- South Africa.
Harvard College Observatory
Paraskevopoulos, J. S.