Directors of the Mars Section




On this page are some historical details of past Directors of the Section written by Richard McKim, and a short autobiography of the present Director. In compiling these notes I have concentrated upon bringing out less well-known facts about selected past Directors, rather than repeating what is already common knowledge. The Section was founded in 1892, and Walter Maunder was its first Director.



E.W. Maunder (1892–1893). Edward Walter Maunder will always be remembered as the ‘father’ of the BAA. The story has been told in the BAA’s ‘First Fifty Years’ Memoir, and also by the writer in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 100 (4), 166–168 (1990). He made his reputation as a solar observer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, for his publication of the ‘Butterfly’ diagram of sunspots and for what became known as the ‘Maunder Minimum’ in solar activity. Well before 1892, the first opposition of Mars to fall within the timeline of the early Association, Maunder had been interested in the planet. He had made observations at Greenwich Observatory for several oppositions since 1877, and he had become an early opponent of the ‘canal’ hypothesis of Percival Lowell. The 1892 opposition was not an especially favourable one for British observers: the disk diameter was large but the altitude at opposition was fairly low. Nonetheless, the Memoir produced by Maunder is an example of careful analysis. In later years, Maunder would accumulate further evidence to help demolish Lowell’s theory. Maunder’s Obituary Notice was published in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 38, 229–233 (1928). (Photo: BAA Presidential portrait.)



B.E. Cammell (1893–1895). Bernard Edward Cammell is a bit of a mystery. He joined the BAA in 1892, and contributed some very artistic planetary drawings. He admitted, in the 1894 Mars Memoir, that he was a relative beginner in the study of the Red Planet, but nonetheless his drawings are actually very good. Always conscious of rising costs, the Council found his Memoir too long to publish in full, so the veteran Mars observer N.E. Green was asked to edit it for length. After resigning the Directorship in 1895, Cammell disappeared into obscurity. He was still a BAA member in 1904, but was no longer in the membership list for 1905. There is no published obituary. He lived at Wokingham, Berkshire, and used a 32-cm (12.5-inch) reflector for his work.



E.M. Antoniadi (1896–1917). Born in Istanbul, Turkey, to Greek parents, Eugene Michael Antoniadi was a legendary figure amongst the ranks of the classic planetary observers. Living in France from 1893, it was he who disposed of the illusory network of martian canals through his careful observations with the 83-cm OG of Meudon Observatory in 1909. He was also the first to recognise the greater frequency of ‘yellow’ clouds (dust storms) near perihelion. He directed the Mars Section with distinction, and his classic book The Planet Mars will always be valuable as an historical document. Antoniadi’s life was fully discussed by Richard McKim in a biographical paper in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 103 (4), 164–170 (1993) and 103 (5), 219–227 (1993). Since then I have discovered that Antoniadi was a good chess player, and once won an international tournament in Paris. (Photo: British Chess.)



H. Thomson (1917–1922). Harold Thomson was an accomplished planetary observer, who observed from Newcastle upon Tyne. Thomson was a co-discoverer of Nova Aquilae 1918. He also served a term of office as BAA President. Although an able successor to Antoniadi, Thomson retired from regular observational work after 1920. His obituary was published in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 73, 49–50 (1963). (Photo: BAA Presidential portrait.)



W.H. Steavenson (1922–1930). Dr William Herbert Steavenson – or Steave, as he was known to his friends – was a talented and eagle-eyed observer who trained as a surgeon. He was an active observer of Mars over many years, but his enduring interests were in optics and observing variable stars, especially old novae. He did not publish any full Mars reports during his Directorship, leading to a large backlog which was never dealt with by his successors! Steavenson used a 15-cm (6-inch) OG from his home in Norwood, London (illustrated in the famous book The Splendour of the Heavens, of which he was a co-author with the Rev. T.E.R. Phillips), and between 1918 and 1929 also had occasional use of the 28-inch refractor at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. His obituary notice is in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 86, 386–390 (1976). In his later years, Steave did not attend BAA meetings, and I regret that I never had the chance to meet him. (Photo: BAA Presidential portrait.)



B.M. Peek (1930–1931). Bertrand Meigh Peek is best remembered for his direction of the Jupiter Section and for his classic 1950s book, only the second ever written about the giant planet. Peek filled the gap left by Steavenson’s absence abroad for one apparition, so he never had a chance to show what he might have been able to achieve in the analysis of the observations. Peek contributed to the Section between the years 1924 and 1961. His son Brian is also a member of the Association. The short obituary notice for Peek, in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 76, 295 (1966), omits a few facts worthy of note. On the reverse side of the fine portrait from 1918, shown here, there are notes in Brian Peek’s handwriting about his father. ‘Bertrand Meigh Peek (1891–1964), M.A., F.R.A.S.; President of BAA 1938–40; Author The Planet Jupiter ; Three times winner Cambridge mathematics prize; Cambridge tennis champion – half blue; Member Anglo-Soviet chess match teams; Major in The Hampshires Regiment 1914–1918; Yachtsman; Composer of musical symphony; Early radio expert.’ The photograph was sent to the late Terry Broadbank of Poole (who named his observatory after Peek and Phillips), and was later acquired by me for the BAA.



R.L. Waterfield (1931–1942). Dr Reginald Lawson Waterfield worked as a haematologist for many years. He is best remembered for his astrometry and photography of comets, but he was also a keen planetary observer, who was especially interested in Mars. He made a good start to his Directorship, observing actively and publishing short reports in the Journal on the oppositions in 1933 and 1935. Then a long illness put him out of action in 1937; in 1939 Mars was very low, and in 1941 he was called up for active service and joined the R.A.M.C. He used a 15-cm (6-inch) OG at his private observatory, and after his death this instrument was put to work by Michael Hendrie in Colchester. Due to his disability from polio after the Second World War, and his confinement to a wheelchair, Reggie did not attend BAA meetings in his later years. We did have some conversations on the telephone, but never met each other. His obituary is in J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 97, 211–214 (1987). (Photo: BAA Mars Section archives.)



P.M. Ryves (1942–1956). Percy Mayow Ryves was an amateur astronomer whose prime interests were the planet Mars and variable stars. For the close opposition of Mars in 1922, and to offset the problem of its extreme S. declination, Ryves went to Tenerife, taking with him the optics for a 25-cm reflector. For many years after that he lived in Zaragoza, Spain, utilising the hot, dry climate to make long unbroken series of observations of variable stars, some of which he published in detail in the RAS Monthly Notices. He earned what must have been a rather meagre living by giving private tuition in English, though earlier in his life he had apparently been a farmer (as noted upon his application form to be a Fellow of the RAS). He did apply for a Royal Society grant to provide him with financial support to carry on with his variable-star work (and some of this information comes from that application, found by chance in some old RGO archives in Cambridge), but in 1937 the Spanish Civil War broke out. Ryves was obliged to move back to England. There he lived within easy reach of Reverend T.E.R. Phillips’ observatory at Headley, Surrey. After the Second World War he moved to London, and then finally to Lane End, near High Wycombe. Ryves was already a veteran observer when he took over the Section. He was no longer unable to take an active part in observing after 1941. He went to some lengths to sort the backlog of observations, and he dispersed them to a number of Section members for the duration of the war. Thus all the papers survived. With the help of Dr A.F.O’D. Alexander, Ryves finally published the observations for the favourable apparition of 1941 in a Memoir. He never managed to do anything with the rest of the material and the backlog of observations became insurmountable. In his last years Ryves started to publish a slim magazine for young people simply called Observation, one example of which I have in my files. Ryves was awarded the Walter Goodacre Medal of the BAA in 1955, but died in early 1956. Oddly, no obituary notice was published for him. In the index to Dr A.F.O’D. Alexander’s The Planet Uranus, Ryves’ year of birth is suggested to have been 1876. The only photograph of Ryves that I have ever been able to find comes from a group photograph taken at a joint meeting of the RAS and the Manchester Astronomical Society at Jodrell Bank in July 1949, and the portrait reproduced here is a grainy enlargement from that picture. Ryves had two ‘Assistants to the Director’ – Ben Burrell and W.E. Fox. Burrell was a photographer who lived in Doncaster, and Fox worked as an engineer in Newark. Burrell continued in this capacity under the next Director. (Photo: The Observatory, 69, 121f (1949).



E.H. Collinson (1956–1979). Edward Howard Collinson had a long professional career as a Suffolk solicitor. His astronomical interests were the planets and variable stars. He was also a pioneer of meteor photography. I knew Collinson quite well in his final years, and visited him several times at his home near Ipswich. His BAA obituary notice gives full details of his life: J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 101 (1), 12 –14 (1991). (Photo: BAA Presidential portrait.)



R.M. Baum (1979–1991). When the Directors of both the Mercury and Venus Section (J. Hedley Robinson) and the Mars Section retired in 1979, the BAA Council, acting on the advice of the Forward Look Committee, amalgamated the two Sections. It was felt by the committee that the observations of the inner planets needed to be revitalised, and that the Mars Section suffered from the long intervals between oppositions. Richard Baum thus became the first – and only – Director of the Terrestrial Planets Section. An accomplished astronomical writer as well as a trained artist, Baum was well qualified for the job. Baum set to work with enormous energy, and with the aid of Coordinators for each planet as well as a Section Committee, he soon achieved excellent results. A number of well-attended Section meetings were held, and a regular newsletter, Inner Planets News, was published. The observation of asteroids was introduced, and this group soon became a separate Section. A.J. Hollis served as Mars Coordinator during 1980–81, and R.J. McKim from 1981 onwards. By 1991 it seemed that the Section had achieved its objectives, and its original component groups were re-established. (Photo: BAA Mars Section archives (1984).)



R.J. McKim (appointed 1991)

Some autobiographical ramblings from the present Director (1 August 2003)… I was born in Colchester, Essex, the son of John McKim of Greenock, Scotland, and Marjorie McKim (maiden name Blatch) of Colchester. John McKim had been a professional footballer who played three seasons with Chelsea Football Club (1947–50) and five seasons with Colchester United. I was never any good at football, but I did become a reasonably proficient skier. Marjorie McKim was talented musically, and some of this must have rubbed off on me as I enjoy playing the clarinet, flute and piano. My interest in astronomy began at an early age, my father teaching me some constellations and recalling the great aurorae he had seen from Scotland. A partial solar eclipse and the Apollo programme of the 1960s added further interest. In 1972 a 40-mm refractor was purchased second-hand in Colchester, and the following summer a 216-mm Newtonian was built for viewing Jupiter and Mars. Early on I specialised in observing the Sun, Moon and planets, as well as bright comets.


Today I use a home-built observatory in my rear garden with a 41-cm (16.1-inch) Dall–Kirkham Cassegrain telescope with optics by Jim Hysom.

      By profession I am a chemist. I have a PhD from Cambridge University, where I worked in what was then called the Physical Chemistry Department. (My Doctoral thesis was entitled ‘The Corrosion-Passivation Behaviour of Glassy Ferrous-Based Alloys.’) I measured different alloys for their corrosion and stress–corrosion characteristics and examined corroded surfaces with a scanning electron microscope. And there was also the chance to use the Thorrowgood (20-cm) and Northumberland (30-cm) refractors of Cambridge University Observatory.

      I joined the BAA in 1973. My first friends in the Association were J. Hedley Robinson and Alan Heath (then Saturn Section Director), and my first published drawing in the Journal is one of Venus made when I was 17 years old. The first paper I published was in collaboration with a friend from school, Keith Blaxall, being an analysis of the intensity and colour variations in Saturn’s belts and zones during the course of a Saturnian year. We found evidence for both seasonal and secular effects (J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 94 (4), 145–151 (1984), 94 (5), 211–222 (1984), and 94 (6), 249–255 (1984)). Later, Alan Heath and I analysed the Section’s observations of the Great White Spot of 1990.

      In 1979 I joined the committee of the new Terrestrial Planets Section, and by 1981 was the Coordinator for Mars observations. Realising the value of the many unpublished archival BAA observations of that planet – almost nothing having been published between 1922 and 1954 – I set about analysing them to look for records of dust storms. This project gradually became more ambitious as I realised the many gaps and mistakes in existing lists of dust storms, and I eventually decided to correlate the BAA work with everything I could find in the literature and in other archives. In 1999 the work was published as a BAA Memoir, 44, entitled ‘Telescopic Martian Dust Storms: a Narrative and Catalogue’, the first (and so far the only) book devoted to the subject. (See Memoir for details of how to buy a copy!)

      There was also much routine desk-work to do, and by 1991 the Mars Section had again become a separate group. I was responsible for compiling all the Mars Section Reports from the 1979–80 apparition onwards. I realised that my predecessor as Director (E.H. Collinson) had made too little use of the material in his hands, and therefore made the final Reports much more detailed analyses of the data. Indeed, the successive editors of the Journal in the 1960s and 70s had published most of the planetary drawings at too small a scale: I was pleased to have had a hand in reversing this trend! Over the years I have had the chance to collaborate with many amateur and professional astronomers, and to use several of the World’s largest telescopes. There were several memorable visits to Meudon to use the ‘Grande Lunette’ (the 83-cm (33-inch) OG) with Prof. Audouin Dollfus (and occasionally Dr S. Ebisawa) and numerous members of the Société Astronomique de France, a trip to Pic du Midi (1-metre Cassegrain) with Jean Dragesco, a visit to Flagstaff (60-cm OG) with Tom Cave, and several weeks in Florence using the fine Arcetri Observatory refractor with Marco Falorni.

      In the course of using the Meudon ‘Grande Lunette’, I became fascinated by the life of another predecessor in this office, E.M. Antoniadi, who had used it extensively from 1909 to 1941. This interest led to a two-part biography, the first comprehensive study of Antoniadi’s life. Audouin Dollfus kindly translated it into French and it appeared in the Bullétin of the SAF. Other biographical studies followed, and I was also responsible for editing the BAA Memoir dealing with the Association’s history during 1940–1990. So there are papers about W.R. Dawes’ drawings of Mars (written jointly with R.A.Marriott), E. Walter Maunder and the formation of the BAA in 1890, Camille Flammarion and the Juvisy Observatory, Major P.B. Molesworth and the discovery of Jupiter’s South Tropical Disturbance in 1901, E.A.L. Attkins’ trip to Madeira in 1924, Nathaniel Green’s life and work as an artist and astronomer, and (the latest project) the life and times of Henry McEwen of Glasgow, the very first Director of the Association’s Mercury and Venus Section. (See Bibliography and Historical notes.)

      I have also served as an officer in the Jupiter Section, and have written five Section Reports in two Memoirs (dealing with the oppositions of 1973, 1974, 1979, 1980 and 1981), which helped to clear up a large backlog of unpublished work, and have completed several book chapters dealing with planetary astronomy and provided illustrations for numerous books, magazines and journals. I also enjoy painting non-astronomical scenes in watercolours. For Cambridge University Press I translated Jean Dragesco’s French typescript for his High Resolution Astrophotography into English, and it was published in 1995. (See the BAA Instruments and Imaging Section web site for Ron Arbour’s review of this book.)

      During the years 1993–95 I served as President of the British Astronomical Association, starting the ‘From the President’ column. This was a very enjoyable period, but also a terribly busy one. I was honoured to receive the Association’s Merlin Medal in 1985 and its Goodacre Medal in 1996. In 1995 the Société Astronomique de France awarded me their Prix Flammarion; and in September 2003 the International Astronomical Union honoured me by renaming minor planet 7845 (1996 AC), which is now known as 7845 Mckim..

      I live in a small rural village in Northamptonshire, England, with my wife Michaela (whom I married in 2000) and our daughter Michelle Anna (born April 2003).




Mars, drawn by Richard McKim

1986 July 18

1-metre Cassegrain

Pic du Midi Observatory



Jupiter, drawn by Richard McKim

2003 February 17

41-cm Dall–Kirkham



Comet Hale–Bopp, drawn by Richard McKim

1997 April 11

10 x 50 and 20 x 60 binoculars