John Nevil Maskelyne








The Easter novelty at the " home of mystery " in Piccadilly is an exhibition of Mr R. W. Paul's latest development of the results of continuous and instantaneous photography, whereby animated pictures from scenes of everyday life are thrown upon a screen, Mr Nevil Maskelyne acts as lecturer, and in a brief introduction recounts the history of the ancient zoetrope, or wheel of life. Similar in principle to the zoetrope was the gyroscope, exhibited sixty years since in a gallery of the Polytechnic. This was a wheel of black silhouette figures revolving before a mirror, giving the appearance of vitality. Half a century afterwards Mr Edison produced his kinetoscope-a band of progressive photographs passing before the eye of the spectator applied to an optical peephole, and creating the effects of life and motion. Mr R. W. Paul's apparatus shows us a series of pictures of photography come to life- photography taken "in the action." The first moving scene announced by Mr Nevil Maskelyne is a hand practice. The music of the march that one may imagine is being played is given on the pianoforte by Mr F. Cramer. A number of Highland dancers are scarcely quick enough in their movements; but the remark does not apply to the graceful evolutions of a serpentine dancer or to the good-natured boxing of a couple of trained cats. The animated pictures are likely to be very popular. The interest of Mr R. W. Paul's invention is inexhaustible, for the attraction may be revived again and again by new pictures. Early in the Egyptian Hall programme comes Mr David Devant to puzzle us with his sleight-of-hand. One of his latest tricks is to produce three selected cards on a sort of cricket bat, at which the whole pack is thrown. Some other experiments with black water and colourless water are very curious and interesting-not more so, however, than the exhibition of Mr Nevil Maskelyne's clever mechanical illusion, “The Phoenix," which is received at every performance with the loudest applause. "The Birth of Flora" still holds its place in the programme, and affords food for much speculation as to how a large bouquet is evolved apparently from space. The modus operandi, too, by which the young lady who takes the part of the Queen of Flowers conceals herself within the posy is also a puzzler. Mr R. A. Roberts pleasantly varies the entertainment with his "chapeaugraphic " impersonations, which have been previously described in these columns. In the short sketch at the piano Mr Roberts introduces a lively song on the polka, which he illustrates by much capital by-play and movement. He might with advantage elaborate the musical portion of his entertainment by some humorous introductory remarks. The Egyptian Hall entertainment concludes with a revival of Mr Maskelyne's famous old magical sketch entitled Will, the Witch, and the Watchman, which is as droll as it is mysterious. That wonderful box, the invention of Mr Maskelyne, is as surprising as ever. The audience see the veteran Mr Cooke get inside it, and a committee of two assist at his voluntary incarceration; but how does he get out of the corded receptacle, change his dress to his original character of a sailor, and reappear in the cabinet? As our old friend Lord Dundreary was so fond of saying-that is one of the things that no fellah can understand. Mr J. B. Hansard assists the fun of the sketch by his droll presentment of the Irishman. Miles Mooney, and Miss Olive Elton is an attractive and coquettish Dolly. Mr Maskelyne's witch is full of diablerie, and Mr Cooke is wonderfully agile as the monkey. No notice of the entertainment would be complete without a tribute of praise to Mr F. Cramer's manipulation of Mr Maskelyne's mechanical and automatic orchestra-a wonderful combination of musical instruments.The Era, London, 18 April 1896, 16.



On Monday evening last the Victoria Hall was well filled with people desirous of witnessing exhibition by Mr. David Devant of the wonderful Cinematographe, which reproduces before the eye scenes with the most minute details of action. The exhibition was very interesting and varied, and did credit to the promoter’s enterprise. Something like 40 scenes were reproduced on the screen, including some events in the recent Jubilee celebrations. These later pictures were specially taken by Mr. Maskelyne, of the Egyptian Hall, London, and are now being shown by Mr. Devant up and down the provinces. The exhibition opened with a very interesting scene, showing the departure of work people from a factory, which was followed by lively representations of Mr. Maskelyne spinning plates and Mr. David Devant conjuring. A very good piece was that depicting two children playing on some sands, making a little mound of sand, and throwing up the sand and water with their little spades. Another playing scene showed two evidently spoiled children riding a donkey and St. Bernard dog respectively under the watchful care their guardians. A representation of fire brigade “turn-out" from a London Fire Station evoked much appreciation. Although taken early in the morning, when there was not much light, the engines, tenders, and fire escapes emerging from the station at full gallop could be seen distinctly. A fire scene showed how calmly the fireman performs his hazardous work amid stifling smoke, and in blazing buildings. The rescue of the horses from the burning stables was worth seeing. The Boulevarde des Italiens, Paris, was the best street scene shown during the evening, and this was followed by the arrival of the Paris express at Calais and the "twins' tea party,” the latter faithfully reproducing children’s playfulness. A garden comedy, wherein the small boy repaid for teasing the gardener the latter turning the hose on him, and administering a sound thrashing, was very amusing, and the first portion of the programme concluded with the finish of the Prince’s Derby, 1896. During an interval Mr. Griffith Humphrey entertained the audience with a musical sketch, entitle “Concert curiosities,” creating much laughter. The cinematographe exhibition was resumed a representation of a Spanish bull fight, which was one of the clearest pictures shown, as was also a French wedding scene. The Vanishing Lady and the lightning cartoonist drawing portrait of the Queen were much admired, being withal very amusing. The droll “White-eyed Kaffir” (Chirgwin) was also brought to view, and scenes from Brighton beach and Paris were very interesting. A charge of cavalry aroused the martial instincts of a portion of the audience, who did not take much notice of the American express, “Black Diamond,” running at a speed of 70 miles an hour, although they swallowed the joke that that was a speed seldom exceeded even on our South Coast railways. A scene from the recent Graeco-Turkish War was reproduced. This was the taking of a fort by the Turks, and was much admired. Another musical sketch Mr. Griffith Humphrey preceded the Jubilee pictures, which were, of course, the great attraction of the evening. The arrival of the Queen at St. Paul's called forth as much cheering from the audience as if they had been actually present on the great occasion, and certainly those assembled at the Victoria Hall saw much those who paid their guineas for seats around St. Paul’s Churchyard.



Bexhill-on-Sea Observer, Bexhill-on-Sea, 4 September 1897, 5.


Tournage de l'Eclipse du soleil (mai)

At Washington we were joined by our chief colleague, Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., to whom a terrible mischance had occurred. He was the designer of the kinematograph telescope, the film of which had been mysteriously stolen when in my custody at the last eclipse in India, and now by another strange fatality the optical part of the same instrument was missing, having by an oversight never been shipped in London, and thus a second time this novel instrument seemed for the moment doomed to failure.
But our unrivalled mechanician, whose genius is so well known to every frequenter of the Egyptian Hall, had already determined on the Herculean task of manufacturing an adequate telescope and fittings from selected photographic lenses, and of completing the work within the three or four working days that at most would be at his disposal. The endeavour was like that of a sailor attempting single-handed to rig a jury mast under stress of weather when his main mast had gone by the board; but our friend faced it, and so, having caught us up, was hurrying down to the front with a jaded look, in sooth, but with set purpose in his eye. p. 7-8.


But in spite of little twilight there were daylight hours early and late when work could and did get on apace, and when two days later the rest of the party joined us preparations were fairly advanced. Mr. N. Maskelyne was still slaving at his stupendous task which was eventually crowned with complete success. Mrs. Maskelyne kindly took over the management of a clock-driven actinometer which at my desire her husband had designed. Miss Woolston elected to confine her attention to photographing the Corona, Miss Dixon took charge of the opera glass spectroscope, the same instrument that she had used at the eclipse at Buxar, Mr. G. Dixon, whose skill as an operator is second to none, essayed single handed to take photographs of the Corona with a three inch o.g. by Dollond, and with a tele-photo camera. My daughter was provided with a battery of four cameras, with which she proposed to photograph the outer extensions, using Dallmeyer and other lenses ranging from f/6 to f/12. I myself was using the same telescopic camera of 4.1 o.g. with which my son had successfully photographed the inner Corona at Buxar. Other work of a minor character was also undertaken, and the day before the Eclipse our camp unexpectedly received the addition of Mr. Hadden, an American member of the B.A.A., using a three inch equatorial refractor. p. 13.



BESIDE our attempt to photograph the long coronal streamers, one great object with us in the recent eclipse was to push a little further the experiment which we had made in India in photographing the corona out of totality. For this purpose we took in all some forty photographs during the partial phase, with varying instruments and exposures, and our experiments have been very strikingly supplemented by the work which Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., carried on with his kinematograph in America. Mr. Maskelyne's instrument had an aperture of 3 1/2 inches, which was stopped down before and after totality to an aperture of 3/8th of an inch. The instrument was run for about 5 ¾ minutes, commencing some 25 seconds before totality, and running for nearly 4 minutes after totality was ended. In all 1187 exposures were made, 87 before totality, 299 during totality, and 801 after. The corona is seen very definitely on the first exposure, and can be traced right away to number 841, that is to say, to number 455 after the return of sunlight. Allowing 0.29 seconds for the mean interval between the middle of one exposure and that of the next, this gives us for the last photograph showing the corona, the time 2m. 12s. after the return of sunlight. This duration is worked out by assuming that the duration of the photographic eclipse was the same as that of the visual, the latter having been observed by Prof. Flint with a 3-inch equatorial, at the same station of Wadesborough. p. 143.


Mr. Maskelyne's kinematograph film is of special interest by the way in which it enables us to trace the gradual fading of the corona in the face of the increasing sunlight. The aperture was the same with all the film photographs -after the diaphragm was put on,- the exposure was the same in all cases, the only variable was the increasing arc of sunlight. The exposure was equivalent to about 1/60th of a second with f/15, and the film may be considered as about as quick as an ordinary "rapid" plate. It is very instructive of the conditions of the problem to note how quickly, after the first bead of sunlight is seen, the outer corona fades and disappears; and also that when the aperture is cut down, diminishing the exposure almost to 1/90th of what it was when the aperture was full, the corona is almost lost at first, but reappears, and for some little time becomes stronger as the sunlight strengthens, fading again when the sky-glare becomes too strong for that exposure and aperture. There can be no doubt that could the exposure have been gradually shortened as the sunlight gradually increased, the corona would have been traced on the film further still. p. 145.


To sum up, we learn from Mr. Maskelyne's film, that to secure the inner corona from half-minute to one minute after totality is over, an exposure of about one-hundredth of what is necessary for a full representation of the corona in totality is required. Earlier the exposure should be somewhat longer for best effect, later it should be diminished. In this way Mr. Maskelyne has followed the corona two minutes and twelve seconds after totality on a single coated film, and we have increased our Indian record of thirty-nine seconds to five minutes, very faintly shown on a Sandell triple-coat, and this again is extended to eight minutes by Mr. Willis's photograph. The advance made is a real advance indeed, but exceedingly small as compared with the full magnitude of the problem. Indeed our progress is rather towards a truer appreciation of its difficulties than towards its solution.
A. S. D. MAUNDER. p. 146.

E. WALTER MAUNDER, F.R.A.S., The Total Solar Eclipse 1900, London, Knowledge Office, 1901.





Following closely upon the termination of the season of Maskelyne and Cooke at the Egyptian Hall, London, and simultaneously with the demolition of that building, comes news of the death of Mr. George Alfred Cooke, the celebrated Cheltonian who was associated with a fellow townsman in the rise and progress of the most unique and scientific entertainment in London. His death occurred on Thursday night at the Gables, Twickenham, after a protracted illness at the age of 79.
Of the two who afterwards made their names a household word the one was an innkeeper's son apprenticed to a watchmaker, and the other has been described by Mr. W. E. Adams, in his " Memoirs of a Social Atom," as "as poor a lad as any in the town, with no relative but his mother." As young men the two were thrown together -Maskelyne a youth with natural aptitude for scientific research and a perfect mastery of mechanical resources, and Cooke a marvel of physical dexterity. Together they often amused local audiences, and especially when in the company of the members of the old Cotswold Rifle Volunteers, with exhibitions of conjuring, plate-spinning, etc. These entertainments were generally given free of charge, and it was only an accident that led them on to the prominent position they held for the succeeding generation. Their knowledge and resource proved of the highest value in the exposure of quacks and charlatans. especially those notorious impostors from America, the Davenport Brothers, sons of a detective in the U.S.A. police, and well acquainted with the rope-tricks of the Indian jugglers. The Davenports arrived in London from America in September, 1864, and gave a private seance at the residence of the late Mr. Dion Boucicault. Afterwards they appeared at the Hanover Square Rooms, and presently the country was ringing with the wonders of Ira Erastus and William Henry Davenport. The late Professor Anderson, the "Wizard of the North," immediately challenged them, and M. Tolmaque, a conjurer, did the same, but the bounce of the impostors carried them through until, in an unlucky moment, they came Cheltenham in 1865. There, through the fall of a piece of drugget excluding the light from the windows -its was a morning performance- Mr. Maskelyne was able to see the "supernatural" working of Ira and his tambourine. The result of all this was the complete discomfiture of two specious quacks, and the familiar exposure in Cheltenham in 1865 and at the Egyptian Hall, commencing in 1871, of the "dark cabinet" séance and other time-honoured swindles. The only difference between the Davenports and Maskelyne and Cooke was that the latter achieved marvels which would have utterly baffled the "spiritualistic" achievements of the former. Mr. Maskelyne's was always the dominating intelligence, but Mr. Cooke, during the time he was connected with the show, executed some marvellous feats, prominent among them being one in which, while apparently deprived of the power to move head, hand or foot, he drank a glass of water, drove nails into wood, and cut devices out of paper with a pair of scissors, finally extricating himself from the meshes which bound him without any of the onlookers having the faintest idea how the trick was worked. Many patrons will remember his quaint spare figure, which figured in so many admirable character parts in the magical sketches which formed a staple of the entertainment at England’s home of mystery. They will recall his jolly sailor and ubiquitous gorilla in "Will, the Witch, and the Watchman"; his Gloucestershire farmer, who, in order to rid himself of a "buzzin” in his yed," submitted to decapitation; and his Indian in "The Enchanted Fakir," who turned out to be merely a bibulous English showman. For nearly thirty years Mr. Cooke sustained characters the semi-humorous, semi-scientific sketches at the Egyptian Hall, and many ways contributed to the success of an entertainment whose value as lessons in common sense to the credulous cannot easily over-rated.
Mr Cooke ever kindly remembered the town of his birth, and until his great age and infirmity confined him to his home, paid frequent visits to his relatives and friends in the Garden Town.Cheltenham Chronicle - Saturday 11 February 1905, p. 7.




As an instance of the enterprise shewn by the operators in animated photography it may be stated that Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke, during their stay in York, will exhibit films depicting the departure of Sir Redvers Buller and his staff from Southampton for South Africa on Saturday last.

York Herald, Saturday 21 October 1899, p. 3.


The Eclipse of the Sun (Maskelyne)


The total eclipse was well observed the Royal Alfred Observatory, Mauritius. The partial eclipse was partly lost owing to cloud. The first contact was entirely lost, but the last three contacts were well observed. The party at the observatory included twenty-two observers. In all fifty-two photographs of the corona were obtained with the photo-heliograph the Mauritius Observatory, the Greenwich coronograph, the Newbegin telescope, and other smaller cameras. Forty-one photographs of the partial phase were also taken for the diameter and place of the moon, and eighteen photographs were taken of the spectrum. Mr. Piggott drew the corona with the 6in. equatorial, and Mrs. Ireland drove the Maskelyne kinematograph. Mr. Claxton had organised a scheme of meteorological observations over a wide area for the detection evidence of an eclipse cyclone' The corona was of the expected minimum type, but seemed fainter and yellower, more diffused, and less definite than in the eclipse of May.

Derbyshire Courier, Tuesday 28 May 1901, p. 4.

The Funeral Procession of the Late Empress Frederick (Maskelyne)