Monday, January 10, 2011

The Journal Book of the Royal Society and the Tabor Meteorite Fall

In my quest for more information on the Tabor meteorite fall, I mentioned in an earlier post that I was unfamiliar with the reference quoted for Tabor in Burke’s Cosmic Debris, that is: Journal Book of the Royal Society of London (1754-1757), XXII, 290-300.  I knew about the Philosophical Transactions, the journal of the Royal Society, but not the JBRS.

So I made a virtual trip over to London, and contacted my colleague Nichola Court, Archivist, Royal Society Centre for the History of Science in London, for some advice.  Nichola told me that the JBRS volumes are the manuscript minutes of the Society meetings that date all the way back to the very first meeting of the Royal Society on November 28, 1660.  Perhaps “account” is a better term than “minutes”, because the manuscripts give an overall picture of what transpired at the Society meetings and in what order the events took place, which allows one to place them in context.  Letters and reports were read, gifts and donations were made, and summaries were entered in the JBRS.  In some cases, the reports or letters might have been subsequently published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which was first issued in 1665, but they may have further condensed or altered.  So the JBRS and associated documentation provide the best picture for the historian as to what actually transpired at a Society meeting.

The first thing that was discovered was that Burke’s citation of volume and page range are a bit off.  The correct citation is JBRS (1754-1757), XXIII, 288-299, and the entire account of Stepling’s Tabor report is given on pages 298 and 299.  Images of the JBRS are displayed below (click once to enlarge and again to enlarge further) — this is the source material used by Burke for Cosmic Debris.  My thanks to Nichola Court and The Royal Society Centre for History of Science for their kind permission to allow the following quotations and display of copyrighted JBRS images on the Meteorite Manuscripts blog.

©Royal Society Centre for History of Science (JBO/23/298)

©Royal Society Centre for History of Science (JBO/23/299)

The above account of the February 26, 1756 meeting shows that Stepling's report was read at the end of the session, for it is described on the last two pages of the minutes, pages 298-299.  The letter was written by Stepling in Latin on 15th April 1755 and sent to Mr. James Short, F.R.S.  It  was subsequently translated by Dr. Parsons, and it was the translated letter that was summarized in the minutes of February 26, 1756.  [The JBRS contains some transcription errors, because it mistakenly lists the date of the letter as April 15th, 1753 and the fall as July 3, 1755].  Stepling’s translated letter first describes the cold winter and then continues:

Father Stepling further informs Mr. Short that on the 3rd of July 1755 [sic 1753] about eight in the evening, the air being still and but few clouds appearing there were three violent claps of thunder, the noise of which continued longer than usual, which being over, there fell from the air with great force, a shower of stones blackish without, and ash coloured within.  A Shepard seeing four stones coming from above at about 30 paces from him, ran and took up one of them, which he kept.  And another Shepard remembered to have seen the like at about 50 paces distance from him, he fixed his eyes upon two of them, which he observed raised the dust and shook the ground by its fall, and he found one of them pretty hot when he handled it.

This account Father Stepling had from Count Wratislaw, Governor of the Territory of Prague, &.

The meeting then concluded:

Thanks were ordered for this communication.

This information was fascinating to begin with, but then Nichola provided me with even more exciting news – The Royal Society Centre for the History of Science had Stepling’s original handwritten letter in Latin and Dr. Parsons's English translation in its Archives.  This provided a unique opportunity to see how the JBRS handled the original communications, which were never published in the Philosophical Transactions.

The chance to see Stepling’s account of the Tabor fall — in his own handwriting — is certainly worth waiting for.

So, we'll wait until the next post to keep the suspense running high!



  1. Many thanks for doing the research on the Tabor fall. It makes my acquisition of a wee bit of this fall that much more exciting!

    Thanks again,

    Chris. Spratt
    Victoria, BC

  2. Thanks Chris. I know how you feel! I have a small sample of the Tabor meteorite in my collection, and now that I have completed the research, it is that much more valuable to me.