Caroline Herschel’s manuscript memoir – £108,000 in a private sale from Christie’s.

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The Anglo-German family are known for their work in astronomy, science and maths, stretching from the 18th to the 20th century.

Musician William Herschel (1738-1822), and later his sister Caroline (1750-1848), came to England in the 18th century from Saxony and became famous astronomers, discovering Uranus in 1781 and several comets.

William’s son Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), an astronomer and polymath who was also an inventor, mathematician, chemist, botanist, philosopher and developed a photographic process, had been awarded three Royal Society medals.

His gold 1833 Royal Society King’s medal sold for a hammer price of £45,000 (or £54,000 including buyer’s premium) at Morton & Eden’s Orders, Medals and Decorations auction on December 7. It was bought by a UK buyer.


Sir John Herschel’s 1833 Royal Society King’s medal – £45,000 at Morton & Eden.

The medal last appeared at auction more than 70 years ago when it sold for £155.

The whereabouts of Sir John’s two other Royal Society Gold Medals (from 1836 and 1840), which had also sold at the same 1951 auction, is unknown.

The Herschels’ former home in Bath is now The Herschel Museum of Astronomy.

The museum recently completed fundraising to buy Caroline’s manuscript memoir, which was purchased from Christie’s Private Sales for £108,000.

Owned by a private individual in the UK, Christie’s said the manuscript has a “direct family provenance… never previously offered for sale”.

The museum was able to raise the funds with £50,000 from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, £33,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £20,000 from Friends of the National Libraries plus the proceeds of a public appeal.

The 57-page document, written c.1836 when Caroline was 86, is an important addition to the Herschel Museum’s collection, not least because her many achievements were historically overshadowed by those of her brother, William.

This manuscript consists of two chapters of Caroline’s draft recollections, which form the content for The Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel published after her death in 1876. Although the edited text of this draft was published, much of the colourful material Caroline wrote was removed.

Claire Dixon, director of Museums for Bath Preservation Trust, said the purchase “fundamentally enhances our ability to tell the story of Caroline Herschel and her globally significant role in science”.

In March the museum bought a Herschel visitor book that had been owned by collectors Dr and Mrs A Koester.