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Miss Hirst

Astronomical observer, dates of birth and death unknown

Exemplifying the invisibility of many early women in science, almost nothing is known of Miss Hirst, an astronomical observer from Auckland in the mid 19th century – even her first name. When her work was reported to the Monthly Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1875, S.J. Lambert, a Professor at Auckland University College, recorded that Miss Hirst was a practical and careful observer and had been engaged in astronomical work since 1859.1

Lambert was a Fellow of the London-based Royal Astronomical Society, and sent in Hirst’s drawings and observations on Jupiter at a time when interest in the planet’s coloured belts were high – it was the eve of the modern discovery of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.2,3 Others commented upon her most interesting note, that a little to the east of the planet’s south pole she could see: “a small oval patch of decided sea-green”.4

Image: Jupiter, taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, at a distance of 670 million kilometres from Earth. Source: Hubble ESA


1. S.J. Lambert, ‘Remarks on Drawings of Jupiter Made by Miss Hirst, at Auckland, New Zealand.’, Monthly Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1875.

2. Thomas A. Hockey, ‘Seeing Red: Observations of Colour in Jupiter’s Equatorial Zone on the Eve of the Modern Discovery of the Great Red Spot’, Journal for the History of Astronomy 23, no. 2 (May 1992): 93–105, doi:10.1177/002182869202300202.

3. Wayne Orchiston, Exploring the History of New Zealand Astronomy: Trials, Tribulations, Telescopes and Transits (Springer, 2015), p. 545.

4. Mary R. S. Creese and Thomas M. Creese, Ladies in the Laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian Women in Science: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Scarecrow Press, 2010), p. 99.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary