What Makes a Telescope “Great”?

Observations on the restoration of a once great reflector

Matthew Churchward, Barry Adcock & Matilda Vaughan

The Great Melbourne Telescope was built in Dublin by Thomas Grubb & Son and installed at Melbourne Observatory in 1869. After relocation to Canberra in 1945, it was modified and upgraded three times for modern astronomy. In 2003 a firestorm engulfed Mt Stromlo Observatory, leaving the telescope as an abandoned rusting skeleton.

Fortunately many of its historic components had already been rescued and returned to Melbourne for safekeeping in the museum’s collection store, providing the basis for a restoration project that began in 2008. Championed by a dedicated group of volunteers from the Astronomical Society of Victoria, the goal is to restore the telescope to working order and return it to Melbourne Observatory, for educational and public astronomy.

In this talk, three key members of the restoration team will discuss aspects of the forensic investigation undertaken to rediscover how the telescope was designed and built. While of historical interest, this work also helps guide practical decisions about how to preserve the significance of the telescope and authentically restore key elements of its original design. There are also opportunities to unobtrusively introduce some more modern materials and optics to help provide the best possible viewing experience.


  • Matthew Churchward is Senior Curator of Engineering & Transport at Museums Victoria. During 25 years of experience leading restoration projects he has tackled everything from steam traction engines, motor vehicles and tractors to horse-drawn coaches.
  • Barry Adcock is a Research Associate at Museums Victoria and a Past President of the Astronomical Society of Victoria. He had a career in tertiary education and has pursued a lifelong interest in astronomy, designing and building several telescopes for himself and public observatories.
  • Matilda Vaughan is Curator of Engineering at Museums Victoria. She has been involved with the telescope restoration since 2012 and enjoys researching historical manufacturing methods and materials with an engineering eye.

This lecture was part of the History, Culture & Collections 2017 lecture series held at Melbourne Museum.

Check out our latest series, Museum Lectures.


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