William Valentine’s microscope – on the bones of bushrangers
Object maker: Andrew Ross
Object date: 1831
Object size: 48 x 22 x 15 cm
Object materials: Metal, Glass
Object source: N/A
Object collection: History
History Object registration number: S1978.340
Gallery Location: Bond Store ground
Gallery: Our living land: Encountering an upside down world
This early compound microscope was designed by Nottingham surgeon, William Valentine (1808–1876), and made by Andrew Ross in London in 1831. Ross went on to become one of London’s finest microscope makers, while Valentine emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1840 – with his microscope – becoming assistant surgeon to the Campbell Town district.
On such a small island, word of Valentine’s scientific knowledge and his magnificent microscope (described as the finest in the colony) spread quickly, and his house – The Grange, in Campbell Town, which he commissioned in 1847 – became a hub for naturalists. Valentine was a botanical enthusiast, sometimes staying up until the early hours with friends, examining and debating the details of mosses. The fixed upright setting of his microscope’s eyepiece would have made all-night study sessions very uncomfortable!
On the bones of bushrangers
In 1845 Valentine, with his friend Ronald Gunn, used this microscope to identify a moss that Valentine had collected. The specimen – Splachnum sphaericum (today called Tayloria octoblepharum) – had been found in the Western Tiers, growing on the bones and decayed clothing of a bushranger, who had two double-barrelled guns and pistols by his side. We now know that this was the skeleton of escaped convict, John Fisher, who led a band of bushrangers for four years in the colony’s northern districts.
Valentine’s skill and generosity as a doctor made him a highly valued member of the community. It was this good character that he depended upon in 1843, when he was found guilty of manslaughter by medical negligence. On this occasion, the entire community – including the deceased’s father – rallied around Valentine to ensure the doctor was heavily fined, but not imprisoned. In his later years, Valentine developed a strong interest in astronomy, and it was his efforts that drew an American party of astronomers to observe the transit of Venus at The Grange in 1874.