Riddle of the Jagga Rao Observatory in Vizag

Observatories are what help us look beyond what the naked eye can see. From comets, meteor showers, planetary movements and everything else that happens in the sky, Observatories play an important role in understanding them. A building of scientific importance which housed equipment for the study of natural phenomena once existed in Vizag too. The forgotten history of the Jagga Rao Observatory and its wrong location is explained by the history enthusiast and Vizag aficionado John Castellas.

Eminent Vizag citizen and astronomer, G.V. Juggarow, was one of the early pioneers of observational astronomy in India who built his own observatory in 1841 at Vizagapatnam. His legacy was continued by his son-in-law A.V.Nursing Row till 1892, his daughter till 1894, Madras Government till 1898, and his grandson A.V. Jugga Row till it became inactive in the early 1900s. Observations of comets, planetary transits, stellar occultation etc., had been continued along with meteorological observations. Celestial photography was started at the observatory. After 1898, the observatory’s activities were re-oriented towards meteorology.

Observatory reports and official documents record that the observatory was situated in Daba Gardens. Anecdotally, it was where the Dolphin Hotel now stands. Precise latitude and longitude coordinates were always provided. Members of the Ankitham family recall visits and impressions of the interior furnishings and the library. But where exactly in Daba Gardens was a riddle. Why did all the published coordinates place the observatory in the middle of the Bay of Bengal?

Jugga Row Observatory, Daba Gardens

Gode Venkata Juggarow (variously written as Jugga Row, Jagga Row, or Jagga Rao etc.) came from a family of rich and well educated Zamindars. His first published record was the calculations of lunar occultation in 1835 and the transit of Halley’s Comet observed from the Madras Observatory in 1836 where he undertook his early training in astronomy.

Jagga Rao furnished his Vizag observatory with a Troughton’s Transit Circle and a Chronometer. He also procured optics for a 4.8-inch aperture and 5 feet 8 inches (focus) long telescope from W.S. Jones of London with eyepieces of 40, 60, 80, 120, 200, and 300 power. But he could not get the optics properly mounted into the telescope before his death in 1856. He apparently had great plans for the observatory.

W S Jones Telescope

The full telescope was later assembled and used by Nursing Row, who took over the observatory after Juggarow’s death. In 1870, he rebuilt the observatory on the site of the old one and had an observatory dome built in England and shipped to Vizag. The 12-foot diameter dome, equipped with an equatorial instrument, was mounted but not tied down when the cyclone in 1876 dislodged it. It was later mounted back on the observatory and secured. Nursing Row published his observations of the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1886, Jupiter, Mercury in 1881 & 1891, the transit of Comet Pons-Brooks in 1884 and a solar eclipse of 1882. In each paper, he provided the exact latitude and longitude of the Observatory with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

Troughton Transit Circle

When the time-gun firing from Dolphin’s Nose was stopped in 1871 by the government, Nursing Row took the initiative of maintaining it by paying the expenses from his private funds. He also erected a new and expensive flagstaff at Dolphin’s Nose in 1886. He used a sidereal clock to determine longitude and the time, which he signalled by timing ball on his observatory flagstaff. The cannon flash on Dolphin’s Nose was timed for correctness. Flag signals on the yardarm would inform sailors of the degree of accuracy the previous time gun signal was accurate with two flags for two minutes and three flags for three minutes. Nursing Row took overpayment of the gunner and changed the pay structure from Rs 3 per month and Rs 1 bonus for each accurate firing to Rs 12 per month and a fine of 8 annas for a 5-second delay in firing. By 1895, a telegraph line was fixed to the sentry point near the masts and an electric bell was triggered. This led to greater demand for time accuracy.

Nursing Row donated a sum of Rs 1,15,000 as an endowment to the then Hindu College when it was in financial difficulties. The college was later named after his wife as Mrs A.V.N. College. Nursing Row died on18 June 1892.

After the death of Nursing Row, his wife Sri Ankitham Atchayyamma Garu took charge of the observatory. She published the ‘Results of Meteorological Observations 1894’ under the caption of ‘G.V. Juggarow Observatory, Daba Gardens, Vizagapatam maintained by Mrs A.A.Nursing Row, Zamindarini of Shermahamudpuram and Yembaram Estates’. She continued to supply meteorological results to the Government of India, meteorological reporters at Bengal and Madras, and, in addition, erected a Celestial Photographic Observatory with a photographic telescope. In accordance with the wishes of her father, as well as her husband, she handed over the observatory and the Dolphin’s Nose flagstaff on 8 November 1894 to the Government of India with an endowment of 3 lakhs of rupees for the permanent maintenance of the institution. The management of the institution was by a committee comprising the Collector, Rajah GN Gajapathy Rao, the meteorological reporters of the governments of Bengal and Madras, the government astronomer and others.

Transfer of Observatory Gazetted in Madras Mail, 25 April 1895

Following an acrimonious legal challenge to his mother’s decision, Rajah AV Jagga Row was able to overturn the transfer of the observatory from the government and he resumed his inheritance in the estate. Rajah A.V. Jugga Row was born in Vizagapatam and had his early education at the London Mission High School in Vizag and at home by his father. He had special training in astronomy and meteorology and conducted the partial solar eclipse observations of 1882. He succeeded in the management of the estate in August 1898 also taking over the observatory and started maintaining it. He was more interested in meteorological observations. He opened one of the three magnetic observatories in the country. He has also opened a seismological observatory, which is a very rare institution in any country for measuring the occurrences of earthquakes. Rajah A.V.Jugga Row was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was also elected as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Astronomical Society of India from 1911 to 1912.

As for the riddle of the observatory’s location, surely there were old maps or navigation charts that had this historic building marked on them. Perhaps the Indian Navy had charts? Could an experienced naval officer review the latitude and longitude given for the observatory’s location? Could Andhra University assist in understanding the coordinates that were baffling heritage enthusiasts? Details of the search were sent to Captain Sunshil Shankar in Vizag who attempted to pinpoint the observatory on Google Earth and that once again finished in the Bay of Bengal. But he was hooked; ‘this cannot be!’. Finally, he recognized that the world’s geographic location system was changed when the satellite technology-enabled Global Positioning System (GPS) was utilized and there had to be correction factors between the old and the new.

The alumni of St Aloysius found another interested participant across the globe in Satish Kumar Sharma, a professor in Nuclear Physics in Canada. He had a passing interest in astronomy and recalculated geocentric longitudes and other expressions of longitude for the Observatory. At about this time, a chance reading of the 1880 Great Trigonometric Survey of India identified a survey marker 40 feet from the west gable of A. V. Narsing’s house in Waltair. Was this the likely observatory location? No, that too led to the Bay of Bengal. But this paper gave the coordinates for several other Vizag landmarks that stand today. The spire of St John’s Church, the gable roof of St Anne’s Cathedral and the porch of St Paul’s in Waltair could all be identified on today’s Google Earth and their new coordinates entered on a spreadsheet from which correction factors were calculated between old and new. The Trigonometric Survey also identified the flagstaff of the Jagga Row Observatory at Vizagapatam Gardens as 17° 42′ 42.9″ North and 83° 20′ 24.0″ East. After applying the correction factors, Google Earth pinpoints that the observatory flagstaff was located in the car park of the Dolphin Hotel.

Position of Observatory Flagstaff, Daba Gardens

Thanks to the St Aloysius Old Boys Sushil Shankar in Vizag and Satish Kumar in Manitoba, Canada for their shared interest in locating the Jagga Rao Observatory and their persistence in the quest for accurate history that illustrates that you should not let your latitude affect your attitude when heritage matters.

Should you have an anecdote or history on Vizag, the author would appreciate you contact him at jcastell@ozemail.com.au

Written by John Castellas whose family belonged to Vizag for 5 generations. Educated at St Aloysius, migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1966, former General Manager Engineering at Boeing & Qantas Airways, in retirement Lecturers in Aviation Management at Swinburne University and is a Vizag aficionado.

Let us know how much you liked the history of the Jagga Rao Observatory in Vizag.

This post was last modified on 05/05/2022 10:44 am

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