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JOHN JONES   (1818-1898):
SOME REFERENCE MATERIALS 



Introduction

A selection of reference materials relating to John Jones are presented here, taken from a number of sources, some of them obscure. Only materials out of copyright are included.

For an overview of the life of John Jones, Y Seryddwr, see:



Account in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr

Silas Evans provided a short biography in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, pages 272-274, including a photograph.

It reads as follows (with a translation into English to follow):

JOHN JONES, Y SERYDDWR.- Ni fuasai pennod ar Seryddiaeth yng Nhymru yn gyflawn heb gyfeiriad teilwng at John Jones, y Seryddwr o Fangor, yr hwn a elwir "the working-man astronomer." Genedigol o Sir Fôn; collodd ei dad pan yn ddeuddeg oed, ond yr oedd ei holl fryd ar ddysgu. Un o'r llyfrau cyntaf a dynnodd ei sylw oedd cyfiethiad Eleazar Roberts o waith Dr. Dick ar y Gyfundrefn Heulog, ac ymhen ychydig amser ei brif ymgais oedd gwneud telescôp iddo'i hun, ac fe wnaeth un, ac un arall ar ol hynny lawer iawn yn fwy. Dysgodd Roeg hefyd; yn wir, dywedai ei hun: "Yr wyf yn hoff o bob cangen o wybodaeth- yn hoff o Dan, Reuben, ac Issachar,- ond y mae genyf un ffafryn (favorite)- un Benjamin. Fe'i gwerthwn nhw i gyd i'r Aifft ond i mi gael cadw Benjamin- Seryddiaeth!" Tynnodd John Jones sylw Samuel Smiles, awdwr Self-help, ac ymwelodd Smiles ag ef yn Bangor, ac ysgrifennodd hanes o honno yn ei lyfr Men of Invention and Industry. Ceir hanes hefyd gan Mr. Mee yn y Nationalist, a chan Mr. Parry Jenkins F.R.A.S., gynt o Golwyn Bay, ond yn awr yn Ontario, mewn llyfryn o'i eiddo, A Plea for the Reflecting Telescope. Gwnaed John Jones yn aelod o Gymdeithas Seryddol Cymru, ac ni fu neb erioed yn haeddu yr anrhydedd yn fwy. Bu farw John Jones yn 1898, yn 80 oed.


This is Rhys Morris's translation of Silas Evans's account:

JOHN JONES, THE ASTRONOMER.-No chapter on Astronomy in Wales would be complete without mentioning John Jones, the Astronomer, from Bangor, who was called "the working-man astronomer". Born in Anglesey, he lost his father when he was 12 years old, but his whole mind was on education. One of the first books to attract his attention was Eleazar Roberts' translation of Dr. Dick's book on the Solar System. Within a short time his main endeavour was to make a telescope for himself, and after that another much larger. He also learnt Greek; indeed he said himself, "I am fond of all branches of knowledge - fond of Dan, Reuben and Issachar,- but I have one favourite- one Benjamin. I would sell them all to Egypt for me just to keep Benjamin- Astronomy!" He attracted the attention of Samuel Smiles, author of Self Help, and Smiles visited him and wrote about him in his book Men of Invention and Industry. His story is also told by Mr Mee in The Nationalist and by Mr. Parry Jenkins, F.R.A.S., formerly of Colwyn Bay, now of Ontario, in his booklet A Plea for the Reflecting Telescope. John Jones was made a member of the Astronomical Society of Wales, and no one deserved the honour more. He died in 1898, 80 years old.



Picture of John Jones, Y Seryddwr, from Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr Left: the photograph of John Jones on page 273 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr. He is shown alongside his 8-inch reflector, Jumbo.

[The picture appeared earlier in the Western Mail in 1898, and in an article by Arthur Mee in Young Wales, Vol. IV, No. 48, December 1898. It was credited to the Western Mail. The photographer was Wickens, Bangor.]




Article by G. P. Jenkins in the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, 1895

Griffith Parry Jenkins (1860-1941) originally from Cardiganshire, then of Llangefni, later of Colwyn Bay and finally Canada) wrote an article about John Jones in the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 34-37, May 1895. This is reproduced below.

JOHN JONES, SERYDDWR, BANGOR

If a visitor to Bangor asks the first inhabitant he happens to meet to be good enough to direct him to the abode of John Jones, "Seryddwr," he will be sure to be directed aright, as amongst the many persons of the same name living in the city of Bangor there is only one who bears the distinction of being an astronomer to boot. Dr. Samuel Smiles, of "Self-Help" fame, found out Mr. Jones' humble dwelling in this wise, and wrote an interesting account of his visit in that other admirable book of his called "Discoveries and Inventions." [Actually called "Men of Invention and Industry".] I have myself many times addressed letters to Mr. Jones, with the simple addition of "Seryddwr," Bangor, on the envelopes, and they have invariably reached him.

As I have lately had the privilege of proposing John Jones a member of our Society and thereby adding to it that leeky flavour which it did not previously possess, I feel sure a brief account of this remarkable self-taught astronomer will be interesting to my brother Welshmen as well as the English-speaking friends of our Society. It is amusing to record that after John Jones was elected a member he wrote to me asking if it was necessary to be an out-and-out teetotaler to retain the membership of our Society, as was customary with a certain religious sect in Wales, for if so, he was afraid he would soon be excommunicated, as he must confess that he often became intoxicated in the company of his "Jumbo," and for the enlightenment of our members I reproduce a photograph I have had specially taken of John Jones and Jumbo - the latter being none other that his 8 3/16-inch Newtonian Reflector of 10-foot focus, constructed by himself, and which he invariably calls by that familiar name.

John Jones was born at Bryngwyn Bach, Anglesey, in the year 1818, so that he is now almost an octogenarian, although it is difficult to realise this fact from his active habits and youthful manner. All the schooling he received in early life did not amount to much over twelve months. He was only twelve years old when he lost his father, and consequently had to turn out into the wide world as a farm labourer at this tender age. His thirst for knowledge was however insatiable and he never missed an opportunity of acquiring useful information, but his search in this direction was beset with many difficulties. In course of time he became a servant of the Rev. Cadwaladr Williams, of Penceint, Anglesey, a famous Welsh preacher of bygone days, and I have heard Mr. Jones say that after saddling his master's black mare on Sunday mornings he used to creep quietly into the old preacher's study in quest of knowledge, so that it may be said he must have acquired much of his education as if by stealth. It was in this way that he came across his first book on Astronomy, and what new worlds it opened up to his enquiring mind. This hidden treasure was "The Solar System," by Dr. Dick, then translated into Welsh by Mr. Eleazar Roberts, of Hoylake, whom I am proud to think, we also number among our members, though he claims to be a septuagenarian since the advent of this year he informs me.

At the age of thirty a severe illness brought John Jones to Bangor to consult a physician, and after recovery he obtained employment there in counting slates shipped from the Penrhyn Quarries, for which he received 12s. a week. He now attended a night school, acquiring a little knowledge of English, learnt arithmetic, and mastered the rudiments of navigation. During the six months he attended this school it appears that he went twice through the "Tutor's Assistant," and a short time before he left was taught mensuration.

As his wages increased he was able now and again to buy a few books on his favourite study, and amongst others obtained "The Mechanism of the Heavens," by Olmstead; "Outlines of Astronomy," by Sir John Herschel, and also his famous "Treatise on the Telescope." The perusal of this latter work naturally created a burning desire on the part of John Jones to possess a telescope, and he set to work to construct one himself. His first refracting telescope was about a yard long, made of cardboard, with non-achromatic glasses, obtained at the cost of 4s. 6d. from Liverpool, through the kindness of one of the captains of the ships trading in slates from Bangor. This primitive instrument showed the four moons of Jupiter, and a few craters on the Moon, which greatly delighted its possessor. After exploring all the wonders of the heavens that it was possible for his glass to reveal, he determined to become possessed of a more powerful instrument, and where there's a will there's a way. As he could not afford to buy such a telescope his only alternative was to try and make it himself.

In the year 1868, he accordingly undertook the arduous task of constructing a reflecting telescope. He obtained a rough disc of glass, which in his leisure hours he ground by hand labour, as he did not possess a lathe, to a spherical curve of 10-foot focus - the mirror being 8 3/16-inches diameter. This was afterwards sent to Calver, the optician, to be parabolized and silvered. The next thing needed was the plane mirror, which was worked by John Jones himself. He then constructed the tube and altazimuth stand, and when these were finished and an eyepiece procured, his telescope was complete. This home-made instrument has afforded its owner untold pleasure and remains a monument to the indefatigable perserverance and skill of its maker. I remember it gave me infinite delight to be allowed to inspect this telescope. I found Mr. Jones well versed in the technical process of speculum grinding from a pleasant conversation I had with him on this point, and having myself assisted in the operation of grinding a large mirror, I can speak with some confidence as to his theoretical and practical knowledge on the subject.

In addition to "Jumbo" our astronomical friend has made a 6-inch reflector with which he has observed the snow-cap of Mars. Should not this telescope be christened Alice? I also noticed amongst his treasures an equatorial head on a firm tripod stand, made entirely by himself. The declination and right ascension circles of this equatorial are unique. It is not too much to say, I believe, that they are the only examples of the kind extant. They are constructed of stone, and divided with mathematical accuracy into degrees and minutes. Imagine a Troughton or a Simms being commisstioned [sic.] to divide a slate circle. Truly necessity is the mother of invention.

With the advance of old age John Jones was obliged some years ago to relinquish his duties on the quay at Bangor, and now spends the sunset of his days amongst his telescopes and books, being as keen as ever to discuss an astronomical problem from Loomis or other authority. Long may he be spared to "mind the heavens" in this quiet, unostentatious way. By the way, I noticed in his little library a Greek Testament and Hebrew Bible, both of which I understand he can read in the original.

I must not omit to state that under the nom de plume of "Joan Bryngwyn Bach" [sic., normally spelt Ioan] Mr. Jones frequently composes poetry in Welsh. I append to my short sketch an appropriate effusion of his on "The Telescope."-

      E bwyntia uwch ei bentan, - i euraidd 
          Deg oriel yr huan; 
      A llerw gylch y lloer gain, 
      A'i gwên bûr gwyneb arian. 

      Dyrch ei ben i'r wybrenau, - i siarad 
          A ser a phlanedau; 
      Gosgorddion gwylltion yn gwau, 
      Liw odiaeth oleuadau. 

      Yr eang asur fesura - a'i fy^s
          A'i feusyydd [sic.] a chwilia; 
      O ddu eigion e ddyga - ser gwibiog, - 
      Tremau gwalltog a'u tro am y gwyllta'. 

      Athroniaeth hwn feithrinir - a lluoedd 
          Y lleuad gohebiri 
      Trwy ei fol y trafeilir 
      Hyd erchwyn terfyn eu tir. 

Llangefni.                       G. PARRY JENKINS. 



G. P. Jenkins provided a photograph of John Jones for the article, which supplements the picture presented in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr.



Picture of John Jones from the Journal of the Astronomical 
Society of Wales Left: the photograph of John Jones and the 8-inch reflector from the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 34-37 (May 1895).

[The caption stated that the picture was "From a Photo by T. H. Hughes, Llangefni." The picture appears rather dark and indistinct in the Journal.]




Article by G. P. Jenkins in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 1911

Griffith Parry Jenkins wrote an article A Plea for the Reflecting Telescope in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 5, Page 59, 1911. It was later reprinted as a pamphlet under the same title. The article included a description of John Jones, similar in tone to that by Jenkins in the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales (above). The section about John Jones is presented here.
Another astronomical genius was born in the fair Isle of Anglesey, in 1818, not far from the historic spot where the Roman General Suetonius massacred the Druids of old. He bore the very ordinary name of John Jones, and was brought up as a farm laborer. If compulsory education had been in vogue in Great Britain in those days I have not the slightest doubt John Jones would have been occupying a professor's chair in one of our leading universities. As it was, his thirst for learning was baffled at every turn, but he still triumphed.

Dr Samuel Smiles, of "Self-Help" fame, makes use of this very personage in his work entitled "Men of Invention and Industry," published in 1884, to show what perserverence can attain when the soul is aflame after knowledge and a telescope, and pays a glowing tribute to his accomplishments.

I had the honor of knowing John Jones intimately as I once lived in the Island of Anglesey, and many were the pleasant evenings we spent together in my own observatory and afterwards at his home looking through his great 8 3/16-inch reflector made by his own hands, and which he familiarly called "Jumbo." He told me that after receiving only twelve month's schooling he hired to a farmer. Being a Welshman, to acquire the English tongue was just like learning a new language to him, and this he accomplished almost entirely from books. After working some years with the farmers, he was employed by an itinerant Methodist minister, and when he had saddled his master's horse on Sundays he used to secrete himself in the library of the old devine and there, as it were, acquired by stealth his first knowledge of astronomy, for amongst his Raster's treasures was a Welsh book on astronomy, being Dr. Thomas Dick's "The Solar System," translated into Welsh by Eleazar Roberts, of Liverpool. The lure of the skies held him spell-bound ever afterwards.

When about thirty years old illness overtook him, and he removed to Bangor, the centre of the great Welsh slate industry. He was employed at twelve shillings a week in counting slates or loading the ships in the harbor with the same. He now learnt navigation and mensuration from one who kept school for young sailors. The perusal of Sir John Herschel's "Outlines of Astronomy" and of his "Treatise on the Telescope" about this time set his mind on fire as he said. He conceived the idea of making a telescope, for he could not afford to buy one. His first attempt was one thirty-six inches in length, the tube being made or cardboard, and the glasses costing four shillings and sixpence only. With this he could see Jupiter's four moons, the lunar craters and a few double stars. He was delighted, but longed for a more powerful instrument. It was now he also began to study Greek, a friend having bought him a Greek Testament and a Greek Lexicon.

In the year 1868 he commenced the task of making a reflecting telescope, having, out of his scant earnings, bought a rough piece of glass from St. Helens, of 10 inches diameter. Now came the grinding and polishing to a spherical curve, all of which he did without a lathe by his own hands with the aid of emery and rouge. The mirror was then parabolized and silvered by George Calver. John Jones then mounted it in a wooden tube and stand all made by himself and its performance turned out to be very satisfactory. I well remember him telling me with what glee he had first seen the snow-cap on Mars through this instrument.

I also noticed amongst his treasures an equatorial head on a firm tripod stand constructed entirely by him. The declination and right ascension circles of this equatorial were unique. It is not too much to say, I believe, that they are the only examples of the kind extant. They were constructed of slate and divided with mathematical accuracy into degrees and minutes.

John Jones also made a good 6-inch reflecting telescope, together with a spectroscope. In later years he could read the Hebrew Bible, and had achieved fame as a local poet.

It was a singular pleasure for me to propose him as a member of the Astronomy Society of Wales, in 1895 - he was then 77 years old - and in the fourth number of the Journal of that Society I have contributed a sketch or his life.

So in counting slate. by day and counting the stars at night this grand old man passed away in 1898, at 80 years of age, an inspiration to others (friendless and unaided as he was) to patiently surmount every difficulty in the attainment of one's desires.




An article by Arthur Mee in Young Wales, 1898

Arthur Mee wrote an article in the magazine Young Wales (Vol. IV, No. 48, pp. 272-274, December 1898). The article included the photograph that was later published in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr (reproduced above). The text is presented here.

JOHN JONES, "Y SERYDDWR."

BY ARTHUR MEE, F.R.A.S.

FOR many a year of this wonderful century, amid all the turmoil of its politics and progress, there lived at Bangor a man, short of stature, modest and retiring who will be acknowledged by posterity as one of the most remarkable Welshmen of his day. John Jones, "Y Seryddwr," never bulked largely on the Cambrian horizon, never aired his eloquence, never posed as somebody, above all never assumed to be what he was not. There was nothing romantic about him or his calling. Counting slates and loading them into a ship's hold is prosaic work enough; and it was John Jones' work through the greate [sic.] portion of his lifetime.

But John was one of those happy men who live two lives. At his work he was a plain slate-counter. After work he was a linguist, philosopher, poet; now working out a mathematical problem, anon labouring with the dead languages; at one moment grinding the mirror of a telescope, at another singing its praises in excellent verse. John Jones resembled Napoleon in at least this, that in his dictionary there was no such word as failure. I feel sure that the pages of YOUNG WALES are open to enshrine some facts in the life of this remarkable man.

John Jones was born in the island of Anglesey in 1818. He had received a few months' schooling when his father died, and the lad was forced to turn out to labour in the fields. Thus he continued for some years, until he passed into the service of a Calvinistic Methodist minister. John contrived to get admittance to his master's library, and soon the smouldering desire for knowledge broke into flame. It was slow work; done by stealth; but seeds were sown that were in time to reap an abundant harvest.

Amongst the minister's books was a little treatise on astronomy in Welsh, and this John Jones devoured. He no longer looked upon the heavens with unintelligent gaze. He began to know the firmament, and longed to know it still better.

When thirty years of age the subject of our sketch was stricken down with serious illness. He went to Bangor to consult a medical man, and on his recovery remained in that town as a counter of slates and a loader of ships. Things were improving, for there was now a salary of 12s. a week, and the young man felt that the world was opening out before him. He thirsted for knowledge. He got a thorough grounding in arithmetic; learnt mensuration and the principles of navigation; perfected his English, and commenced an acquaintance with other languages; and all the time read every line he could about astronomy. The works of Herschell [sic.] decided him. He must have a telescope.

But, alas ! telescopes were dear - far more so then than now; and the slate counting was not renumerative albeit the wages had been raised. However, John Jones was determined. What he could not buy he would make for himself. A couple of cheap glasses were mounted in a tube, and the young slate counter had his first rude telescope. It was a poor affair, but it was a proud moment for John Jones when he first pointed it to the heavens. He shared for the nonce the joy of many of our greatest astronomers whose first approach to the firmament was through means equally modest. Sic itur as astra !

As time went on John Jones was able to possess himself of a somewhat larger telescope. but [sic.] even then his ambition was not satisfied; There were so many wonders in the heavens utterly beyond the range of his instruments. Perhaps he might be able to make one for himself ! this was about the year 1868 when the silvered-glass reflector was coming into vogue. The reflector is, by common consent, the amateur's telescope par excellence. But not one out of a hundred essays to construct his own instrument [sic.]. It means the expenditure of much time and labour and patience, and not a little skill into the bargain. All these qualification John Jones possessed in a remarkable degree, and lacking the means to purchase a really serviceable instrument he set out to make one.

Procuring an eight-inch disc of glass for the principal mirror he ground it himself, and gave it its first polish. Then he sent it to Calver, one of our famous makers of reflecting telescopes, to give the glass its final curve or figure. He also bought the necessary eyepieces; but he made the tube and I believe the mounting, all with his own hands. It was a big affair when finished, the square timber tube being ten feet long. John Jones was proud if it to his dying day. In jocular wise he gave it the name of "Jumbo," and in the portrait which accompanies this article the big telescope is seen in the background.

"Jumbo" was mounted as an altazimuth. But there is a greatly superior stand - the equatorial - which enables a star once found to be followed with one movement and with the greatest of ease. To construct an efficient equatorial stand with its divided circles is as difficult a problem as the grinding of a mirror - indeed, more so. Nevertheless, John Jones manfully attacked it, and succeeded. The circles of his second reflector were of slate, and I am told that they form a remarkable monument of their maker's skill and patience. Besides the telescopes just described, our old astronomers [sic.] constructed a spectroscope. It seems a pity that these instruments cannot find their way into some Welsh museum, there to "fire the hearts of new endeavourers," and to be an object-lesson to generations, which are lacking in the great capacity for taking trouble, for doing things well, - so eminently characteristic of John Jones, Y Seryddwr.

John Jones had worked hard in youth and middle-age, and it is therefore pleasant to reflect that the evening of his days was spent in rest and comfort, thanks to a pension bestowed on him by Lord Penrhyn. Yet, though no longer working, he was never idle. He was always observing, always studying; he knew no rest, he wanted to read more and more deeply in the great story book of Nature. John Jones was one of those rare old men to whom age seems to bring no terrors. They are boys to the end. Gladstone was one such. At four score, John Jones was eager as ever for information. "You cannot get away from him," remarked a friend, "so many were his questions, and such his appetite for knowledge." It is said of Green, the great historian, that "he died learning." A noble epitaph, and one that might with equal truth be placed upon the grave of this Welsh working-man philosopher.

It was through my friend Mr. G. Parry Jenkins, F.R.A.S., that I first became acquainted with John Jones and his inspiring story. We had just established our Astronomical Society of Wales, and the old Seryddwr joined it, and followed its work with interest to the end. He contributed to its journal, and wrote various letters (all in Welsh by the way), which showed abundantly that though his hand shook, the flame of his mind burned no less brightly than of yore. John Jones was the first of our members to pass over the border no longer to see "through a glass darkly" but "face to face."

I had often wished to meet this remarkable old man; and a visit to North Wales in September seemed to have brought at length the longed for opportunity. But it was too late. John Jones was on his death bed, and a few days later he had passed away.

To those who would learn more about the old "Seryddwr" I commend a perusal of the short sketch by Mr. Parry Jenkins in the first volume of the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, and the very interesting account of him given by Dr. Smiles in his Men of Invention and Industry. Dr. Smiles journeyed to Bangor on purpose to see the old slate-counter who made his own telescopes, who could enjoy problems in mathematics, could read his Hebrew Bible and his Greek New Testament, and in addition write excellent Welsh verse. Had John Jones possessed in his youth the educational advantages which are now spread before the rising generation, he would probably have attained eminence; but we should have missed the story of his struggles, and the lesson taught by his determination to conquer every obstacle. Perhaps it is best as it is, for young Welshmen limited in means and opportunities, with few to encourage them and lend a helping hand, will buckle to with renewed energy when they read the inspiring story of old John Jones, y Seryddwr.




The description by Samuel Smiles in his Men of Invention and Industry

The author Samuel Smiles travelled to Bangor to meet John Jones and later included an account about him in the book Men of Invention and Industry (published by J. Murray, London, 1882). Smiles had already written the popular book Self Help which advocated that individuals could transcend the severe limitations imposed by poverty, misfortune and social status by their own hard work. He took a similar opinion in Men of Invention and Industry and gave examples of people who had achieved much through their hard own endeavours.

The account of John Jones given by Smiles reads as follows (taken from pages 362-369 in Chapter 12):

... And now, before I conclude this last chapter, I have to relate perhaps the most extraordinary story of all - that of another astronomer in humble life, in the person of a slate counter at Port Penrhyn, Bangor, North Wales.

While at Birnam, I received a letter from my old friend the Rev. Charles Wicksteed, formerly of Leeds, calling my attention to this case, and inclosing [sic.] an extract from the letter of a young lady, one of his correspondents at Bangor. In that letter she said: "What you write of Mr. Christmas Evans reminds me very much of a visit I paid a few evenings ago to an old man in Upper Bangor. He works on the Quay, but has a very decided taste for astronomy, his leisure time being spent in its study, with a great part of his earnings. I went there with some friends to see an immense telescope which he has made almost entirely without aid, preparing the glasses as far as possible himself, and sending them away merely to have their concavity changed. He showed us all his treasures with the greatest delight, explaining in English, but substituting Welsh when at a loss. He has scarcely ever been at school, but has learnt English entirely from books. Among other things he showed us were a Greek Testament and a Hebrew Bible, both of which he can read. His largest telescope, which is several yards long, he has named 'Jumbo,' and through it he told us he saw the snowcap on the pole of Mars. He had another smaller telescope, made by himself, and had a spectroscope in process of making. He is now quite old, but his delight in his studies is still unbounded and unabated. It seems so sad that he has had no right opportunity for developing his talent."

Mr. Wicksteed was very much interested in the case, and called my attention to it, that I might add the story to my repertory of self-helping men. While at York I received a communication from Miss Grace Ellis, the young lady in question, informing me of the name of the astronomer - John Jones, Albert Street, Upper Bangor - and intimating that he would be glad to see me any evening after six. As railways have had the effect of brining places very close together in point of time - making of Britain, as it were, one great town - and as the autumn was brilliant, and the holiday season not at an end, I had no difficulty in diverging from my journey, and taking Bangor on my way homeward. Starting from York in the morning, and passing through Leeds, Manchester, and Chester, I reached Bangor in the afternoon, and had my first interview with Mr. Jones that very evening.

I found him, as Miss Grace Ellis had described, active, vigorous, and intelligent; his stature short, his face well-formed, his eyes keen and bright. I was first shown into his little parlour downstairs, furnished with his books and some of his instruments; I was then taken to his tiny room upstairs, where he had his big reflecting telescope, by means of which he had seen, through the chamber window, the snowcap of Mars. He is so fond of philology that I found he had no fewer than twenty-six dictionaries, all bought out of his own earnings. "I am fond of all knowledge," he said - "of Reuben, Dan, and Issachar; but I have a favourite, a Benjamin, and that is Astronomy. I would sell all them into Egypt, but preserve my Benjamin." His story is briefly as follows:-

"I was born at Bryngwyn Bach, Anglesey, in 1818, and I am sixty-five years old. I got the little education I have, when a boy. Owen Owen, who was a cousin of my mother's, kept a school at a chapel in the village of Dwyrain, in Anglesey. It was said of Owen that he never had more than a quarter of a year's schooling, so that he could not teach me much. I went to his school at seven, and remained with him about a year. Then he left; and some time afterwards I went for a short period to an old preacher's school at Brynsieneyn [sic.] chapel. There I learnt but little, the teacher being negligent. He allowed the children to play together too much, and he punished them for slight offences, making them obstinate and disheartened. But I remember his once saying to the other children, that I ran through my lesson 'like a coach.' However, when I was about twelve years old, my father died, and in losing him I lost almost all the little I had learnt during the short periods I had been at school. Then I went to work for the farmers.

"In this state of ignorance I remained for years, until the time came when on Sunday I used to saddle the old black mare for Cadwalladr Williams, the Calvinist Methodist preacher at Pen Ceint, Anglesey; and after he had ridden away, I used to hide in his library during the sermon, and there I learnt a little that I shall not soon forget. In that way I had many a draught of knowledge, as if it were, by stealth. Having a strong taste for music, I was much attracted by choral singing; and on Sundays and in the evenings I tried to copy out airs from different books, and accustomed my hand a little to writing. This tendency was, however, choked within me by too much work with the cattle, and by other farm labour. In a word, I had but little fair weather in my search for knowledge. One thing enticed me from another, to the detriment of my plans; some fair Eve often standing with an apple in hand, tempting me to taste of that.

"The old preacher's books at Pen Ceint were in Welsh. I had not yet learned English, but tried to learn it by comparing one line in the English New Testament with the same line in Welsh. This was the Hamiltonian method, and the way in which I learnt most languages. I first got an idea of astronomy from reading 'The Solar System,' by Dr. Dick, translated into Welsh by Eleazar Roberts of Liverpool. That book I found on Sundays in the preacher's library; and many a sublime thought it gave me. It was comparatively easy to understand.

"When I was about thirty I was taken very ill, and could no longer work. I then went to Bangor to consult Dr. Humphrys. After I found better I got work at the Port at 12s. a week. I was employed in counting the slates, or loading the ships in the harbour from the railway trucks. I lodged in Fwn Deg, near where Hugh Williams, Gatehouse, then kept a navigation school for young sailors. I learnt navigation, and soon made considerable progress. I also learnt a little arithmetic. At first nearly all the young men were more advanced than myself; but before I left matters were different, and the Scripture words became verified - "the last shall be first." I remained with Hugh Williams six months and a-half. During that time I went twice through the 'Tutor's Assistant,' and a month before I left I was taught mensuration. That is all the education I received, and the greater part of it was during my by-hours.

"I got to know English pretty well, though Welsh was the language of those about me. From easy books I went to those more difficult. I was helped in my pronunciation of English by comparing the words with the phonetic alphabet, as published by Thomas Gee of Denbigh, in 1853. With my spare earnings I bought books, especially when my wages began to rise. Mr. Wyatt, the steward, was very kind, and raised my pay from time to time at his pleasure. I suppose I was willing, correct and faithful. I improved my knowledge by reading books on astronomy. I got, amongst others, 'The Mechanism of the Heavens,' by Denison Olmstead, an American; a very understandable book. Learning English, which was a foreign language to me, led me to learn other languages. I took pleasure in finding out the roots or radixes of words, and from time to time I added foreign dictionaries to my little library. But I took most pleasure in astronomy.

"The perusal of Sir John Herschel's 'Outlines of Astronomy,' and of his 'Treatise on the Telescope,' set my mind on fire. I conceived the idea of making a telescope of my own, for I could not buy one. While reading the Mechanics' Magazine I observed the accounts of men who made telescopes. Why should not I do the same ? Of course it was a matter of great difficulty to one who knew comparatively little of the use of tools. But I had a willing mind and willing hands. So I set to work. I think I made my first telescope about twenty years ago. It was thirty-six inches long, and the tube was made from pasteboard. I got the glasses from Liverpool for 4s. 6d. Captain Owens, of the ship Talacra, bought them. He also bought for me, at a bookstall, the Greek Lexicon and the Greek New Testament, for which he paid 7s. 6d. With my new telescope I could see Jupiter's four satellites, the craters on the moon, and some of the double stars. It was a wonderful pleasure to me.

"But I was not satisfied with the instrument. I wanted a bigger and more perfect one. I sold it and got new glasses from Solomon of London, who was always ready to trust me. I think it was about the year 1868 that I began to make a reflecting telescope. I got a rough disc of glass, from St. Helens, of ten inches diameter. It took me from nine to ten days to grind and polish it ready for parabolising and silvering. I did this by hand labour with the aid of emery, but without a lathe. I finally used rouge instead of emery in grinding down the glass, until I could see my face in the mirror quite plain. I then sent the 8 3/16-inch disc to Mr. George Calvers, of Chelmsford, to turn my spherical curve to a parabolic curve, and to silver the mirror, for which I paid him 5l. I mounted this is my timber tube; the focus was ten feet. When everything was complete I tried my instrument on the sky and found it to have good defining power. The diameter of the other glass I have made is a little under six inches.

"You ask me if their performance satisfies me ? Well; I have compared my six-inch reflector with a 4 1/4-inch refractor, through my window, with a power of 100 and 140. I can't say which was the best. But if out on a clear night I think my reflector would take more power than the refractor. However that may be, I saw the snowcap on the planet Mars quite plain; and it is satisfactory to me so far. With respect to the 8 3/16-inch glass, I am not quite satisfied with it yet; but I am making improvements, and I believe it will reward my labour in the end."

Besides these instruments John Jones has an equatorial which is mounted on on a tripod stand, made by himself. It contains the right ascension, declination, and azimuth index, all neatly carved upon slate. In his spectroscope he makes his prisms out of the skylights used in vessels. These he grinds down to suit his purpose. I have not been able to go into the complete detail of the manner in which he effects the grinding of his glasses. It is perhaps too technical to be illustrated in words, which are full of focuses, parabolas, and convexities. But enough may be gathered from the above account to give an idea of the wonderful tenacity of this aged student, who counts his slates into the ships by day, and devotes his evenings to the perfecting of his astronomical instruments.

But not only is he an astronomer and a philologist; he is also a bard, and his poetry is much admired in the district. He writes in Welsh, not in English, and signs himself "Ioan, of Bryngwyn Bach," the place where he was born. Indeed, he is still at a loss for words when he speaks in English. He usually interlards his conversation with passages in Welsh, which is his mother-tongue. A friend has, however, done me the favour to translate two of John Jones's poems into English. The first is 'The Telescope':-

       "To Heaven it points, where rules the Sun 
           In golden gall'ries bright;
        And the pale Moon in silver rays
           Makes dalliance in the night.

       "It sweeps with eagle glances
           The sky, its myriad throng, 
        That myriad throng to marshal 
           And bring us to their song. 

       "Orb upon orb it follows 
           As oft they intertwine, 
        And worlds in vast processions 
           As if in battle line. 

       "It loves all things created, 
           To follow and to trace; 
        And never fears to penetrate 
           The dark abyss of space."

The next is to 'The Comet':-

    "A maiden fair, with light of stars bedecked, 
     Starts out of space at Jove's command; 
     With visage wild, and long deshevelled hair, 
     Speeds she along her starry course; 
     The hosts of heaven regards she not,- 
     Fain would she scorn them all except her 
        father Sol, 
     Whose mighty influence her headlong course 
        doth all control."

The following translation may also be given: it shows that the bard is not without a spice of wit. A fellow-workman teased him to write some lines; when John Jones, in a seemingly innocent manner, put some questions, and ascertained that he had once been a tailor. Accordingly this epigram was written, and appeared in the local paper the week after: "To a quondam Tailor, now a Slate-teller":-

          "To thread and needle now good-bye, 
              With slates I aim at riches; 
           The scissors will I ne'er more ply, 
              Nor make, but order, breeches."  *

* The translations are made by W. Cadwalladr Davies, Esq.



There Smiles ended his account of John Jones. He followed it with a prejudiced paragraph in which he blamed the Welsh language for limited educational standards in 19th century Wales. A more objective commentator would have identified the absence of a basic system of schooling for children for the modest educational achievements of the time (as indeed G. P. Jenkins had done in his own article about John Jones), together with the relatively late development of university institutions. Smiles's opinions reveal something of his prejudices and political opinions.




Entry in Williams's Enwogion Môn, 1850-1912

The article below is taken from Enwogion Môn, 1850-1912 by R. M. Williams, published by the North Wales Chronicle Co. Ltd., Bangor, 1913.
JONES, John (Ioan Bryngwyn Bach), bardd a seryddwr hunan addysgol, a anwyd ym Mryngwyn Bach, Llanidan, yn 1818. Cafodd ychydig addysg yn ei blentyndod; ond wedi marw ei dad, pan oedd efe oddeutu 10 mlwydd oed, gorfodwyd ef i droi allan i lafurio y tir. Sychedau am wybodaeth, a phan yng ngwasanaeth y Parch Cadwaladr Willaims ym Mhenceint cafodd gyfleusdra i ymgydnabyddu a llyfrau Cymraeg a Saesneg. Dechreuodd astudio Seryddiaeth ar ol darllen traethawd Dr. Dick ar "Y Cysawd Heulog". Pan yn 30 mlwydd oed symudodd i Fangor a gweithiau ar lanfa y Penrhyn. Yn ystod ei oriau hamddenol astudiau yr iaith Saesneg ac iethoedd eraill, a thrwy gynhorthwy un Hugh Williams dysgai rifyddiaeth, morwriaeth a mesuroniaeth. Deallai reoalau barddoniaeth Gymraeg yn dda, a chanai yn hyfedr yn y gwahanol fesurau. Meddai law gelfydd: gwnaeth ddau ysbienddrych, ac oedd ganddo ei arsyllfa ei hun. Ei brif hoffder ydoedd astudio y ser a gwylio cwrs y planedau. Gyda gwell disgyblaeth ym more oes gallasai ei enwogrwydd seryddol fod wedi ymledu ymhell tuhwnt i Gymru. Bu farw Medi 30ain, 1898. Ar ei feddfaen, ym Mynwent Glanadda, Bangor, mae y penill cymwysiadol canlynol o waith E.O.J. a wnaed ar ddymuniad y gwrthrych.
Yn wylaidd - ddiwyd fe welodd Ioan Werth oes o gynnydd wrth ddysgu'i hunan; Ymrodd i ddeall a chwilio allan Enfawr oleuadau'r nwyfre lydan; Cofiodd uwchlaw y cyfan fod yn rhaid Rhoi hyder enaid ar Awdwr Anian.

(Ceinwen Gwyl Ddewi 1901)




Entry in Hughes's Enwogion Môn (1850-1912)

The article below is taken from Enwogion Môn (1850-1912) by R. Hughes, published by E. W. Evans, Dolgellau, 1913. Curiously, two books with the name Enwogion Môn, 1850-1912 were published in 1913.
JONES, JOHN (Ioan Bryngwyn bach) (1818-1900), serydd, genedigol o'r Bryngwyn bach rhwng Dwyran a Brynsiencyn, Môn. Ni chadd ond ychydig o addysg pan yn blentyn. Bu am flwyddyn mewn ysgol a gedwid yng nghapel Dwyran gan Owen Owen, cefnder i'w fam, gw^r na chawsai ei hun fwy na chwarter o ysgol; ac ar ol hynny bu mewn ysgol a gedwid yng nghapel Brynsiencyn gan ryw hen frawd o bregethwr. Am rai blynyddoedd gwedi hyn bu'n gweini ar amaethwyr. Daeth i ymddiddori mewn seryddiaeth drwy darllen y "Gyfundrefn Heulog" gan Dr. Dick, wedi ei gyfiethu i'r Gymraeg gan y diweddar Mr. eleazar Roberts o Lynlleifiad, llyfr y daethai ar ei draws yn llyfrgell y Parch. Cadwaladr Williams, Penceint. Yn 30 oed symudodd i Fangor. Ei waith yma oedd llwytho llechi ym Mhorth Penrhyn, ac yma dysgodd egwyddorion morwriaeth a pharhaes i fynd ymlaen gyda'i efrydaiu seryddol. Yr oedd yn rhy dlawd i brynu telescope, ac aeth ati i wneud un, gan brynu'r gwydrau yn Llynlleifiad am 4/6. Y mae'r ysbienddrych mawr a wnaethai yng nghadw yn Amgueddfa Bangor. Yr oedd hefyd yn iethydd da; medrai ddarllen Groeg a Hebraeg. Ysgrifennodd gryn lawer o farddoniaeth o fwy na theilyngdod cyffredin. Yr oedd ym gymeriad hynod.

Cen. Gwyl Dewi, 1901; Smiles' Men of Invention; Y Traeth., 1898; Young Wales, 1898; Em. Welshmen]




Entry in Roberts's Eminent Welshmen

The article below is taken from Eminent Welshmen: A Short Biographical Dictionary of Welshmen Who Have Attained Distinction from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume I, by T. R. Roberts, published by the Educational Publishing Company, Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil, 1908.
Jones, John, 1818-1900, "Ioan Bryngwyn Bach," an astronomer, was a native of Anglesey. He had but little schooling, and worked for some years as a farm labourer. He became interested in astronomy by reading "The Solar System," by Dr. Dick, translated into Welsh by Mr. Eleazar Roberts. In his 30th year, he removed to Bangor, and was employed as slate loader at Port Penrhyn. While there, he learnt navigation, and pursued his studies in astronomy. He was too poor to buy a telescope, and set to work to make one, purchasing the glasses from Liverpool for 4s. 6d. He was an expert linguist, and wrote a good deal of poetry of more than average merit. (Men of Invention, &c.) See Y Genhinen, March, 1901, p. 42; Young Wales, 1898, p. 272.




Inscription on John Jones's gravestone

John Jones was buried in Glanadda Cemetery, Bangor. The inscription on the gravestone reads:

ER COF AM
JOHN JONES
("Y SERYDDWR"),
32 Albert Street, Upper Bangor,
fu farw Medi 30ain 1898,
Yn 80 Mlwydd Oed.
Yn wylaidd-ddiwyd fe welodd Ioan,
Werth oes o gynyd wrth ddysgu'i hunan:
Ymrodd i ddeall a chwilio allan
Enfawr oleuadau'r nwyfre lydan;
Cofiodd uwchlaw y cyfan - fod yn rhaid
Rhoi hyder enaid ar Awdwr anain.

HEFYD AM
FANNY JONES
Gwraig i'r dywededig JOHN JONES,
yr hon a fu farw Chwefror 2fed 1906,
yn 83 Mlwydd Oed.
"Er cof" ond pwy all gofio=y fath un
Fyth heb dori i wylo;
Ah nid bedd yw' bedd tra byddo
Gem Iesu Grist yn gymysg a'i ro".

HEFYD AM
WILLIAM ROBERTS,
TAILOR GLANADDA,
Yr hwn a fu farw Mai 5fed 1916,
Yn 76 Mlwydd Oed.
Gwyn eu byd y rhai pur o galon; canys hwy
a welant Dduw."

HEFYD
ELIZABETH ROBERTS, gwraig yr uchod
Fu farw Ionawr 7fed 1925,
Yn 83 Mlwydd Oed.
"Hyn a allodd hon, hi ai gwnaeth."





   
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