One of my favourite authors at the Whipple is Mary Ward (or the Hon. Mrs Ward as she was named on some of her books), writer on microscopy and astronomy.

The Microscope

Born in Ireland in 1827, Mary Ward took a keen interest in natural history and astronomy from an early age and proved herself to be an accomplished artist. As her enthusiasm grew into serious study, she put on exhibitions for her family and friends and hand-printed her own booklets. In 1857 she produced her Sketches with the microscope. It had begun as a collection of letters to her friend Emily Filgate on objects suitable for examination under the microscope. Ward lithographed the plates herself and they were then hand coloured by a Dublin engraver.

STORE 200:14

Sketches was published locally in 250 copies but it soon came to the attention of the London publisher Groombridge & Sons, who bought the copyright and republished it in 1858 as A world of wonders revealed by the microscope. The Whipple’s copy is beautifully bound in green gold-tooled binding.

The book combined a ‘panorama’ of the natural world, showing a real love of spectacle and the minute, with a guide to the practical use of the microscope. Ward taught herself various techniques for making observations and wrote honestly about the difficulties beginners faced when using the instrument. She relied on personal experience and emphasised the importance of making practical observations.

The Microscope, by the Hon. Mrs Ward. 3rd edition, 1870. STORE TURNER 6

Written at a key time in the history of microscopy, when good quality, affordable microscopes were becoming more generally available, A world of wonders proved popular and went through a number of editions and revisions. It later became Microscope Teachings, and finally simply The Microscope.

microscope-rossWard’s own microscope, used for her observations, had been bought for her by her father when she was 18. It was produced by Andrew Ross, a leading instrument maker of the time, and Ward opened her book with an illustration of it in Plate 1.


Telescope Teachings STORE CR 0:19

The Telescope

Mary Ward’s cousin was William, 3rd Earl of Rosse and she was a frequent visitor to Birr Castle. She met and corresponded with a number of leading scientists of the time, including David Brewster. Lord Rosse also had the famed great telescope,with a 6 foot diameter mirror, built at Birr Castle. This was completed in 1845 and Mary Ward was one of the first to make observations with it. She produced a companion volume to her microscopical work: Telescope teachings. Similar to her microscopy book, this presented the wonders of the heavens along with a practical guide to the use of a small telescope, with the aim of encouraging others to observe and study for themselves. It was llustrated with Ward’s drawings and observations, made using her own telescope, which had been recommended by her cousin. It was published by Groombridge & Sons in 1859. Also included were recent discoveries made with more powerful telescopes, including the comet of 1858.

Telescope Teachings
Plate 12: The Comet of 1858
The Telescope. 3rd edition. STORE 33:9

Another successful work, Telescope Teachings was revised to become The Telescope. The Whipple has the 3rd edition, bound in bright blue cloth, and the 5th from 1879 (STORE 93:32).

Although she had no real claim to the title, Ward was often named on her books as ‘The Hon. Mrs Ward.’ This was perhaps an attempt to reinforce her authority as an author at a time when it was likely difficult for a woman to find a publisher. Mary Ward’s writing was important in encouraging a knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the natural world among the general public and a young audience, at a crucial time in the history of the production and availabiltiy of scientific instruments like the microscope and telescope. Sadly she died in 1869 when she fell from a steam road carriage at Birr Castle.




G. L’E. Turner, ‘Ward , Mary (1827–1869)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [, accessed 7 Nov 2016]

Owen G. Harry (1984), ‘The Hon. Mrs Ward and ‘A windfall for the microscope’, of 1856 and 1864’ Annals of Science, 41:5, pp.471-482