People: Robert Jonckheere

Name Jonckheere, Robert
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
16 Oct 1914 – 27 Jan 1919
Born 1888
Died 1974
Supernumerary Computer
Known Addresses 1914
Flamsteed House, Royal Observatory
  1915–1919 Unknown


Robert Jonkheere was one of the leading double star observers of the twentieth century. Before joining the Observatory at Greenwich, Jonckheere, a Belgian by decent had been Director of his own private Observatory at Lille in France. He arrived in England in 1914 as a wartime refugee having escaped from France with his English wife Thirza and his two daughters.

Jonckheere’s wife and daughters went to stay with her family, whilst he visited Greenwich to find work. War time absences had brought much of the non-essential work at Greenwich to a standstill, including the progamme of double star observations with the 28-inch Refractor. Dyson took him on, but was only able to pay him as a Supernumerary Computer at the rate of £6 a month (RGO8/73). Jonckheere, who by then was an experienced observer of double stars was able to continue his research using the 28-inch refractor. Although Dyson informed the Visitors of Jonckheere’s arrival and role, there is nothing in the published annual reports to indicate that he was only paid as a Computer.

Initially, Jonckherre appears to have lodged with the Dysons, moving out soon after when his wife found rooms for the family nearby. Dyson’s daughter Margaret (Wilson) makes a number of references to the Jonckheeres in her book Ninth Astronomer Royal. There she describes the family as being amongst the most constant of their wartime visitors.

The results of Jonckheere’s double star observations were published in the Astronomical Journal in November 1917. Click here to view them. When Jonkheere returned to Lille at the end of the war in January 1919, he was to find his observatory in a ruinous states with the smaller instruments stolen and the larger ones wilfully damaged. Click here to read more. Click here for a brief history of the Lille Observatory (pdf file), Click here for more about Jonkheere himself.