Commander Edward David Ashe, R.N., F.R.A.S. (1814-1895)

On 23 January 1814, “The Examiner” announced the arrival of twins, both boys, to their mother, Mrs Ashe, “the lady of the celebrated performer on the flute”. Edward David Ashe and William Thomas Ashe (1814-1868) were born on 13 January 1814 and were baptised at Walcot St. Mary’s Chapel in Bath, Somerset, on 19 February 1815. Their parents, Andrew Ashe (1756-1838) and Mary Comer (1774-1843), were both well-known musicians of their time, with Andrew Ashe being acknowledged as one of the best flute players in Europe.

At the age of 16, Edward David Ashe entered the Royal Navy on 20 March 1830, and passed the Lieutenant’s examination on 21 May 1836. The following appointments have been recorded:

1836-1839: Mate of the HMS Daphne, 18 guns, under Capt. John William Dalling;
25 May 1842: Obtained his commission as Lieutenant;
14 February 1843: joined the HMS Excellent gunnery training ship at Portsmouth under Capt. Sir Thomas Hastings;
16 May 1843: Sailed under Capt. John Alexander Duntze in the HMS Fisgard, 42 guns, which was operating in the Pacific;
3 November 1848: appointed as First Lieutenant of the HMS Daphne, 18 guns;
20 June 1850: attached to the Coast Guard;
1862-1865, 1873: President of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec;
1 January 1865: promoted to Commander and placed on the Retired List;

According to the Index of the Lectures, Papers, and Historical Documents Published by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (1891), he authored the following publications:

1. Water Power of Quebec (1855).
2. Plan of the Construction of a Raft to Rescue Passengers from Sinking Ships (1855).
3. On the Employment of the Electric Telegraph in Determining the Longitude of some of the principal places in Canada, 1859
4. The late Eclipse: Journal of a Voyage from New York to Labrador (1861).
5. Notes of a Journey across the Andes (1862).
6. Insurrection in Jamaica of today compared with that of 1852 (1863).
7. On the Motions of the Gyroscope, Top and Teototum (1864).
Result of Observations for the Determination of the Latitude of the Quebec Observatory (1864).
8. Solar Spots – 4 plates (1867).
9. Recent Improvements in Communicating Time and Controlling Clocks (1867).
10. On the Physical Constitution of the Sun (1869).
11. On Recent Discoveries in Astronomy (1869).
12. The Canadian Eclipse Party of 1869 (1870).
13. The Moral and Political Position of Woman (1871).
14. The Coming Transit of Venus (1872).
15. The Mechanical Powers and Improvements in The Steam Engine (1873).

Edward David Ashe was married to Marcella Maude Chaplin Percy, daughter of the Rev. Gilbert Percy (who was private Chaplain to the Earl of Letrim), by the Lord Bishop of Quebec at All Saints’ Chapel, Quebec, on 28 May 1851, which was reported in the Nautical Standard and Steam Navigation Gazette (London) on Saturday,  21 June 1851:

1851, Marriage, Ashe-Percy
Edward and Marcella had the following children:

1. Rear-Admiral Edward Percy Ashe (1852-1914), who married Susan Gile (1862-1925).
2. Lt. William Austin Cochran Ashe (1854-1893), who succeeded his father as Director of the Quebec Observatory.
3. Marcella Mary Maude Ashe (1855-1942), who married James Ramsey Montizambert (1856-1926).
4. Lucy Emma Ashe (1857-1941), who married, first, Alfred Holloway, and second, Arthur Hills.
5. Fanny Eliza Percy Ashe (1859-1911).
6. Gilbert Henry Percy Ashe (1861-1931), who married Ella Victoria Arnald (1873-1966).
7. Henry Richard Matravers Ashe (1863-1945), who married Winifred Clara Brooks (1871-1946), and who emigrated from Canada to California via Alabama and Georgia.
8. Frederick Webber Ashe (1864-1933?), who married Belle Haven Greene (1863-1914), and who was a well-known banker.
9. Honor Nora May Ashe (1867-1926), who married George Soames.
10. Mary Gertrude Florence Beresford Ashe (1870-?), who married Arthur Edward Scott (1863-?).
11. Kathleen Willoughby Ashe (1875-1935), who married John Perley Wells (1867-1943).

A survey of Esquimalt Harbour, just west of Victoria, was made in 1847 by Lieutenant-Commander James A. Wood, H.M. Surveying Vessel Pandora, assisted by Mr. R.M. Inskip, Naval Instructor in the HMS Fisgard (Captain John A. Duntze), when the point and islands, etc. around the harbour were all named after the officers of the Fisgard, including the point on the eastern shore of Esquimalt Harbour, which was named “Ashe Head” after Edward David Ashe, who was serving on HMS Fisgard at the time.

Commander Ashe is perhaps best known for his time spent at the Observatory in Quebec, Canada. The seeds for his scientific success there were probably sown during his initial Royal Navy training where he showed promise in mathematics and mechanics. His appointment to the Observatory came about as a result of a shipboard accident in August 1849, when he suffered a fracture of the thigh that made him a lifelong invalid. As a result, he was then offered the directorship of the proposed observatory at Quebec.

The observatory was designed to provide accurate time to the port of Quebec. Edward David Ashe arrived in November 1850, bringing with him instruments from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (London), England. After making alterations to the observatory building, he took charge in 1851.

In his article, Origins of Canadian Government Astronomy, which was published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 69 (1975), Richard A. Jarrell makes some interesting comments about Commander Ashe’s involvement in the Quebec Observatory:

Origins of Canadian Government Astronomy1Origins of Canadian Government Astronomy2
It is also worth reading Richard Jarrell’s entry for Commander Ashe in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Below is a bookplate (© The Royal Society), ‘Clear for action’, which is a photographic plate from The Proceedings of the Canadian Eclipse Party, 1869, by Commander Edward David Ashe (Quebec, 1870). The photograph shows Commander Ashe with three of his assistants, when he lead an expedition to Iowa to view the solar eclipse on 7 August 1869:

Commander Edward David Ashe
Commander Ashe retired in May 1883, and went to live in Lennoxville, just outside Sherbrooke, in Quebec. He died there on 30 March 1895 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Interestingly, he was succeeded, in 1886, as Director of the Quebec Observatory by his son, Lieut. William Austin Ashe, who was the author of An Elementary Discussion of the Nebular Hypothesis in 1889.