Schwabe, Samuel Heinrich (1789 - 1875)

Samuel Heinrich Schwabe was born in Dessau on the 25. October 1789. His father Johann Gottlob was Aulic Councillor and the Duke's personal physician, his mother the daughter of the pharmacist Haeseler. They had eleven children, Heinrich was the eldest. Schwabe's grandfather Haeseler influenced him and in 1806, after ten years at school, he began an apprenticeship in the "Mohrenapotheke", a pharmacy in his home town. After three years there Schwabe went to Berlin to study pharmacology under Klaproth and Hermbstaedt. He also heard lectures on astronomy and botany.

When his grandfather became ill in 1811 Schwabe went back to Dessau and took over responsibility of the pharmacy in 1812 after his grandfather’s death. He earned a living for his mother and her other children. In 1829 he was able to sell the business for 18.000 Taler to Christian August Reichmann and to spend his entire time with the scientific research that interested him more than the pharmacy. In 1825 he won a telescope from a lottery and began his observations. In the same year he ordered a refracting telescope from the Fraunhofer workshop in Munich which he received in 1826. Schwabe had erected an astronomical observatory on top of his house where he made observations of the Moon, the Sun and the planets. A larger instrument with 6 feet focal length was soon added. It had previously been owned by W. G. Lohrmann.

60 pages of observing notes were made during this first year , the first notes on sunspots occured under the date 30. October 1825. On a suggestion by K. L. Harding Schwabe searched for planets inside the Mercury orbit but turned his interest to the sunspots. Alexander von Humbold introduced Schwabe at court and he was invited to teach the Duke's children. During that time he made the acquaintance of Amalie Moldenhauer and married her in 1841. She died in 1855. In 1827 he rediscovered the eccentricity of Saturn's ring and in 1843, based on daily observation records between 1826 and 1843, he announced the periodicity of the sunspots in a 10 year cycle (AN 495). Julius Schmidt and Rudolf Wolf supported this periodicity while others remained sceptical. Only when other independent observations made by Wolf, Sabine, Gautier and J. von Lamont supported the sunspot cycle and variations in the Earth's magnetic field with a 11 year frequency, did Schwabe receive wide support.

As a founding member, and for some years president, of the local Society for Natural History he shared his interest for mineralogy and botany with others. He gathered a lot of specimens for the Society's collection of minerals and published a two volume book on the local plants, the "Flora Anhaltina" (1838), in which he described more than 2400 plants. Schwabe's main interest, astronomy, was theoretical until he received his first telescope. The first observations were made in 1826. Schwabe did not publish until 1833 when a letter of him to H. C. Schumacher was printed in the “Astronomische Nachrichten AN 239” (1833). A lot of the observation notes were published only after Schwabe's death by the Royal Astronomical Society in their Monthly Notices. In 1857 the Royal Astronomical Society awarded Schwabe its gold medal: it was presented to him in Dessau by Carrington. Schwabe was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1868.

Schwabe died in Dessau on the 11. April 1875. He had left his scientific collection partly to the Society for Natural History and to the college. From the college he received an annual pension of 300 Marks. 31 volumes with his observational notes covering the years 1825 to 1867 are kept by the RAS at Burlington House, London. Schwabe's house in the Johannes-Strasse 18 was built by the master carpenter Wilhelm Corte. It is still there and the location of his observatory is still noticeable on the roof. Since the reunification of the two Germanys some investors have tried to raze the house to the ground and to build a modern building with offices and shops. Fortunately it was possible to keep and refurbish the building.

This page created by Chris Plicht