In the 1930s Beames began studying optics and mathematics in pursuit of his interest in astronomy. In 1934 he completed his first telescope, a 6 inch or 15.2 cm equatorial mount, reflector telescope. Late in the 1930s he began work on a 24 inch (610 mm) reflector telescope at this workshop in Drummoyne. He obtained the glass blank from Chance Brothers in England, and then set about constructing an electric grinding machine to grind and polish the blank. At the same time he worked on the equatorial mounting and the telescope tube and the optical and engineering work were complete by 1939 although the telescope was not assembled until after World War II. During the 1940s Beames also mounted a 17 inch (432 mm) Schmidt telescope and a 6 inch (162 mm) refractor telescope used guide scope on the side of the main telescope. The Schmidt was never completed as the corrector plate was stolen before it was installed.
At the end of the war Beames took steps to finally locate and assemble his 24 inch telescope in a suitable place away from the light pollution afforded by Sydney. It was first assembled in a sliding roof observatory building at Lisarow near Gosford in 1946 but the clouded night skies experienced there prompted Beames to purchase land at Linden in the Blue Mountains in 1948. The square brick base of the observatory building was built by his friend and fellow member of the British Astronomical Association, Albert York who was a builder by trade. Albert York also founded the observatory in Port Macquarie NSW.
Beames designed and built the dome, and the electrical control systems including winding his own specialised motors. He built most of the machinery and equipment necessary to assist in the construction of the telescope including electric welder & milling machines. The 24 inch telescope was installed in the observatory building in 1949 and made operational. Over the following 10 years various 'finishing touches' were made to the telescope.
The telescope is a 24 inch (610 mm) diameter reflecting scope with a Nasmyth optical arrangement comprising "an unperforated parabolic glass primary , a 152 mm plano convex secondary and an optical flat which directs the light to an eyepiece assembly on the side of the telescope tube." (Orchiston 1989). The base of the 2.74 metre telescope tube is fashioned from a solid aluminium sheet while the upper extension is constructed in a "cross braced lattice design" ( Orchiston, 1989 ). The telescope utilises an equatorial mount the movement of which is achieved using a number of electric drives. "The main drive wheel contains 720 teeth and is operated by an electric motor, which is accurately timed by a seconds pendulum. A second wheel is used for fast slewing and also has a fine adjustment, while the third wheel is used for positioning the telescope in right ascension according to the setting circle. There is also a prominent declination circle and a declination fast slew motor" (Orchiston, 1989). Another telescope, an incomplete Schmidt camera, is attached to the 24 inch telescope tube as is a large finder scope initially designed as a telescope in its own right and adapted as a guide scope.
The telescope is located on top of a large solid brick pier within a building comprising a square brick base and a large 3.7 metre rotating dome constructed of steel and galvanised iron. The dome has two steel shutters operated by motors. The rotation of the dome is achieved by the movement of 16 wheels "driven from the hand paddle located adjacent to the eyepiece of the main telescope , or from drive controls located at various points round the dome ring" (Orchiston 1989).
The Observatory building also contains Beames' first telescope constructed in 1934. This instrument is constructed of brass and is also a finely crafted work. A cupboard contains various sights and lenses made by Beames as well as an electrical switch and power board constructed by Beames to power the large telescope and dome and the second pendulum which he designed and constructed to regulate the movement of the main wheel of the telescope mount. The telescope and the observatory building were all designed and manufactured by Beames in his workshops at Five Dock and later the workshops located on the observatory site. The only exception was the machining of the right ascension and declination shafts which were done at Morts Dock. The Observatory building also contains left over boxes of optical components of sighting telescopes and signalling lamps as well as working drawings and notes for his optical work during WWII and the construction and engineering of the telescope and observatory.
The 24 inch reflector telescope made by Ken Beames and housed in the original observatory was the largest and most technologically advanced telescope in NSW from the late 1940s when it was completed up until the mid 1960s when the 24 inch and 40 inch telescopes were constructed and installed at Siding Spring Observatory.
While Beames' telescope attracted much interest from amateur and professional astronomers who assumed the optics to be first class due to his experience manufacturing optics during World War II, few people were allowed access to the telescope until the 1980s. This was when Wayne Orchiston, then working at Mt Stromlo Observatory and close friend, was allowed to make a number of observations in return for re-aluminising the telescope's mirrors (Beames used the traditional method of silvering). Orchiston's observations confirmed the fine quality of the optics and the power of the instrument and further advanced the respect of both his amateur and professional colleagues.
Current and future
At the present time the 24" reflector is not in fully functional. While the telelscope remains in good condition optically and mechanically, failure of the old custom built electrical systems prevents its operation. Funding is being sought to restore the electical systems and bring this historic instrument back into working order.
While the Beames 24" telescope remains the centrepiece of the observatory site, the observatory is well equipped with telescopes for use by amateur astronomers and during public viewing events.
The recent listing of the observatory on the NSW Heritage Register will provide opportunities to further develop the site as a centre for astronomy and astronomical education, in keeping with Ken Beames' wishes.