St John’s Sharow  

Historical Notes Stained Glass Churchyard Pyramid Grave The Organ



On the western edge of our churchyard stands an unusual tombstone in the shape of a miniature pyramid, topped with a cross. It commemorates Charles Piazzi Smyth, sometimes known as the pyramid man, and his wife Jessie Piazzi Smyth who accompanied him on many of his expeditions. He has been described as, "Brilliant and Eccentric" but this use of the word 'Eccentric' has been challenged on the basis that is detracts from his remarkable discoveries and inventions. It has been suggested that 'Innovative' would be more accurate and kinder. I am happy to include this as accuracy is essential to the integrity of a document like this.

Charles Piazzi Smyth was born in Naples, Italy on 3rd January 1819 to Admiral and Annarella Smyth. They named their son Piazzi after his Godfather who was an Italian astronomer. Admiral Smyth was himself an amateur astronomer. So perhaps it's not surprising that Charles Piazza Smyth would eventually study astronomy. It is interesting to note that Admiral Smyth was the maternal Grandfather of Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting Movement; making Charles uncle of Baden-Powell.

Admiral Smyth eventually set up home in Bedford where he established an observatory enabling his son Charles to develop a knowledge and love of the science of astronomy. In his mid teens Charles gained a position as assistant to Sir Thomas Maclear in the Cape of Good Hope giving him the chance to observe various astronomical spectacles. He worked in Cape Town from 1835 to 1845 and during this period established a reputation for astronomical drawing and the use of photography.

It was in 1845 that Charles Piazzi Smyth was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, a post he held for 43 years, and also Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. In 1856 he set out on a scientific voyage cum honeymoon. This took him to the mountain peaks of Teneriffe. It was at this time that he confirmed what Newton had earlier surmised, that benefits accrued from carrying out observations from mountain locations where problems caused by the earth’s atmosphere and cloud could be minimized.

The records of this outstanding scientist seem to be somewhat muddied by the prejudice, even bigotry, of others of his times. But there is no doubt he was a man of great achievement. It is with the Great Pyramid of Gizeh that his name will always be remembered. He was a pioneer of indoor photography and the photographs he took inside the Great Pyramid are some of the earliest known. Amongst his various publications were, 'Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid' (1864) and 'Life and Work at the Great Pyramid' (1867). He resigned his Fellowship of the Royal Society when they refused to publish his papers on pyramid research; but there are still hundreds of entries under his name in the Royal Society’s Catalogue of Scientific Papers.

He carried out important scientific research in cooperation with Professor A S Herschel and in 1880 he received the Macdougal-Brisbane Prize after constructing a map of the solar-spectrum. Charles advanced the science of Spectroscopy; started the first time signal from Calton Hill; organised over fifty meteorological stations in Scotland; and made numerous astronomical experiments.

There are the inscriptions appearing upon the pyramid as listed above at the side of the photograph

The following is extracted from an email received in November 2009:

"I was directed to your WebSite ... which shows the Monument to my g.g.g.uncle Charles Piazzi Smyth and his wife Jessica. He was the brother of my ancestor, Henrietta Grace Smyth. The name of their mother (my mother's father's mother's mother) was Anna Eliza nee Warington, but she was called Annarella, because they were born in Naples, and that name is there still today a usual diminutive of Anna......

You may care to provide a "link" to which has a photograph of him, one of her, and one of their home in Edinburgh.

Regards Robin Clay"

PS - Here's another link....

We are indebted to Robin Clay, have happily corrected the spelling, and are pleased to include the links

In memory of


Daughter of Thomas Duncan, the dear wife of Charles

Piazzi Smyth L.L.D. Ed. Late Astronomer Royal for Scotland

Who was his faithful and sympathetic friend and companion

Through 40 years of varied Scientific experiences by land and seaabroad as well as at home at 12000feet up in the atmosphere on the wind swept Peak of Teneriffe as well as underneath and Upon the GREAT PYRAMID OF EGYPT

Until she fell asleep in the LORD JESUS CHRIST

At Clova Ripon on the 24th day of March 1896 aged 80.