A rare star chart centered on Aquarius, showing a man holding a water jug. Aquarius represents the shepherd son of Tros whom Zeus fell in love with and ascended into the stars. This constellation is radiant for four meteor showers, including the South Delta Aquariids.
The chart includes a delicately colored Aquarius and uncolored parts of the constellations of Pisces, Cetus, Aquila and others. Major stars are shown according to brightness. The image is orientated so that the ecliptic line lies horizontally. Other lines of astrological importance are also shown.
This copy was dedicated to "George, Earl of Warrington." This refers to George Booth, an English nobleman of the time renown for his fine silver collection. A coat of arms is displayed in the center with the motto "Quod ero spero" or "what I hope to accomplish, I shall," the Booth family crest.
Historians of astronomy name four great celestial atlases: Bayer's, Hevelius's, Flamsteed's, and Bode's. To this, they add one great work that could have been: Bevis's Uranographia. While the creation of this work achieved much notoriety and the publication was greatly awaited, the printer Neale's bankruptcy derailed the project. Fortunately, the plates had already been made and separately issued copies, in addition to thirty completed works, were made.
The atlas comprised 51 plates, the same number as Bayer's. Further, each plate analyzes the same celestial region. However, Bevis greatly added to the detail of Bayer's work, drawing on his own astronomical knowledge. Copies of these printings which survived were of great public and scientific interest at the time.
Careful cross-referencing of the dedications on each work allows the date for the creation of the plates to be constrained to between 1747-1749. By comparing the titles suggested in the work to Royal Society and clergy records, upper and lower bounds of the date of creation can be made.
References to a posthumous 1786 Bevis Atlas Celeste prove difficult to follow. Academic debate as to the nature of a paper residing in the British Library copy of the Uranographia advertising a 1786 publication suggests that there was an effort after Bevis's death to resell the work, without crediting him. Other "title page" editions, including one from 1818 held at Cambridge's Whipple Library, advertise a similar thing. Ashworth concludes that several later entrepreneurs tried to resell the original copy under their own name, with the 1786 copy being a prime example of a "ghost work."
John Bevis (1695-1771) was an Oxford-trained physician and amateur astronomer, who is perhaps best known for his discovery of the Crab Nebula in 1731, 27 years before Charles Messier's re-discovery. Bevis set up a private observatory in North London in 1738, where he made observations, which led to his attempt to create the second British Celestial Atlas. In the mid 18th Century, Bevis produced his Uranographia Britannica, which was the first major celestial atlas published after the posthumous publication of the Atlas of John Flamsteed, England's first Royal Astronomer.
Although many astronomers praised the Flamsteed atlas for its accuracy, others were unhappy with the unwieldy size and inelegant plates. This dissatisfaction resulted in John Bevis's decision to base his work on Bayer's Uranometria, rather than Flamsteed. Bevis succeeded in having the plates engraved for his atlas with the assistance of publisher John Neale, but Neale's bankruptcy prevented publication of the Atlas, although a star catalog was printed.
The bankruptcy of Neale resulted in the plates being sequestered by the courts, and the Bevis Uranographia, as it was to have been called, was not published until 1786, some 15 years after his death, and then only as part of composite atlases. Fortunately, a number of impressions were printed from the plates before they disappeared, and nearly all of these sixteen pre-publication sets are still preserved in various libraries around the world.
When one compares the Bevis atlas to Bayer's Uranometria, it is apparent that Bevis followed the plan of the Bayer atlas exactly. There are the same number of plates, of the same size, and each covers the same area of the sky. The constellation figures are also stylistically identical. But the two are not the same. Bevis has more stars, and more accurate positions for those stars. He also took pains to include the many new or variable stars that had been recently discovered, as well as the nebulous objects. There are in fact nine Messier objects on the Bevis charts (including M1, which Bevis discovered), and five of them had never before appeared in a star atlas.