Thomas Maclear was born in Ireland in 1794 the son of a clergyman. Refusing to follow the profession of his father he was sent to London to study to become a doctor and then a surgeon. He was appointed House Surgeon at Bedford Infirmary and settled in the town where he also followed his hobby of astronomy with a passion.
During his time here he became friendly with retired Admiral William Henry Smyth also an ardent amateur astronomer who lived and had an observatory in The Crescent.
Thomas Maclear married the very beautiful Mary Pearse daughter of Bedford’s most illustrious Clerk to the Peace, Theed Pearse. He then went into partnership with his Uncle in Biggleswade and there also established hi s own observatory, eventually becoming a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In 1833 the post of Her Majesty’s Astronomer for the Cape of Good Hope became available and Maclear was appointed arriving in South Africa with his family in January 1834. He worked closely with John Herschel studying the southern skies for many years. Between 1841 and 1848 he was fully occupied in surveying in order to recalculate the dimensions and shape of the earth , ultimately proving that it was indeed round.
Mary, his wife died in 1861 and he in 1879 they are buried together in the grounds of the Royal Observatory in South Africa.
Maclear has a crater on the moon named after him and the towns of Maclear on the Eastern Cape and Cape Maclear in Malawi, also bear his name.
The family connection with the town was continued when Thomas’s brother was appointed Chaplain of Bedford Prison and another brother who was an army officer retired to the town and sent his own sons to the Bedford School where they later achieved fame as brilliant sportsmen, in particular rugby players and also heroes of the First World War.
Text kindly submitted by Trevor Stewart