Sir William Peck: Astronomer, Inventor, Freemason, Occultist

Sir William Peck, FRSE FRAS, was born on 3 January 1862 at Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

In his youth, his family moved to Edinburgh, where he worked in a glue factory in the Gorgie district, owned by future Member of Parliament, Robert Cox.

Despite having no formal education in astronomy, by the age of 21 years, William Peck was holding lectures on the subject in Edinburgh.

He was employed by aforesaid Robert Cox, to run a private observatory at Murrayfield where he used a 13-inch Newtonian reflector.


BROTHER WILLIAM PECK: Astronomer, Inventor, Freemason, Occultist.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Following the grand opening of the City Observatory on Calton Hill on 24 October 1898, Peck ran the Observatory on behalf of the city, making use of the 22-inch reflector which was contained within the City Dome in the north-east corner of the site.

He gave regular lectures on astronomy at the observatory and around the city and had frequent visitors to view the night sky through the telescopes.

Peck remained the city Astronomer of Edinburgh up until his death. At the same time, he was also a noted scientific instrument maker.


City Observatory, Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland By Andrew Shiva
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Peck was always keen to encourage the study of astronomy, and was involved with at least three local astronomical societies, and was president of the British Astronomical Association’s East of Scotland Branch.

Knighted in 1917, he was honorary president in 1924 of the newly formed Edinburgh Astronomical Association. This association changed its name in 1938 to The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh.

The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh have a number of original glass plates of the moon in the Society’s collection which were taken by Peck with a 6-inch Cooke telescope. 

Solar eclipses in Edinburgh are reputed to bring adverse weather, and there is an example of a cloudy sun in eclipse, taken at the City Observatory on 28 May 1900. In 1905, Peck observed a total solar eclipse in Spain. 

Later, he visited Egypt to study the pyramids at first hand, this being an abiding interest of his, and on which he lectured frequently.


Pyramids at Gizeh, showing the overflow of the River Nile,
IMAGE LINKED:  NYPL Digital Collections Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Peck published a number of popular works on astronomy; one of particular interest being: Popular Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy, published by Gall and Inglis in 1890 (proprietor James Gall was also a noted astronomer).

Others include: The Handy Star Map (1880); The Constellations and How to Find Them (1887); The Observers Atlas of the Heavens (1898); and The Southern Hemisphere Constellations and How to Find Them (1911).

Clearly a man ahead of his time, in order to harness the evolving technology of electricity, in 1898, Peck founded a company to build electric motor carriages.

He called it the Madelvic Motor Carriage Company, which operated from business premises in the Granton area of the city. It was one of the first such enterprises in the world.

His mother Lodge was the Lodge of Edinburgh (St. Mary’s Chapel) No. 1, but the present writer has been unable to trace admission details.

He was exalted into Edinburgh Royal Arch Chapter, No. 1, on 3 February 1892. 

He was admitted Zelator in Metropolitan College, Societas Rosicruciana in Scotia, Edinburgh on 30 May 1892, by other notable Fratres, including George Dickson, Past Senior Substitute Magus, and Robert Smith Brown, Secretary-General.

Dickson was a member of Anthony Oneal Haye’s earlier Rosicrucian society, and both he and Brown were also members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Peck was Celebrant of Metropolitan College from 1897 to 1899.

Golden Dawn Rose Cross Lamen By Fuzzypeg – Created by Fuzzypeg using Inkscape, Public Domain,
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Evidently of an esoteric bent, he joined the Amen-Ra Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Edinburgh, in December 1893, little doubt influenced by aforesaid George Dickson and Robert Brown.

He was member number 180 on the Roll, and at the time, resided at 8, Coltbridge Terrace, Edinburgh (later moving to Observatory House, in the Calton Hill area of the city).

His Order motto was: ‘Veritas et Lux’ (Truth and Light), and he attained Grade 5=6 within this Order on 1 November 1895.

One notable event which occurred during Peck’s time with the Order, was the so-called ‘Horos Scandal’ of 1901 [perpetrated by the medium fraudster Ann O’Delia Diss Debar aka Swami Laura Horos].

As a result of this, the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh fell into abeyance with Peck destroying most of the Temple property.

It was revived in December 1910 by Edinburgh occultist John William Brodie-Innes in conjunction with the autonomous Cromlech Temple. In common with many Golden Dawn members, Peck was also a prominent member of the Scottish Lodge of the Theosophical Society.

His wife, Lady Christina Peck, was also a member of the Golden Dawn, her Latin motto being: ‘Perseverando’ (By persevering). Lady Peck joined the Amen-Ra Temple on 9 March 1895 and was member number 236 on the roll. 

Like her husband, she also reached grade 5=6, on 28 May 1897.

William Peck died on 8 March 1925 and is interred at Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh.

His headstone is in the form of an Egyptian obelisk in recognition of his keen interest in Egyptian culture and history.


Sir William Peck’s grave at Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Image credit: Kenneth Jack

Article by: Kenneth C. Jack

Kenneth C. Jack  FPS is an enthusiastic Masonic researcher/writer from Highland Perthshire in Scotland.

He is Past Master of a Craft Lodge, Past First Principal of a Royal Arch Chapter, Past Most-Wise Sovereign of a Sovereign Chapter of Princes Rose Croix.

He has been extensively published in various Masonic periodicals throughout the world including: The Ashlar, The Square, The Scottish Rite Journal, Masonic Magazine, Philalethes Journal, and the annual transactions of various Masonic bodies.

Kenneth is a Fellow of the Philalethes Society, a highly prestigious Masonic research body based in the USA.

A Popular Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy

By: Sir William Peck

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History of the Edinburgh Royal Arch Chapter No. 1

By: William Albert Davis

Excerpt from History of the Edinburgh Royal Arch Chapter No. 1: As Extracted From the Records of Its Minutes, From the Date of Its Foundation in 1778 to the Present Time

The work has been simplified to a’large extent by the complete ness of the Chapter’s records, so that the difficulty has been, not what to take notice of, but what to leave alone; and the writer is hopeful that what has been put together in the following pages may prove of general interest.

Care has been taken in making quotations to copy them exactly as they appear in the Minutes, so that the quaintness of past phraseology should be preserved, and in instances where it was difficult to embrace the precise wording, the actual phrasing has so far as possible been adopted, which accounts for some of the paragraphs assuming a composition not of the present day.


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Her brazen exploits provided newspapers around the world with sensational copy for almost four decades, from 1870 to 1910, and earned for her the title of “the world’s worst woman.”


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