Norman Lockyer was a scientist who took a special interest in the sun. In 1868 Norman Lockyer, together with Pierre Janssen, discovered a previously unknown element in the atmosphere of the sun, which he named Helium (after the Greek name of Helios, meaning Sun). In 1869 Norman Lockyer founded the science magazine “Nature”, which, to date, is still the most cited scientific journal. Between 1870 and 1905, Lockyer conducted eight expeditions to observe solar eclipses.
It was to one of these expeditions in 1900, where he invited W L Wyllie to come along to Santa Pola in Spain to witness and record the total solar eclipse. The journey was to be made on board HMS Theseus. However, when Bill boarded the ship, one of the officers informed him that he was not on the list of invitees and there was not enough room. Bill, true to his polite nature duly offered to leave. After a brief discussion between the officers, they decided that W L Wyllie should stay after all and looked after him splendidly during the journey.
On 28th May 1900, upon arriving at Santa Pola, the seamen helped to construct a makeshift observatory for Dr Lockyer and piled up some boxes for Bill to sit on, so he could have a good view of the event. Taking his seat, he sketched the scene at lightning speed, occasionally sucking his brush, a technique he always used to either pick out lights or reduce the amount of colour. The observing seamen were amazed by his skill of capturing the scene as one of them quoted: “He puts his blooming brush in his blooming mouth and out comes any colour you please!” Norman Lockyer took some wonderful photographs of Bill on his prefabricated seat surrounded by the ship’s crew, wearing their white rig and large straw hats.