Employees of the Observatory

At the beginning the staff of the Observatory consisted of the professor, the observer and the servant. The professor was given a flat in the observatory complex. In addition to the astronomer-observer there was also an assistant since 1827. In 1896 and 1904 the post of the first and the second part-time (without a salary) assistants were added. During World War 1 the assistants began to receive salaries. In 1913-14 the post of the first assistant at the observatory was occupied for the first time by a woman – Maria Orlova – who processed photos. The assistants lived in a room above the clock-room. The assistants changed quickly, from them many people became recognized astronomers. A special house for the astronomer-observer was not built in spite of the repeated requests of the professors. The university mechanic was a very important person. The observatory had to use his services together with the physics centre and other people in need of his help.

The personnel was small and this is why the servants had to fulfill astronomical tasks. The first servants remained in work for a short time and no profound traces have remained of their activities, but three of them became legendary in their time.

The staff of the observatory in 1932-1933. From left to right: P. Simberg, R. Pallav. R. Livländer, T. Rootsmäe, A. Piiri, H. Muischneek, M. Blum, R. Põder, A. Kipper (TO).

Martin Saar (1814 Sootaga – 1879 Tartu) was a skilful craftsman. Before coming to work to the observatory he had made a home organ for himself. As a servant he worked at the observatory from 1843 until his death. As an experienced servant, he became an irreplaceable helper of the professor. In 1855 professor Mädler asked the university government to find possibilities for raising the salary for Martin Saar who had wife and five children because he was the first servant who had been in office for a long time being an excellent and conscientious employee. In 1860 Martin Saar participated in the expedition to Spain for observing the full solar eclipse. Everybody had a task – Mädler himself observed the crown of the sun, his wife the change in the color of the clouds. Martin Saar, who had perfect eyesight, watched stars during the eclipse and fixed them in pencil on a special half-sphere. In addition to planets he succeeded in fixing 8 stars.

On the original version of the report deposited in the Tartu University Library somebody had made notes in pencil – the word “servant” seemed to be unsuitable and the word “Beobachter” (observer) had been written instead. (TÜR. 55-1-50)

Mihkel Sirel (1852 Tartu − 1922 Tartu) was born to the family of a craftsman. He was taken to the observatory in 1873 to help Martin Saar, advanced in years, and in 1879 he was appointed to the post of a calefactor. The servant remained the only link between the new and the old stage of development of the observatory in the beginning of the 1890s. In 1903 thanks to professor Levitski’s request his salary was raised by 5 rubles a month because he gives more important assistance to teaching of students than the servant is expected to do. This is how Sirel is in the photo which depicts instruction in geodesy. In 1918, when the Russian university was evacuated and in the autumn term the German Landesuniversität functioned, the old warden as a good spirit was guarding the observatory. On 19 December 1918 he gave the keys to the new director David Rootsman. He remained in his office until death.

A postcard to the servant Mihkel Sirel in 1884, sent by assistant Hartwig, found in the observatory attic (TUAM. 1380:3).
A prescription for medicine to the servant of the observatory 1884, found in the observatory attic (TUAM 1380:4).

Rudolf Pallav (1885 − 1955 Tartu) had already during World War 1 worked at university, first as a servant in the library. In 1922–40 he was the warden of the observatory but until his death he worked at the Chair of Astronomy of Tartu State University. During World War 2 he saved the observatory from fire. Pallav helped to carry out observation and instruction and he was especially active in popularizing astronomy guiding excursions and organizing observation evenings for school students. His contemporaries remembered him as a humorous person with many interests and an open mind.