Chapter 1: The Founding Father

Trouble brewed in Paradise, and 21-year-old Samuel Birley Rowbotham faced the challenge pistol in hand.  Rowbotham was Secretary of the Cambridgeshire Community, a socialist colony at Manea Fen in central England.  Founded in 1838, the colony was supposed to exemplify the New Moral World envisioned by Robert Owen, England’s leading socialist.  Now, less than a year later, it was torn by dissension, and most of the colonists were assembled to forcibly expel Rowbotham from office. 

The headquarters of the Cambridgeshire Community stood on the east bank of the Old Bedford Canal, just north of Welche’s Dam.  The canal runs perfectly straight and unobstructed from Welche’s Dam northeast to Welney Bridge, a distance of about six miles.  In their spare time, Secretary Rowbotham and some like-minded colonists performed experiments on this stretch of the canal to determine the curvature of the waters.  They found none.  Armed with this experimental evidence and a long list of scriptures, Rowbotham had attempted to impose upon the colony the doctrine that the earth is flat. 

No one could deny that Manea Fen looks flat.  The Fens district of England lies south of the Wash, a silted-up bay of the North Sea.  Comprising about a half-million acres, it was mostly reedy, uninhabited swamp during historical times, although the last glacier left islands of higher ground.  The Romans built some embankments along the Wash, and an ancient tradition holds that these were part of a scheme to drain the Fens.  The Roman embankments were insufficient, and the Fens suffered numerous inundations by the sea in medieval times. 

The southeastern section of fenland extends almost to the ancient university town of Cambridge.  In 1634, Francis, Earl of Bedford, formed a consortium to drain this area, now known as the Bedford Level.  In those days, universities didn’t teach civil engineering, and Bedford turned to a talented Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden.  The project took nearly two decades.  Vermuyden built dikes along the coast, levees along the rivers, and drainage ditches through the fens.  Windmills pumped the fen water into the rivers where it would not flow of its own accord.  Ancient river channels were deepened and an artificial river, now known as the Old Bedford River, was dug; a cut parallel to this, the New Bedford River, was added about fifteen years later.  By the 19th century, the Old Bedford had been adapted for barge traffic and was known as the Old Bedford Canal. 

Map showing part of the Bedford Rivers and surrounding fenland

Part of the Old and New Bedford Rivers and surrounding fenland.

The Manea Fen property actually belonged to William Hodson, a wealthy farmer who lived near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.  A former Methodist lay preacher, Hodson was enamored with the ideas of Robert Owen, then England’s leading socialist.  Owen advocated a network of self-sufficient socialist colonies, but no one knew whether his ideas would work in practice.  In the fall of 1838, Hodson decided to build an Owenite colony on the Manea Fen estate. 

The former fenland was wonderfully fertile; the area was (and still is) a center for barley, wheat, hay, and oats. [ref. 1.1]  Hodson believed Manea Fen’s 200 acres could support fifty families, and he planned to build fifty houses plus a community building and workshops.  All buildings would be heated by a central heating plant, and the colony would have its own steam engine to run its threshing machine and other equipment.  To ensure the colony’s self sufficiency, the colonists would include members of all major trades.  Hodson advertised in the Owenite paper, the New Moral World, for someone to run the colony.  One applicant was 21-year-old Samuel Birley Rowbotham. 

Rowbotham was born in Manchester, where Robert Owen had once run a cotton mill.  Manchester remembered Owen for his management skill, benevolent policies, and improvements in cotton spinning machinery, so when he began preaching socialism, Owen found a ready following there.  Rowbotham was one of many who attended Owen’s Manchester lectures and found his political and economic ideas appealing.  Though he never formally joined a local Owenite group, Rowbotham became a hanger-on, well-known to many socialist leaders. 

When William Hodson met Rowbotham to discuss his plans for the colony, he was immediately impressed by the young man.  Orthodox Owenites tended to be freethinkers, but the former minister found that Rowbotham combined Christian piety with socialist enthusiasm.  Rowbotham got the job, and the two began organizing the community. 

Most Owenite leaders feared Hodson’s community would be too small to survive, and the National Community Friendly Society never endorsed the project.  Several individual Owenite chapters did, however, and the “Cambridgeshire Community” was organized with Rowbotham as Secretary.  The charter called for them to acquire Manea Fen from Hodson over a twenty year period.  Construction began on a large community building on the canal bank, and Rowbotham beat the bushes for colonists.  He flushed out a motley assortment. 

The first recruits arrived at Manea Fen at about Christmas of 1838.  As one disgusted socialist later described it, “They immediately commenced finding fault with one another and with everything about them.” [ref. 1.2]  The colonists ate, drank, caroused, and argued with gusto, but they showed little enthusiasm for work.  Rowbotham tended to select colonists for their religious orthodoxy rather than their personal character and useful skills.  His recruits constantly battled with the freethinking orthodox Owenites. 

The colony struggled through the winter of 1839 on subsidies provided by Hodson.  The divisions among the colonists were papered over and the necessary work somehow got done.  In the spring, the crops were planted and a semblance of harmony achieved.  But early summer brought a crisis. 

Rowbotham had a secret agenda from the beginning.  When he first saw Hodson’s ad, he consulted a map of Cambridgeshire and noted its many straight waterways.  A flat-earther from his youth, Rowbotham saw them as ideally suited for testing the alleged convexity of the earth, and he was delighted to discover that Manea Fen actually fronted on the Old Bedford Canal. [ref. 1.3]  It’s not clear exactly what experiments Rowbotham and his colleagues performed in the summer of 1839, for his later accounts are contradictory.  In one version, he claimed that he sat in the water and observed with a telescope a few inches above the surface.  From this vantage point he could see boats so far down the canal that they should have been out of sight behind the curvature of the earth.  In another version, he claimed he had set up a surveyor’s transit on a bridge and rigged two boats with tall masts carrying flags at the same height above the water as the crosshair.  The boats were dispatched in opposite directions on the canal, but the flags failed to drop below the line of sight as required by spherical theory.  Whatever the experiments, Rowbotham and a few others decided to make flat-earth fundamentalism a tenet of the Cambridgeshire Community, and that was the final straw. 

A stormy meeting of the Manea Fen socialists ensued, and for once Rowbotham’s silver tongue failed him.  He was shouted down and voted out.  When he refused to go, the council boarded up the door to his room.  It was then that Rowbotham got his pistol (unloaded, he later claimed) and sent his opponents scurrying.  Hodson supported Rowbotham, and Samuel sacked the entire council. 

Flushed with victory, Rowbotham arranged a series of flat-earth lectures in the nearby town of March.  When he returned from the first lecture, however, he found himself locked out again.  This time, Hodson wouldn’t support him, and Rowbotham and seven followers—“undesirables” he had recruited—were thrown out of the colony.  The exiles moved to nearby Wisbech, where they set up housekeeping and organized another series of flat-earth lectures.  These were not successful, so the little troupe hit the road for London.  There they disbanded and dispersed. 

Let’s now take a closer look at Rowbotham himself. 

Samuel Birley Rowbotham was born in Didsbury Chapelry, a small district on the outskirts of Manchester, in 1816.  The Rowbothams were a numerous clan in surrounding Lancashire, with roots going back many centuries.  Samuel’s father was probably a middle-class merchant and his mother’s family, the Birleys, included numerous well-to-do industrialists.  The Birleys owned the Egyptian Cotton Mills in Manchester and collaborated with the Scottish inventor Charles MacIntosh to produce rubberized raincoats that still bear his name.  In 1830, they helped establish the Manchester–Liverpool Railway to haul cotton from the Liverpool wharves to their mills. 

Photo of Samuel Birley Rowbotham

Samuel Birley Rowbotham.

As a youth, Samuel was pious but rebellious, and his attitude toward school teachers often put him at the wrong end of a birch switch.  As he told it 50 years later, [note 1.1]  he first began to doubt Newton at age 7.  At Christmas time the following year, Samuel’s school held a program on the system of the universe, and the Rowbothams attended.  The Newtonian nonsense so offended young Samuel that he and a friend tried to sneak out.  They were apprehended, to the mortification of his parents.  Samuel’s father caned him and transferred him to a different school. 

Shortly afterward, the rebellious boy was sent to live with his paternal grandfather.  This gentleman was something of a mathematician and a great admirer of Newton.  He had a small scientific library, a large and expensive orrery, [note 1.2]  and several telescopes.  The old man showed his grandson some of the astronomical wonders to be seen with a telescope, including the mountains of the moon.  Even then, Samuel was not convinced that the moon is a large and distant body. 

One day, little Samuel stood between his grandfather’s knees while the elder Rowbotham discussed the wonders of the universe with some friends.  Finally the old man asked the boy if he was convinced.  “Grandpa,” he replied, “you make it sound very nice, but you don’t prove what you say.  You only talk and calculate; some day, when I get a big man, I will show you and all these gentlemen that you are wrong, and I will prove it.  I will spend all my money and all my time doing it.” [ref. 1.4] 

His grandfather’s friends inclined toward infidelity, and Samuel noted that they based their arguments against the Bible on the Newtonian system.  As he grew older, Samuel studied the Bible assiduously, and he found there confirmation of his astronomical suspicions.  The Bible clearly shows that the ancient Hebrews considered the earth flat and immovable and covered with the solid dome of the sky.  Samuel decided it was either Newton or the Bible.  Sometimes he was not sure which:

Again and again, the feeling came over me that as the Newtonian system appeared so plausible and so grand in its extent and comprehensiveness, it might after all be correct; and, if so, there could be no heaven for man’s future enjoyment; no higher existence than on this earth; no spiritual and immortal creatures, and therefore no God or Creator. [ref. 1.5] 

As he matured, Rowbotham read widely in the popular scientific literature, and he probably attended lectures on various aspects of science. 

Meanwhile, he vacillated between Biblical literalism and atheism, sometimes leaning toward Newton, sometimes toward the Bible.  It was while in this state that Rowbotham embraced the ideas of Robert Owen.  With a broad if superficial knowledge of science, Rowbotham sometimes lectured Owenite groups on scientific topics, and he proved to be a gifted speaker.  It was his speaking ability that caught the attention of the leading Owenites and ultimately landed him the job at the Cambridgeshire Community. 

After his brief adventure at the Manea Fen colony, Rowbotham dropped from sight for three years.  In 1842, he surfaced again in Manchester with a 64-page pamphlet entitled An Inquiry into the Cause of Natural Death, or Death from Old Age, and Developing an Entirely New and Certain Method of Preserving Active and Healthful Life for an Extraordinary Period.  Besides the extraordinarily long title, several things are notable about the pamphlet.  First, Rowbotham began his life-long practice of operating under pseudonyms, here calling himself “Tryon.” Second, his publisher, Abel Heywood, was a publisher of socialist writings.  Third, Rowbotham did not name or claim any medical credentials, although the text implies that he was a doctor. 

Rowbotham’s one-page introduction to his Inquiry is dated January 1, 1842.  Acknowledging that readers might find some of his ideas startling, he insisted that they were solidly based:

Everything of a metaphysical or speculative character has been carefully avoided; so that whoever may feel disposed to raise objections, he will be obliged to do so not in accordance with any whim, prejudice, or superstition, but by denying the truth of the premises or the legitimacy of the deductions; or, in other words, by combating with truth and reason[ref. 1.6] 

Rowbotham argued that the body hardens from conception to death.  The process begins with the growth of bones in the embryo and continues through maturity, ending with the hardening of the aged body.  Numerous observations support this view.  The bones of children are soft and tough, but adult bones are brittle and easily broken by falls.  Tendons and cartilage harden with age.  The eyes become dim, the ears grow deaf, blood vessels clog and solidify until the blood becomes stationary.  Death is the consequence of this general hardening.  He summed it up thus:

Old age, then, is only a name given to certain conditions of the body, which conditions may be brought on sooner or later according as the process of ossification, or consolidation, proceeds with more or less velocity. [ref. 1.7] 

The aging process, however, is not inevitable.  Without proper care, the human body dies little by little; properly cared for, it is virtually immortal.  Aging primarily results from “earthy matter” such as phosphate and carbonate of lime, which clogs up the body.  Proper care means a diet which avoids earthy matter. 

Rowbotham recommended fresh vegetables, greens, fruit, and meat.  Sugar and alcohol are harmless in moderation, but salt is very bad and so is hard water.  Cider and perry [note 1.3]  both contain malic acid which dissolves earthy matter, so they are healthful.  Wheat flour is bad news, and white bread is the very “staff of death.” [ref. 1.8] 

Numerous groups of people and notable individuals have reputedly achieved great longevity.  Rowbotham claimed that the ancient Gymnosophists [note 1.4]  ate a healthy diet; consequently, they lived so long that they tired of life and committed suicide in disgust.  The Irish ate little wheat and lived long.  Women generally ate less earthy matter and out-lived men.  Eating sparingly promotes longevity even if the food is high in earthy matter.  Rowbotham claimed that long-lived drunkards are invariably sparing eaters. [note 1.5] 

Even after a lifetime of bad diet, health could be restored.  After nine months of investigation, Rowbotham had reached a firm conclusion:

By a careful and continued use of the Tartaric, Hydro-chloric, and Nitric acids, in peculiar states of combination, the most wonderful effects have been produced.  I have no wish whatever to keep the proportions and particular modes of combining them, and the proper doses, from the public, so soon as experience has shown the best mode of exhibiting them in every variety of complaint.  Up to this moment, I have had three hundred and twenty of the most severe and obstinate cases under my care.  The plan of treatment has been to put the patient upon a peculiar diet (one consisting of articles as free as possible from earthy matter), and to administer certain combinations of the tartaric, nitric, and hydro-chloric acids, to dissolve what I conceived to be the matter which obstructed the system; and in NO case where this has been attended to has it failed[ref. 1.9] 

Three hundred twenty successes without a failure is an unbelievable success rate.  Rowbotham summarized several of his cases.  Five patients were cured of severe heart palpitations.  Several were cured of rheumatism, paralysis, and scrofula.  A three-year-old boy, afflicted with a hideous skin condition, was restored to health.  Rowbotham concluded that with proper diet, humans can live for an indefinable period without any medicine. 

The pamphlet is a curiously-tossed salad of research and rationalization.  Rowbotham displayed an uncommon knowledge of basic chemistry, and he had done some experimenting of his own.  His citations of published experimental results and statistical studies prove that he read widely.  His text reveals no monetary motive beyond selling the pamphlet.  But he learned fast. 

In 1845, Abel Heywood published a two-part second edition of An Inquiry into the Cause of Natural Death.  Part 1 is based on the first edition, but it is substantially revised and enlarged.  Part 2, somewhat longer, is a separate pamphlet with page numbers continued from part 1.  The author, “S. Rowbotham,” is described as author of Essay on Human Parturition. [note 1.6] 

The second edition of part 1 differs significantly from the first edition.  For one thing, it is much more hard-hitting.  Wheat bread is not only the “Staff of Death,” but Rowbotham charged that unscrupulous millers adulterated their flour with ground-up chalk or other earthy substances.  Some millers, Rowbotham hinted darkly, might grind up bones from charnel houses:

Ay! start not reader; perhaps the last morsel of bread which found its way to thy stomach was contaminated with the bony remains of thine own grandmother! [ref. 1.10] 

Lime phosphate still causes aging and death.  Sickness and disease are still deemed proportionate to food intake, and readers are advised to eat less if they wish to live longer.  But the healthful effects of tartaric, nitric and hydrochloric acids, so prominent in the first edition, are gone from the second. 

Part 2 introduces free phosphorus as the touchstone of life.  Phosphoric acid reduces appetite while providing healthful free phosphorus.  Continuous use of phosphoric acid reduces the desire for narcotics like alcohol and opium, and it reduces sexual desire (a pious Victorian touch) while increasing sexual potency. [ref. 1.11]  In fact, Rowbotham declared pointedly, some men and women in their seventies had all powers restored through its use. [ref. 1.12]  Not until the second to the last page did he finally get to the point:

The dose of phosphoric acid for an adult, one drachm, to half-an-ounce; but the reader had better seek the advice of the author, which will be given freely. [ref. 1.13] 

Perhaps.  But in later years, Rowbotham’s advice was anything but free. 

Neither edition of Inquiry into the Cause of Natural Death mentioned the shape of the earth, but Rowbotham had not lost interest in the question.  All his life, he never let his medical business interfere with his campaign against astronomy.  Perhaps he lectured intermittently from the time he was thrown out of the Manea Fen colony, but his real career as a flat-earth lecturer began about 1848.  By then, he had found an alternative to the spherical system. 

In 1819, an anonymous author published a 38-page pamphlet entitled The Anti-Newtonian: or, A True System of the Universe, with a Map of Explanation, Proving the Sun to Be a Moveable Body and Central Circling Equator of Equal Time, etc. The work was printed in London at the author’s expense, but it contains no hint of who the writer was, where he lived, or any other biographical information except that he had previously published a work pointing out “the dangerous consequences of speculative astronomy.”

According to The Anti-Newtonian, the earth is a vast circular plain enclosed by a wall of ice.  A map in the pamphlet shows the north pole at the center, the south pole at 12 o’clock, east and west respectively at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, and an “unknown pole” at 6 o’clock.  The sun’s path is a circle whose center moves back and forth along a line connecting the south pole and the unknown pole to cause the seasons.  The half of the earth beyond the east–west line toward the unknown pole is unknown and uninhabitable. 

Rowbotham never mentions The Anti-Newtonian in any of his writings, but he almost certainly based his own system on it.  He discarded the circumferential poles and the unknown, uninhabitable parts of the earth as unworkable.  He left the north pole at the center, but he declared that there is no south pole; the impassable wall of ice encircling the known, inhabitable world forms the “southern limit.” East and west are merely those directions at right angles to the compass needle.  The equator is a circle centered on the north pole and lying halfway between it and the southern limit.  The sun circles above the earth in the region of the equator, moving north or south of the equator to suit the season.  Rowbotham called his system zetetic astronomy. 

Rowbotham’s map of the world, showing the sun”s path above it

Rowbotham’s map of the world, showing the sun’s path above it (from Earth Not a Globe, 1873 edition).

England was then on the brink of an economic renaissance.  The 1840s had been known as “the hungry forties,” a time of economic depression, unemployment, and radical labor agitation.  The worst abuses of the Industrial Revolution were being curbed.  The Factory Act of 1847 prohibited women and boys under 18 from working more than ten hours per day, effectively cutting everyone’s workday to ten hours.  Several prominent churchmen who called themselves “Christian Socialists” preached a social gospel and promoted the cause of labor.  England weathered the socialist storms, and the decade gave way to prosperity, the years 1851 and 1852 being unprecedented. 

Rowbotham seized upon the growing desire for self-education among the British citizenry.  Public education was popular and, with a shortage of university appointments, many scientists and scholars supported themselves and their avocations as traveling lecturers.  Besides the more or less respectable scientists, scholars, and clergymen, there were quacks, phrenologists, itinerant preachers, and assorted other opportunists.  A popular forum for such lectures was the Mechanics’ Institute. 

In 19th century England, a mechanic was someone who worked in a manual occupation, especially a handicraftsman or someone skilled with machinery.  The first Mechanics’ Institute was founded in London in 1823 to afford members facilities for self-education through classes and lectures.  The idea caught on, and Mechanics’ Institutes sprang up all over England.  Many of these institutions evolved until only a small portion of the members belonged to the artisan class. 

Late in 1848, Rowbotham sent a description of zetetic astronomy to the Royal Astronomical Society in London.  Soon afterward, he hit the road for Trowbridge, a Wiltshire market town lying eight miles southeast of the ancient Roman city of Bath and about a hundred miles west of London.  Site of a weekly market and an annual fair from 1200 A.D., Trowbridge was a center for woolen manufacturing by the time of Henry VIII.  By 1849, it had a population of about 5,000 and a thriving Mechanics’ Institute, to which Rowbotham delivered a series of lectures beginning on January 15, 1849. 

Two correspondents commented on Rowbotham’s lectures in the pages of the Wiltshire Independent.  The first wrote as follows:

On Monday and Tuesday evening last, a series of two lectures were delivered here, by Mr. S. Goulden [note 1.7] , to prove modern Astronomy unreasonable and unscriptural, that the earth is a plane or disc, not a globe; the Sun, Moon, and Stars, self-luminous, and the whole within 4000 miles of the earth, &c., &c.  His lectures were well attended, were delivered with great skill, the lecturer proving himself thoroughly acquainted with the subject in all its bearings.—In fact the lectures will probably be prolonged for a few evenings longer. [ref. 1.14] 

Rowbotham’s lectures were indeed prolonged, and he spoke to the Mechanics’ Institute again on Wednesday evening.  Another correspondent, far more critical than the first, wrote as follows:

Considerable amusement, if not instruction, has been afforded at the Rooms of the above Institution the past three evenings by a travelling lecturer who professes to overthrow the Newtonian theory of the universe, and prove that the world is a circular flat surrounded by an infinite boundary of ice and a mass of ice in the centre, the north pole.  That the land floats on the ocean, that the ocean is supported by vapour and the vapour by infinite fire; that the sun, moon and stars are wholly phosphoric and all within a thousand miles of the earth. … These absurdities were followed by others still more absurd, such as that the sun was gradually nearing the earth, would ultimately consume all its oxygen and then go out, but phospherus [sic] would so impregnate the atmosphere and all things that there would be universal light, and every human being would be a brilliant walking luminary.  Then there would be no oxygen to consume animal matter, men would require no food, contract no disease, and consequently never die. [ref. 1.15] 

The cosmology so briefly outlined is consistent with that promoted by Rowbotham to the end of his life.  His fascination with phosphorus is consistent with his other writings, but his prediction that humans would eventually walk the earth as phosphorescent immortals must have been too much for most listeners.  Whatever Rowbotham’s private thoughts on the matter, this idea never again appears in reports of his lectures, nor does it ever appear in his writings.  From the reviews, however, it is clear that he had already adopted the modus operandi he would use for the rest of his life. 

By the end of 1849, Rowbotham had abandoned the pseudonym S. Goulden and begun calling himself “Parallax.” According to Webster, parallax means “the apparent change in the position of an object resulting from a change in the viewer’s position.” Astronomers use the apparent shift of a star’s position in space, as seen from opposite points in the earth’s orbit, as a measure of distance.  Rowbotham probably adopted the name because his theory of perspective involved a parallax-like shift, though cynics suggested it was a synonym for “shifty.”

Early in his lecture career, Rowbotham sometimes had difficulty dealing with objections.  At Trowbridge, for instance, one correspondent reported that a townsman, Mr. Stapleton, had effectively refuted Rowbotham’s arguments.  However effective Stapleton’s arguments might have been, they were presumably tame compared to what Rowbotham ran into at Burnley. 

As Parallax, Rowbotham scheduled two lectures on zetetic astronomy at the Working Men’s Newsroom, Burnley, for Wednesday and Friday evenings, December 5 and 7, 1849.  The attendance for the first lecture was small, but the audience was lively and interested.  Two listeners questioned Rowbotham closely about how, if the earth is indeed flat, the hull of a ship can disappear from view before the masts.  Rowbotham didn’t have a satisfactory answer, and he evaded by saying the subject properly belonged to his second lecture.  He promised to answer this and other hard questions after his second lecture on Friday evening.  A correspondent for the Blackburn Standard described the result:

Friday evening came—the fire was comfortably lighted, and the company collected, but no ‘Parallax’ appeared!!  The persons present of course concluded that he had slipped off the icy edge of his flat disc, and expect to see him again when he peeps up on the opposite edge. [ref. 1.16] 

It was also in 1849 that Rowbotham published his first flat-earth work, a modest 16-page pamphlet entitled Zetetic Astronomy: A Description of Several Experiments which Prove that the Surface of the Sea Is a Perfect Plane and that the Earth Is Not a Globe! The pamphlet describes six experiments with a surveyor’s theodolite.  For example:

Between the Counties of Huntingdon and Norfolk, across the Fens of Cambridgeshire, there is an artificial river called the “New Bedford;” it is upwards of 20 miles in length, nearly a straight line, and without a lock or other interruption to its continuity: nor is there a current except at the ebb tides of the German Ocean.  So that if the Earth is a Globe, the water in this canal is an arc of a circle.  A small boat was sent out 6 miles from the Theodolite—as represented in fig. 9, but no convexity whatever could be detected!  the surface of the water was perfectly level!!

In 6 miles there should have been a fall of 24 feet from the line of sight!!!

As represented in fig. 10. [ref. 1.17] 

Figures 9 and 10 from Rowbotham's 1849 pamphlet

Figures 9 and 10 from Rowbotham’s 1849 pamphlet.

To judge from the pamphlet, the arguments Rowbotham sent to the Royal Astronomical Society had borne fruit.  The title page identifies Zetetic Astronomy as “the substance of a paper read before the Royal Astronomical Society on the evening of Dec. 8, 1848.” Broadsheets (posters) advertising Rowbotham’s lectures made the same claim.  One of the broadsheets fell into the hands of mathematician Augustus De Morgan, who explored unorthodoxies of science and scholarship in a weekly column “A Budget of Paradoxes” [note 1.8]  in the Athenæum magazine.  As it happened, De Morgan could shed light upon what happened at the Royal Astronomical Society.  Quoting Rowbotham’s claim, he commented:

No account of such a paper appears in the Notice for that month: I suspect that the above is Mr. S. Goulden’s way of representing the following occurrence: Dec. 8, 1848, the Secretary of the Astronomical Society (De Morgan by name) said, at the close of the proceedings,—“Now, gentlemen, if you will promise not to tell the Council, I will read something for your amusement:” and he then read a few of the arguments that had been transmitted by the lecturer. [ref. 1.18] 

In the 1850s, Rowbotham stumped much of England, lecturing and learning.  As Parallax, his platform technique was simple.  Zetetic, he would explain, is from the Greek zeteo, meaning to seek or inquire.  He claimed to inquire only after facts, leaving mere theories to the likes of Copernicus and Newton.  He argued that the facts show the earth is flat, and the theory that it is round is untenable.  Recovering from the Burnley disaster, he developed an argument which explained ships disappearing over the horizon hull first as a trick of perspective.  His bottom line was always that the surface of still water is level, which he had verified himself with a series of experiments on the waters of the Old Bedford Canal. 

The lectures were followed by a question and answer period, and that was where Rowbotham’s rhetorical skills shone.  By the time he reached the end of a lecture, the better-educated members of his audience were itching to get at him.  They were usually in for a shock.  Rowbotham had a ready answer for just about any objection they could raise.  Hadn’t the earth been circumnavigated?  Surely, but sailing around the world is simply sailing in a circle.  One can circumnavigate Britain.  Is Britain a sphere?  Next question. 

The discussion was usually a case of the unarmed assaulting a fortress, with Rowbotham easily repelling all attacks.  If a persistent questioner backed him into a dangerous position, Rowbotham would shut him off with, “Now, Sir, you have had your share of the discussion.  Let someone else have a turn.” After an hour of so of this, the spherical contingent of the audience would be foaming at the mouth, and sometimes the lecturer was even threatened with violence.  The calm, witty, and ever-courteous Rowbotham was impressive by contrast.  Those who accepted his scriptural arguments were rarely impressed by any objections the opposition could throw at him, and many went away convinced that they had been deceived all their lives about the shape of the earth. 

The early adventures of “Parallax” were not recorded in any detail, but reviewers for many provincial newspapers were impressed.  The Liverpool Mercury, January 25, 1850, remarked that “the matter is sufficiently important to claim the attention of the scientific world.” Reviewing another lecture series, the Athlone Sentinel, May 21, 1852, noted:

The audience listened with the deepest attention, and appeared astonished at the revelations of the lecturer.  At the close of each lecture several gentlemen entered the lists with “Parallax,” and a lively and interesting discussion ensued.  “Parallax,” however, maintained his principles with infinite tact and ability, and answered his opponents in a masterly manner.  The audiences left strongly impressed with the startling facts to which they had been listening. …

Everywhere he went, Rowbotham left behind a few converts, and by the mid-1860s, “Parallax” was a household word in England. 

Rowbotham was often challenged to repeat his experiments.  Sometimes, he would bluff his way out.  On one occasion, he agreed to duplicate one of his Bedford Canal experiments on the Teign River.  Markers were to be set up at intervals, all at a fixed height above the river, and the row of markers was to be inspected by telescope for curvature.  Parallax was late, so the committee of auditors from the previous lecture set up the markers without him.  When Parallax arrived, he claimed that the committee had shown bad faith by setting up the markers in his absence, was trying to swindle him, and so forth, and he left in a huff. [ref. 1.19]  But it was not always necessary to evade experiments. 

Let Richard A. Proctor, science writer, astronomer, and good-humored arch-enemy of Parallax, describe another experiment:

Mr. Rowbotham did a very bold thing … at Plymouth.  He undertook to prove, by observations made with a telescope upon the Eddystone Lighthouse from the Hoe and from the beach, that the surface of the water is flat.  From the beach, usually only the lantern can be seen.  From the Hoe, the whole of the lighthouse is visible under favourable conditions.  Duly on the morning appointed, Mr. Rowbotham appeared.  From the Hoe a telescope was directed towards the lighthouse, which was well seen, the morning being calm and still and tolerably clear.  On descending to the beach it was found that, instead of the whole lantern being visible as usual, only half could be seen—a circumstance doubtless due to the fact that the Air’s refractive power, which usually diminishes the dip due to the earth’s curvature by about one-sixth part, was less efficient that morning than usual.  The effect of the peculiarity was manifestly unfavourable to Mr. Rowbotham’s theory.  The curvature of the earth produced a greater difference than usual between the appearance of a distant object as seen from a certain low station (though still the difference fell short of that of which would be shown if there were no error).  But Parallax claimed the peculiarity observable that morning as an argument in favour of his flat earth.  It is manifest, he said, “that there is something wrong about the accepted theory; for it tells us that some much less of the lighthouse should be seen from the beach than from the Hoe, whereas still less was seen.” And many of the Plymouth folk went away from the Hoe that morning, and from the second lecture, in which Parallax triumphantly quoted the results of the observation, with the feeling which had been expressed seven years before in the Leicester Advertiser, that “some of the most important conclusions of modern astronomy had been seriously invalidated.” [ref. 1.20] 

No one ever accused Parallax of lacking audacity.  Dodges of this sort were not always necessary, however, for Rowbotham always had a favorite trick ever up his sleeve.  As Proctor continued:

Another experiment conducted by Parallax the same morning was creditable to his ingenuity.  Nothing better, perhaps, was ever devised to deceive people, apparently by ocular evidence, into the belief that the earth is flat—nor is there any clearer evidence of the largeness of the earth’s globe compared with our ordinary measures.  On the Hoe, some ninety or a hundred feet above the sea-level, he had a mirror suspended in a vertical position facing the sea, and invited bystanders to look in that mirror at the sea-horizon.  To all appearance the line of the horizon corresponded exactly with the level of the eye-pupils of the observer.  Now, of course, when we look into a mirror whose surface is exactly vertical, the line of sight to the eye-pupils of our image in the mirror is exactly horizontal; whereas the line of sight from the eye to the image of the sea-horizon is depressed exactly as much as the line from the eyes to the real sea-horizon.  Here, then, seemed to be proof positive that there is no depression of the sea-horizon; for the horizontal line to the image of the eye-pupil seemed to coincide exactly with the line to the image of the sea-horizon.  It is not necessary to suppose here that the mirror was wrongly adjusted, though the slightest error of adjustment would affect the result either favourably or unfavourably for Parallax’s flat-earth theory.  It is a matter of fact that, if the mirror were perfectly vertical, only very acute vision could detect the depression of the image of the sea-horizon below the image of the eye-pupil.  The depression can easily be calculated for any given circumstances.  Parallax encouraged observers to note very closely the position of the eye-pupil in the image, so that most of them approached the image within about ten inches, or the glass within about five.  Now, in such a case, for a height of one hundred feet above the sea-level the image of the sea-horizon would be depressed below the image of the eye-pupil by less than three hundredths of an inch—an amount which could not be detected by one eye in a hundred. [ref. 1.21] 

Proctor goes on to describe a variation of the same experiment which would easily show the dip of the horizon—if it exists. 

Rowbotham first published Earth Not a Globe in 1865. [note 1.9]  The foundation work of zetetic astronomy, this 221-page book presumably contains the substance of his lectures and perhaps some additional arguments.  The first major flat-earth work since Cosmas Indicopleustes, it opens with these words:

The term “zetetic” is derived from the Greek verb zeteo; which means to search or examine—to proceed only by inquiry. [ref. 1.22] 

Presumably, he opened his lectures the same way.  Rowbotham argued that the Copernican system is without a proven foundation.  It is based on premises that are unproven and cannot be proved.  Rather than grounding their system in facts, astronomers speculate and advance metaphysical theories.  The zetetic method, as used in courts of law, is the only legitimate method of scientific inquiry:

Let the practice of theorising be cast aside as one fatal to the full development of truth; oppressive to the reasoning power; and in every sense inimical to the progress and permanent improvement of the human race. [ref. 1.23] 

Throughout the book, Rowbotham disparages theories and theorists at every opportunity:

Whosoever creates or upholds a theory, adopts a monster which will sooner or later betray and enslave him, or make him ridiculous in the eyes of practical observers. [ref. 1.24] 

And furthermore:

The very construction of a theory at all, and especially such as the Copernican, is a complete violation of that natural and legitimate mode of investigation to which the term zetetic has been applied. [ref. 1.25] 

Modern philosophers consider theories the essence of science.  Rowbotham’s ideas were grounded in the Scottish “Common Sense” Realism of philosopher Thomas Reid (1719–1796).  Reid rejected abstract speculations and metaphysics, arguing that some things are self-evident (for example, the external world exists).  Early in the 19th century, Reid’s views were popular among conservative Protestants seeking to stem the tides of astronomy and geology.  Combining ideas selected from Reid and Sir Francis Bacon, they sought absolute proof in science and rejected all theories. [note 1.10]  [ref. 1.26]  Thus, Rowbotham’s attacks on theories probably were familiar to many readers. 

In setting forth zetetic astronomy, Rowbotham presented arguments in favor of a flat earth and rebuttals against the common arguments for sphericity, with alternative explanations.  His fundamental arguments for the flat earth were: (1) Standing still water is flat, (2) the earth does not appear convex when viewed from a balloon, (3) lighthouses are seen at distances impossible on a sphere, (4) surveyors make no correction for curvature, and (5) the earth is immobile.  He supported these with experimental, observational, or documentary evidence.  Rowbotham treated the following as serious arguments for sphericity: (1) Ships seem to disappear over the horizon, (2) the sea horizon appears to dip, (3) sunrise and sunset, and (4) the earth eclipses the moon.  For these, he constructed alternative explanations, including the zetetic law of perspective. 

The fundamental argument of zetetic astronomy is that standing still water is flat.  If the earth is a globe, the surface of large bodies of water must be convex.  As in his 1849 and 1851 pamphlets, Rowbotham described an experiment on the six miles of water between Welney Bridge and Welche’s Dam on the Old Bedford Canal:

The observer, with a good telescope, was seated in the water as a bather (it being the summer season), with the eye not exceeding eight inches above the surface.  The flag and the boat down to the water’s edge were clearly visible throughout the whole distance! [ref. 1.27] 

This was, of course, the location of Rowbotham’s former Owenite colony.  He also described numerous other experiments, including the mirror experiment discussed by Proctor. 

In the 1860s, the cutting edge of aerial technology was the balloon.  For some reason, numerous early balloonists reported that from high altitude, the earth looks positively concave.  Perhaps Elliott, an American balloonist, was first:

[T]he view of the Earth from the elevation of a balloon is that of an immense terrestrial basin, the deeper part of which is that directly under one’s feet. [ref. 1.28] 

Quotations from balloonists became a mainstay of flat-earth argumentation. 

Under normal viewing conditions, at least, the sphericity of the earth would limit the distance at which any given lighthouse could be seen.  Rowbotham argued that lighthouses were frequently seen at far greater distances, and he gave numerous documented instances. 

It was commonly understood that surveyors laying out railways or canals corrected their sights for the curvature of the earth.  Rowbotham insisted that this was not done in practice.  Furthermore, the British government tacitly acknowledged that the earth is a plane.  As proof, he cited standing order No. 6 of the House of Lords, which regulated plans submitted to the government for public works:

[A] datum HORIZONTAL LINE, which shall be the same throughout the whole length of the work, or any branch thereof respectively; and shall be referred to some fixed point stated in writing on the section, near some portion of such work; and in the case of a canal, cut, navigation, turnpike, or other carriage road, or railway, near either of the termini [emphasis presumably added by Rowbotham]. [ref. 1.29] 

To a flat-earther, horizontal means flat, not some uniform distance above sea level. 

If the earth is a revolving globe, Rowbotham argued, the speed of its surface in England should be about 700 miles per hour.  To determine if this is true, he fastened an air-gun to a post and adjusted it to true vertical with a plumb-line. [ref. 1.30] 

On discharging the gun, the ball … invariably (during several trials) descended within a few inches of the gun. ….  [T]wice it fell back upon the very mouth of the barrel.  The average time that the ball was in the atmosphere was 16 seconds … [ref. 1.31] 

Allowing half the time for the ascent and half for the descent, Rowbotham calculated that the earth should have moved 5600 feet in the meantime and the balls should have fallen more than a mile away. 

A major problem for zetetic astronomy—one Rowbotham obviously hadn’t solved when he ignominiously ran away at Burnley—is why outward-bound ships seem to sink below the horizon, first the hull disappearing, then the lower sails, and so forth.  Rowbotham explained this effect by the zetetic law of perspective. 

Illustrators construct perspective drawings using a geometric concept called the vanishing point, the distant point upon which a group of parallel lines appears to converge.  In conventional perspective, the real vanishing point is at infinity.  In zetetic perspective, the vanishing point is the limit of visibility, which depends upon the apparent size of an object.  To make this point, Rowbotham quoted a popular compendium of facts, Mayhew’s Wonders of Science:

The smallest angle under which an object which can be seen is upon average for different sights the 60th part of a degree, or one minute in space; so that when an object is removed from the eye 3000 times its own diameter, it will only just be distinguishable; consequently, the greatest distance at which we can behold an object, like a shilling, of an inch diameter is 3000 inches or 250 feet. [ref. 1.32] 

Rowbotham argued that zetetic perspective explains ships apparently going “hull-down” over the curvature of the earth:

[I]f the surface of the hull be ten feet above the water it will vanish at 3,000 times 10 feet; or nearly six statute miles; but if the mast-head be 30 feet above the water, it will be visible for 90,000 feet or over 17 miles; so that it could be seen upon the horizon for a distance of eleven miles after the hull had entered the vanishing point! Hence the phenomenon of a receding ship’s hull being the first to disappear, which has been so universally quoted and relied upon as proving the rotundity of the Earth, is fairly and logically a proof of the very contrary! [ref. 1.33] 

This explanation has a distinct consequence, which Rowbotham met directly: “If now a good telescope be applied the hull will be distinctly restored to sight!” [ref. 1.34]  On a flat canal, the telescope will always bring the object back into view, but this is not always possible on the undulating sea because a telescope magnifies the waves:

[T]hus the phenomenon is often very strikingly observed—that while a powerful telescope will render the sails and rigging of a ship when beyond … the optical horizon, so distinct that the very ropes are easily distinguished, not the slightest portion of the hull can be seen. [ref. 1.35] 

This flatly contradicts his frequent statements that a telescope invariably brings the hull back into view! 

Another serious objection to zetetic astronomy is the apparent dip of the horizon.  Rowbotham confronted the problem directly:

If a theodolite or spirit-level be placed upon the sea-shore, and “levelled,” and directed towards the sea, the line of the horizon will be observed to be a given amount below the cross-hair of the instrument, to which a certain dip, or inclination from the level will have to be given to bring the cross-hair and the sea horizon together. [ref. 1.36] 

This is fairly stated.  The dip of the horizon is generally attributed to the sphericity of the earth. [note 1.11]  According to the zetetic law of perspective, however, the horizon always should appear at eye level. 

Rowbotham acknowledged that this phenomenon seems convincing, but he argued that it is actually an illusion caused by the lens system of the theodolite.  He pointed out that if a convex lens is held in front of a straight line, the apparent position of the line shifts whenever the lens is the slightest bit off center. [ref. 1.37] 

Sunrise and sunset seem an even greater problem.  If the sun is always above a flat earth, skeptics asked, why does it appear to set?  Rowbotham explained that the sun’s light at any given time falls in a circle, like a spotlight.  Although the path of the sun is parallel to the earth’s surface, it appears to ascend when approaching and to descend when receding. [ref. 1.38]  He used a drawing to explain how the apparent position of the sun varies with its actual position.  He concluded that sunrise and sunset are a matter of zetetic perspective:

Thus “Sunrise” and “Sunset” are phenomena dependent entirely upon the fact that horizontal lines parallel to each other appear to approach or converge in the distance. … [ref. 1.39] 

Both conventional and zetetic astronomy attribute solar eclipses to the moon’s passing between the sun and the observer.  Lunar eclipses are another matter.  Rowbotham argued that the conventional explanation, that the earth passes between the sun and moon, is impossible, for “cases are on record of the Sun and Eclipsed Moon being above the horizon together.” [ref. 1.40]  (To quell doubts about the latter, he cited numerous references from conventional scientific sources.) He concluded that an unseen dark body is responsible.  As for predictions of eclipses, they are simply cyclic phenomena.  Ptolemy calculated all eclipses for 600 years, and the Babylonians are known to have calculated eclipses in 719 B.C. [ref. 1.41] 

Rowbotham also described his vision of the known universe.  Using reported observations of the sun’s angular altitude, he calculated its actual height as less than 4,000 miles.  He concluded that its path is roughly circular, as explorers in the polar regions have actually observed the sun describing a circle upon the southern horizon. [ref. 1.42]  Actually, he argued that the solar path is a spiral that increases and decreases in diameter, taking the sun somewhat north or south of the equator, and this phenomenon causes the seasons.  The moon is self-luminous.  Its exhibits phases because not all of its surface is luminous, and it rotates to present more or less of the luminous part to the earth. 

The earth is like a great ship floating at anchor on the waters of the great deep, but volcanoes are proof that it has a fire in the hold! [ref. 1.43]  Rowbotham concluded that the interior of the earth is on fire, and that under the right circumstances it could be annihilated in a conflagration. [ref. 1.44] 

In the final section, which amounts to more than a fifth of the book, Rowbotham took his gloves off.  He charged that the Copernican theory is completely baseless, and he challenged its advocates to show a single instance where a phenomenon is explained, a calculation made, or a conclusion advanced that does not depend upon assumption!  He insisted that conventional astronomy is all assumption and fraud. 

The whole system taken together constitutes a monstrous absurdity.  It is false in its foundation; irregular, unfair, and illogical in its details; and its conclusions inconsistent and contradictory.  Worse than all, it is a prolific source of irreligion and atheism, of which its advocates are, practically, supporters! [ref. 1.45] 

Zetetic astronomy would strike at the root of atheism, which depends upon modern astronomy:

The doctrine of the Earth’s rotundity and motion is now shown to be unconditionally false; and therefore the scriptures which assert the contrary, are, in their philosophical teachings at least, literally true.  In practical science therefore, atheism and denial of scriptural authority have no foundation. [ref. 1.46] 

Zetetic astronomy supports the inspiration of the Bible.  Some argued that the Bible was intended to teach people how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go, and Rowbotham dismissed them harshly:

To say the Scriptures were not intended to teach science truthfully, is in substance to declare that God himself has stated, and commissioned his prophets to teach things which are utterly false! [ref. 1.47] 

He insisted that conventional astronomy threatened the very foundations of Christianity, and he fired a barrage of scriptures.  Deuteronomy 26:15, Exodus 19:20, Psalm 102:19, Isaiah 43:15, Psalm 103:11, 2 Kings 2:11, Mark 16:10, and Luke 24:51 teach that up and down are absolute, with heaven above the earth.  Conventional astronomy holds that up and down are relative, and Rowbotham demanded:

Where is the true and unchangeable “palace of God?” In what direction is Heaven to be found?  Where is the liberated human soul to find its home—its refuge from change and motion, from uncertainty and danger?  Is it to wander for ever in a labyrinth of rolling worlds? [ref. 1.48] 

He concluded that the belief in heaven is endangered or destroyed by astronomy.  Numerous scriptures call the moon a light, not a reflector (Genesis 1:14,16; Psalm 136:7,9; Jeremiah 31:35; Ezekiel 32:7–8; Psalm 148:3; Isaiah 13:10; Matthew 24:29; Isaiah 9:19–20; Psalm 136:7 9; Job 25:5; Ecclesiastes 12:2, Isaiah 30:26; and Deuteronomy 33:14). [ref. 1.49]  If the sun becomes black as sackcloth, how can the moon only get red as blood if it is merely a reflector?  The fact that the moon will continue to glow when the sun is darkened proves that it shines by its own light. [ref. 1.50] 

Revelation says the stars will fall on the earth.  How can thousands of stars fall on earth if they are larger than the earth and millions of light-years away? [ref. 1.51]  The very distances attributed to stars contradict the Bible:

[T]hey must have been shining, and must have been created at least one hundred million nine hundred thousand years ago!  The chronology of the bible indicates that a period of six thousand years has not yet elapsed since “the Heavens and the Earth were finished, and all the Host of them.” [ref. 1.52] 

The arguments made by skeptics against the Deluge collapse on the flat earth. [ref. 1.53]  The Deluge waters would run off the earth like a wave running off the deck of a ship. 

Finally, if the earth is a globe, how could Jesus be taken to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world?  How can every eye see him when he comes in the clouds? [ref. 1.54] 

But it has been demonstrated that the Earth is a Plane and motionless, and that from a great eminence every part of its surface could be seen at once; and, at once—at the same moment, could every eye behold Him, when “coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” [ref. 1.55] 

With those words, Rowbotham closed the book.  Presumably, he closed his lectures on a similar note. 

Earth Not a Globe is a small book, less than 50,000 words.  It is organized into 14 sections, but the first occupies 60 pages and the last 46 pages, leaving 113 pages for the remaining 12 sections.  Thus, the treatment of topics is inconsistent and the organization somewhat chaotic.  One section on the sun’s path merits a single page.  Zetetic perspective is dealt with in two sections, the second sometimes contradicting the first.  In fact, some sections look as if Rowbotham hurriedly threw his lecture and research notes together and handed them to a printer. 

If Earth Not a Globe was hurriedly published, perhaps it was rushed into print to forestall a potential rival.  Early in 1865, a disciple who styled himself “Common Sense” began publishing 16-page installments of Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed.  “Common Sense” was in fact William Carpenter, who in 1864 had published an 8-page pamphlet entitled Earth Not a Globe under the same pseudonym.  A printer by trade and Pitman shorthand expert by avocation, he was born in Greenwich in about 1830.  His present home in Greenwich was but a few hundred yards from that of the first Astronomer Royal, the estimable and irascible Reverend John Flamsteed, and his printing shop was nearby.  Controversy was not unknown to William Carpenter when he adopted zeteticism. 

In September 1858, Carpenter had launched The Spiritual Messenger: A Magazine Devoted to Spiritualism, Mesmerism, and Other Branches of Psychological Science.  His third branch of psychological science was phrenology, and Carpenter called this holy trinity “the noblest Sciences that can engage the attention of man.” [ref. 1.56]  Spiritualism was a relatively recent import to England, the modern-day versions dating from the 1848 manifestations in the bedroom of the Fox girls in Hydesville, New York.  Mesmerism and phrenology, the other members of Carpenter’s trinity, were already well-established among British mystics.  The new magazine of noble sciences was founded with a noble purpose:

It is intended that the ‘SPIRITUAL MESSENGER’ shall be a messenger of Truth and nothing but the Truth:—the Standard being the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament. … In a word:—its object will be to strengthen the connecting link between Science and Religion. [ref. 1.57] 

Where human nature is concerned, there is nothing new under the sun.  Spiritualism is now called channeling, the spirit of phrenology lives in foot reflexology, mesmerism survives in acupuncture, and the search for Truth goes on.  Thus, William Carpenter was a cross between Shirley MacLaine and Pat Robertson, part New Age mystic and part Fundamentalist.  Like Robertson, he believed in the New Testament Gift of Healing, and he sometimes healed the sick using Mesmerism.  Like MacLaine, he received messages from the dead.  Then as now, most conservative Christians believed such messages come from Satan. 

Carpenter vehemently disagreed.  In the Spiritual Messenger, he gave six Biblical reasons for believing in spiritualism (for instance, Saul consulted the spirit of Samuel).  Perhaps more important was his own experience.  He was associated with a powerful medium:

I have had as many as 12 spirits—the spirits of good men and women, John Knox, William Law, and General Havelock [note 1.12]  amongst the number—speak to me in the course of two hours … [ref. 1.58] 

John Knox became a regular visitor, though he assured Carpenter that he hadn’t spoken to another living soul since he had been dead!  Another ethereal regular was Captain Hedley Vicars, “late of the 97th Regiment.” Carpenter often used his shorthand expertise to preserve séance messages.  Vicars’s appearance at a séance on Sunday evening, April 25, 1858, was so memorable that Carpenter published it verbatim under the title Communion with Ministering Spirits.  (The message: Repent, for your End is near!)

Late in 1858, Carpenter lost two children in rapid succession.  When the second, ten-month-old Lewis, died on November 26, the distraught father went straight to his medium friend.  She asked about the sick child, but Carpenter put her off with a noncommittal answer and said he wanted to mesmerize her.  She understood.  Immediately after she went into her trance, she had a vision of Lewis, to the amazement and relief of his father. 

Carpenter was then holding regular séances in his home, and he published the following ad in Spiritual Messenger:



Respectfully informs Spiritualists, and all who are earnestly in search of the truth, that his Spirit-Medium has kindly consented to allow the introduction of strangers to the Sunday Evening Meetings usually held at his residence, Alma Place, near Christchurch, Greenwich, and at which Spirit Discourses are delivered through her mediumship.  The engagements of the evening commence at Seven o’clock, after which time no person can be admitted. 

A Collection is made towards defraying the expense of printing the “Spiritual Messenger.”

It’s not clear how many takers he had.  In any case, he folded the Spiritual Messenger after the March 1859 issue. 

Carpenter was converted to flat-earthism when he attended one of Rowbotham’s lectures in 1861.  In 1864 he published Earth Not a Globe, a short pamphlet mostly in verse.  He produced the first installment of Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed in 1865, and the eighth and last installment appeared by mid-1866.  Remaining copies of the individual pamphlets were then bound together as chapters of a 128-page book dedicated “To ‘PARALLAX,’ The Founder of Modern Zetetic Philosophy.” Carpenter also added a short introduction that included the verse from his Earth Not a Globe.  The first eight lines are as follows:

Time was, they said the Earth was flat; but now they say it’s round!
But strange enough, though true, it is, no PROOF has yet been found.
Astronomers will tell you, if you ask them, o’er and o’er,
Proofs are by no means wanting, by the dozen or the score.
Copernicus has told us this, and Newton, and the rest;
And people say, “These are the men who, surely, should know best!
Herschel, indeed, says in his book, “We’ll take it all for granted;”
But “COMMON SENSE” says, now-a-days, that something else is wanted. 

Theoretical Astronomy is entirely derivative, even though the early chapters were published before Rowbotham’s Earth Not a Globe.  Carpenter had obviously absorbed the material from Rowbotham’s lectures, and he evidently had a late and possibly expanded edition of Rowbotham’s old Zetetic Astronomy pamphlet. [ref. 1.59]  Besides reviewing Rowbotham’s major arguments, Carpenter lashed out at proponents of sphericity.  In the first three chapters he attacked various minor writers, but then he turned his sights to bigger game.  Chapters 4 and 5 attack astronomer Sir William Herschel, and Chapters 6 through 8 focus on Astronomer Royal Sir George Biddell Airy. 

Like his mentor Rowbotham, Carpenter insisted that science can only be based on facts, and he disparaged theories. 

Zetetic Philosophy admits of no theories, no assumptions, no suppositions, no speculations, and no anticipations; and it, therefore, has no absurdities, no contradictions, no delusions, no sophistications, and no things but facts! [ref. 1.60] 

The sphericity of the earth was unproven and unprovable, he claimed.  Not long before, everyone understood that the earth is flat, and Carpenter thought this general understanding had been perverted through fraud.  He was out to set things right.  Reverend Robert Main had written in Rudimentary Astronomy that inbound ships rise up over the horizon.  Carpenter chided him sternly and disposed of his “delusive implication” with the following argument:

Away, now, to the sea-side: and let us look Nature full in the face!  How beautiful!  No sophistry furls her brow.  List to her teachings: they require no “proof,” since nothing could be plainer.  As we stand at her feet, where the briny waves bid us keep a respectful distance, we begin to learn the lesson that we would not dare doubt.  As we look over the outstretched waters, we see the horizon, on a level with our eyes; and yonder ships are homeward-bound!  Are they coming up? It does not appear so.  We ascend the cliff; and we have a still more extended view.  Is it further down?  No! We see more ships.  Are they coming up? No!  The horizon is still level with our eye.  We will ascend yonder light-house,—on the highest crag.  Still more extended is the view!  Still more ships are visible!  Are they coming up? NO!  This is enough.  The horizon is always on a level with the eye. [ref. 1.61] 

This insistence that the horizon is always level with the eye occupies Carpenter for much of the book.  Of course, he avoided suggesting that one might measure the dip of the horizon. [note 1.13]  Instead, he followed “Parallax” and quoted balloonists who said that from altitude the earth’s surface looks concave rather than convex.  Unfortunately, this was not unanimously reported. 

Between July 17, 1862 and May 26, 1866, James Glaisher made 28 balloon ascents for the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  On September 5, 1862, Glaisher estimated that he and his instrument-laden balloon reached a peak altitude of 37,000 feet, [note 1.14]  but he passed out from lack of oxygen at 29,000 feet!  These flights caused a sensation in England, and they were widely reported.  Glaisher had the temerity to state that—contrary to popular opinion—the earth below did not look concave, and Carpenter spent two pages excoriating him for this.  Glaisher also thought that the earth looked “unnatural” from altitude, for which Carpenter lectured him as follows:

Observation!” Take Counsel.  If you can help yourself, be neither fool nor slave.  Get wisdom, and get rid of your jokes.  Abuse not your faculties, and you will retain them.  Shake off the shackles of prejudice, and be free.  Remember that your master’s reputation is in your keeping.  Wash your hands, therefore, from all those impurities which lie about your path … [ref. 1.62] 

In their Manual of Astronomy, the Reverends Joseph A. Galbraith and Samuel Haughton wrote that astronomers (such as themselves) had been “led to believe” certain things about the universe.  Carpenter was beside himself:

“BELIEF!” Is there a more noisy thing in the world than this?  Conceited, malicious, bigotted, presumptuous, tyrannical.  Such is belief!  This is a lamentable statement, but no less true.  Proof is not required to substantiate it. [ref. 1.63] 

Carpenter insisted upon proof, and he had his own ideas about what that meant.  In his Lessons on General Astronomy, Dr. Robert J. Mann compared a ship sailing around the earth to a fly walking around an orange.  Carpenter would have none of that.  He argued that a fly can walk on a globe because God has organized its parts to allow it to do so.  The same cannot be said of ships:

[B]ecause they have not been provided with anything analogous to this organization, ships cannot sail round a globular surface; therefore, it cannot be a globular surface round which they do sail; and the Earth cannot be a globe! [ref. 1.64] 

In other words, if ships are not organized like flies, the earth must be flat.  It’s hard to argue with zetetic logic. 

Theoretical Astronomy does not describe zetetic astronomy and is almost devoid of attempts to explain the world on zetetic principles.  Indeed, Carpenter flatly denied that zetetics had any obligation to do so:

[W]e repudiate at once and for ever the idea that because we promise to pull down a false system of Astronomy we are bound by any tie whatever to build up the true, whilst we pay the astronomers for the doing of it[ref. 1.65] 

Carpenter attacked opponents hammer and tongs, and he made no apology for it. 

We are doing that with regard to others, which we would not that others should be doing unto us: namely, exposing folly and error, or what may be worse than either.  We should not feel at all comfortable, were the shafts of ridicule or well-deserved sarcasm directed towards us; and we do not intend, if we can help it, to give any just cause for such a course of procedure. [ref. 1.66] 

In Chapters 4 and 5, Carpenter turned his guns on Sir John Herschel, only son of Sir William Herschel.  The elder Herschel discovered the planet Uranus and was the first to recognize double stars as gravitationally bound systems.  The son became an eminent astronomer in his own right, famed for mapping the southern heavens. [note 1.15]  In 1833, Sir John Herschel published A Treatise on Astronomy, and it was this popular book that exercised Carpenter. 

Among his other sins, Herschel called the earth a heavenly body and used terms like “conceived to be” and “imagination.” He had the temerity to write about the “dip of the horizon” and describe how it could be measured.  He said that ships go out of sight hull first because of the curvature of the earth.  Carpenter castigated the language of imagination and denied the dip of the horizon outright.  Herschel’s description of hull-down ships was more than he could bear.  Comparing Herschel to Baron Munchausen, he wrote, “We cannot say, indeed, that the Treatise on Astronomy is intended to be deceptive; but it appears so, and the fault is not with us.” [ref. 1.67]  Carpenter insisted that a sufficiently powerful telescope would always bring a hull-down vessel completely into view. 

In 1848, Astronomer Royal George B. Airy delivered a course of six lectures to the working men of Ipswich, which were later published in a volume of 250 pages.  Among other things, Airy explained how an instrument called a zenith sector is used to measure the angle of a star from vertical.  He said the earth’s size can be calculated using observations taken with zenith sectors at two locations a known distance apart.  Indeed, expeditions to Lapland and Peru made such measurements, and the results showed that the earth is spheroidal rather than strictly spherical.  Carpenter asserted that these observations proved the earth is flat, though he neglected to provide a simple diagram showing why and how this is so.  As for the poor deluded Astronomer Royal, Carpenter recommended that he study the system of “Parallax”:

[H]is system is the true.  It is not within the power of man to overthrow it.  It will be rejected by the coward, by the bigot, by the fool: but it must be received by—the man! [ref. 1.68] 

Like Rowbotham, Carpenter ended his book with a religious appeal.  He warned against attempts to harmonize conventional astronomy with the scriptures, quoting 2 Peter 3 about willful ignorance.  “The fact is,” he wrote, “one or the other must be wrong—Peter or Copernicus: and he who says that both are right, proclaims himself devoid of reason.” [ref. 1.69]  The final sentence of Theoretical Astronomy is 201 words long.  Carpenter appealed to readers to reject theoretical astronomy and “to hold up a Philosophy which has GOD as the Author of it,—which has Nature always at hand to illustrate it,—Reason to support it,—the Bible, to agree with it,—and which has ‘COMMON SENSE’ to recommend it.” [ref. 1.70] 

In reading Theoretical Astronomy, one’s opinion of Carpenter shifts rapidly from outspoken critic to tiresome scold to monumental pain in the posterior.  His bloated and extravagant prose, filled with irrelevancies and rhetorical flourishes, must have put off all but the most dedicated readers.  A certain shrillness is expected in a controversial pamphlet, but a pamphleteer is also expected to say something.  Carpenter had absolutely nothing new to say about zetetic astronomy, and it is remarkable how devoid of argument his tract is.  Take away the endless carping and quibbling; the straw men pulverized down to the last broken stem; the accusations of fraud; the paroxysms of italics and CAPITALS; the raging about delusion, absurdity, fallacy, speculation, whim, deception, trick, mistake, hoax, and misfortune; and nothing remains. 

Nevertheless, a reviewer for the Greenwich Free Press wrote that “‘Common Sense’ argues his position in a very able manner: the highest authorities are quoted, and, to our minds, demolished like a pack of cards.” [ref. 1.71]  The reviewer for the Anglican periodical Church Times was less enthusiastic, writing, “to tell the truth, we never began to despair of Scripture until we discovered that ‘Common Sense’ had taken up the cudgels in its defence.” [ref. 1.72]  One measure of Carpenter’s ambiguity is that reviewers for at least two newspapers, the Family Herald (p. vii) and the Morning Advertiser of January 21, 1865, wrote that Carpenter thought the sun returns to the north under the earth.  This is what happens when a crank refuses to expose himself by saying what he is really talking about.  In discussing the reviews, Carpenter appealed to pity, saying that not one of the hostile reviewers tried to refute him. 

Actually some “hostile reviewers” did refute flat-earth claims, if not Carpenter’s specifically.  So many people took the flat-earthers seriously that two writers published replies to “Parallax.”

Early in 1868, Rowbotham visited the ancient walled town of York, 188 miles north of London.  Originally settled by the prehistoric British, York became the military capital of Britain under the Romans.  The emperor Hadrian visited the outpost in 120 A.D., and the emperor Severus died there and was cremated on a hill outside the town.  With the coming of Christianity, York gained an archbishop, and in the 7th century it became capital of the Angle kingdom of Northumbria.  Its magnificent cathedral of St. Peter (better known as York Minister) reached its present form in 1470, though portions are centuries older.  A few blocks from the Minster, on Coney Street near the River Ouse, stands the church of St. Martin’s.  The vicar of this modest edifice, Reverend Major Rider Bresher, [note 1.16]  saw the advertisements for the lectures on zetetic astronomy but thought them unworthy of attention.  Many of his fellow citizens thought otherwise. 

Rowbotham delivered his usual course of lectures, denouncing conventional astronomy as “utterly absurd in itself, and utterly subversive to all belief in the inspiration of the Bible.” [ref. 1.73]  As usual, many sincere and trusting Christians were convinced by Rowbotham’s rhetoric and adopted zetetic astronomy.  The new converts and some old skeptics jousted in the York newspapers about its merits.  The vicar of St. Martin’s, who knew something about both astronomy and the Bible, was appalled by the number and enthusiasm of the new zetetics.  Having saved 6d by not attending Rowbotham’s lectures, Reverend Bresher now spent 3s 6d for a copy of his book.  He was impressed, but not favorably.  Within a few months, he produced a 173-page pamphlet entitled The Newtonian System of Astronomy: With a Reply to the Various Objections Made against It by “Parallax”

Reverend Bresher, ever the shepherd of his flock, sought to lead his straying sheep back into the conventional fold.  He wrote:

My object in publishing this pamphlet is to help my fellow-citizens who feel an interest in the matter, to form a correct estimate of the merits of this new system of astronomy …” [ref. 1.74] 

In fact, he found few merits. 

Bresher began by pointing out that zetetic astronomy was not as strictly Biblical as Rowbotham claimed.  For example, to explain the tides, Rowbotham claimed that the surface of the earth rises and falls rhythmically.  This conflicts with the frequent Biblical statements that it is immovable.  Rowbotham’s ideas often reverted to the astronomy of the ancient Greeks.  As its title suggests, Bresher’s book was more an explication of conventional astronomy than a refutation of zetetic astronomy.  Nevertheless, he followed the order of Earth Not a Globe in discussing his points. 

In his book, as in his lectures, Rowbotham claimed hull-down ships could be restored to view with a sufficiently strong telescope.  Bresher consulted several members of his parish who had been to sea, and all insisted that a telescope cannot restore a hull-down vessel to view.  A friend of Bresher’s, a young merchant marine officer reported otherwise:

I have seen the top gallant masts of a ship when on deck, the sea being quite smooth, and have gone aloft, and seen her hull; I have come down, and could see nothing but her masts again; if the earth were flat, how do they account for this? [ref. 1.75] 

Bresher noted that zetetic astronomy suggests that navigation should be markedly different in the southern and northern hemispheres. 

Now, whether the earth is a globe, or in a form like a round table, as ‘Parallax’ asserts, it is evidently capable of being circumnavigated.  But the length of a voyage around it, say on the parallel of 45° south latitude, would, on the supposition that the earth is a globe, be only 15,300 nautical miles; while on the supposition that its form is that of a round table, it would be 32,400 miles.  This of course makes an immense difference to all practical navigators in the southern ocean, and if “Parallax” can establish his assertion, it will cause an entire revolution in the whole theory of navigation. [ref. 1.76] 

None of his sailor friends had experienced any difficulty navigating in the southern hemisphere, and all used the conventional theory to do so.  Bresher had even examined the log kept by a ship sailing in southern latitudes and satisfied himself that the length of a degree of longitude there is appropriate for a globe. [ref. 1.77] 

The Bible implies that the moon is self-luminous, and that it was created to give light to the earth.  To explain its phases, Rowbotham claimed that only half of the moon is luminous.  Bresher neatly turned this argument back on him, pointing out that the moon’s luminous face is always turned toward the sun:

Hence it would appear that the moon shines primarily for the sun, and only secondarily for the earth.  It may occasionally benefit the earth, but it is by the way.  To the sun its whole illumed disc must be turned; to the earth, a part may be turned.  This is strange, wonderfully strange! [ref. 1.78] 

Furthermore, the part of the moon which is self-luminous varies, since the moon always shows the same face to the earth. 

A substantial section of Earth Not a Globe is devoted to lighthouses that can be seen at greater distances than should be allowed by the earth’s rotundity.  Rowbotham drew most of his examples from Lighthouses of the World by Alexander Findlay, and Bresher examined this work closely.  He wrote:

“Parallax” gives about twenty cases of this kind, collected from a book, “Lighthouses of the World,” which contains a list of upwards of 2000 lighthouses, and then says (page 173,) “Many other cases could be given from the same work, shewing that the practical observations of mariners, engineers, and surveyors, entirely ignore the doctrine that the earth is a globe.” [ref. 1.79] 

Bresher called this a bold but unwarranted assertion.  He had himself examined Findlay’s book and found therein entries for about 2000 lighthouses.  As far as he could tell, Rowbotham had found and listed almost every one that seemed to be visible at too great a distance.  But there was more:

Now while “Parallax” was attentively scanning the “Lighthouses of the World,” to find out some that could be seen farther than they ought to be seen, on the supposition that the earth is a globe of about 25,000 miles in circumference; he could not but find many more which cannot be seen as far as they ought to be, on the above assumption. [ref. 1.80] 

Somehow Rowbotham neglected to mention these.  Bresher promised that “for every instance ‘Parallax’ can quote, where the distance given is greater than the theory requires, I will quote another where it is less.” [ref. 1.81]  As a down payment he listed ten lighthouses that (from the information provided) couldn’t be seen far as they should. [ref. 1.82]  Bresher suspected that misprints or local peculiarities accounted for many of the apparent discrepancies.  Besides, Findlay wrote that the lights used were typically powerful enough to be seen for 60 miles or more, and refraction sometimes made lighthouses visible farther than they should be.  In any case, Bresher argued that a few aberrant examples (about one percent) do not negate the earth’s sphericity. 

In one case, Rowbotham used erroneous data published in a popular weekly, the Illustrated London News, which gave the wrong elevation for the light, when he could have found the correct figures in his favorite reference. [ref. 1.83]  Reverend Bresher discussed this in detail and wrote:

The above, I am sorry to say, is but a fair specimen of the manner in which “Parallax” conducts his “search after truth;” and I do not think it will commend itself to any right-minded man.  Anything he hears or reads, which can, by any means, be twisted into an argument against the Newtonian system, he seizes with avidity; not caring to ascertain its truth or untruth, even when he has the means of doing so, at hand. [ref. 1.84] 

At one of Rowbotham’s lectures in York, he described yet another version of his Bedford Canal experiment.  In this version, flagstaffs 6′ high were placed in seven boats spaced a mile apart along the canal, and the observer in the first boat sighted along the top of them, finding them all in line. [ref. 1.85]  A listener hinted that a little more evidence about the Bedford Canal might be useful.  Rowbotham became irate, demanded that the listener go there himself, and meanwhile apologize for his presumption. [ref. 1.86]  Having paid 3/6 for Rowbotham’s book, Bresher could sympathize with the listener.  He wrote:

We have both paid our money to hear the evidence against the Newtonian system of astronomy, which ‘Parallax’ gave us to understand he could adduce.  But, unless we consider the bare assertion of a nameless stranger, whose information on the subjects he discusses is neither extensive, nor accurate, and whose blunders would disgrace a 6th form boy at a good grammar school, to be evidence, ‘Parallax’ gives us none. [ref. 1.87] 

Bresher stated that trigonometrical surveys had shown beyond doubt that the earth is round, citing in particular the surveys by General de Schubert in Russia and Captain A.R. Clarke in Britain.  He noted that Rowbotham’s account of the Bedford Canal experiment in his York lectures was different from that in his book Earth Not a Globe.  According to the book, as we saw above, a boat sailed six miles along the canal and remained visible the whole time through a telescope placed only a few inches above the water.  Bresher remarked:

This certainly is strange; but since we have the names of the two gentlemen who have lately conducted the trigonometrical survey, and we have not the names of any of those who were present at the “Old Bedford;” for the present I shall be content to believe, notwithstanding “Parallax’s” reiterations to the contrary, that the earth is a globe. 

Several of Bresher’s arguments show his sound understanding of conventional astronomy.  The stars must be at a great distance, he argued, because their positions relative to each other don’t vary no matter where on earth they are viewed from. [ref. 1.88]  Multiple star systems show that gravitation operates in deep space. [ref. 1.89]  Neptune was found by calculations made with the conventional theory. [ref. 1.90]  Conventional theory predicted the return of Halley’s comet with great precision. [ref. 1.91]  The planets are obviously illuminated by the sun; how is this possible if the sun’s light is restricted to a small area? [ref. 1.92]  The sun should be closer to England in the summer, and thus appear larger, when in fact it appears largest in December. [ref. 1.93] 

Bresher was especially offended by Rowbotham’s claim that astronomy promotes atheism.  Said he, “I have known a great many Newtonians, but never met with one who was not a profound believer in the existence of God, and in His moral government.” [ref. 1.94]  He also invited readers to compare Rowbotham’s logic with Newtonian logic. 

Bresher closed with a religious note, saying that man is made in the image of God, even if the earth is astronomically insignificant. [ref. 1.95]  He reserved scriptural arguments for the appendix.  He ended with a long quote from Kepler about those too weak to believe the Copernican system without harm to their piety. 

Bresher was not the only one who considered zetetic astronomy a threat to public education.  Another who took it seriously enough to respond to it was J. Dyer.  In 1866, Dyer published a pamphlet entitled Thoughts on the Laws of Health, and Suggestions for Their Promotion.  He followed this in 1870 with The Spherical Form of the Earth.  A Reply to Parallax, in Letters to a Friend, a 96-page pamphlet. [ref. 1.96] 

Dyer noted that most people necessarily rely on the statements of others for much of their information.  Frequently, they are in no position to evaluate statements supported with specious reasoning.  Philosophers might laugh at the flat-earthers, but while they laughed Rowbotham was making progress and unsophisticated listeners were being prejudiced against science.  Dyer hoped that his pamphlet would help readers understand the true nature of zetetic astronomy.  This was what induced him to put his thoughts on the subject in writing. 

Dyer’s pamphlet is in the form of letters.  A friend of his had read Rowbotham’s book and was frustrated at neither being able to refute it nor believe it.  He wrote to Dyer and asked why no one had replied.  Dyer first met Rowbotham in about 1858.  Dyer then lived in Northampton, and he owned a lecture hall there.  Rowbotham came through doing his “Parallax” lectures on zetetic astronomy, and he gave four lectures, two at the Northampton Mechanics’ Institute and two at a hall owned by Dyer.  The latter was struck by the way many of Rowbotham’s listeners were impressed with his stuff, and he gave a series of lectures in reply.  Until his friend inquired about it, however, he didn’t know that Rowbotham had published a book.  He found that the book contained the substance of the lectures he had heard many years previously. 

Dyer noted that ships approaching each other at sea see each other’s masts first, and when they part, masts last.  The curvature of the earth is the only way to account for this.  Regarding zetetic perspective:

He argues this point with some apparent reason, and very speciously; so that any one not understanding the true principles of perspective, and not having studied those phenomena at sea or by the sea-shore, would be easily misled, and unable to disprove his statements. [ref. 1.97] 

Dyer argued that things vanish from sight either by going behind something or by their apparent size becoming too small to be distinguished.  A telescope is useless in the former case but works in the latter.  Rowbotham argued that ships at sea vanish from becoming too small to be seen, and he claimed that a telescope would bring them back into view.  Dyer denied this, and cited his own experience:

For the past fourteen or fifteen years I have been in the habit of spending some weeks yearly by the sea-side, and the phenomena on the waters have mostly occupied my attention, but more especially so since I first became acquainted with Parallax.  I have visited several parts of the coast on the north of Wales, east of Scotland, south and east of England, and the west of France, and, wherever I have been I have witnessed the same phenomena.  I may say that I have seen hundreds of vessels (sometimes several at the same time) hull-down when looked at by means of the telescope, but whose hulls I distinctly saw after elevating myself a few feet more or less. [ref. 1.98] 

The latter was not as conclusive an argument against zetetic astronomy as Dyer might have wished, because Rowbotham also claimed that the hull of a vessel would sometimes disappear behind the swells.  Nevertheless, the latter seems to have been a fall-back position, and Dyer quoted Rowbotham saying repeatedly that a telescope of sufficient power will bring a hull-down vessel back into view. [ref. 1.99] 

Eclipses of the moon are another proof.  Dyer pointed out that the whole scenario for a lunar eclipse, the rate of motion of the shadow, its position at any moment, and so forth, can be worked out mathematically using the conventional system. [ref. 1.100]  He quoted Rowbotham’s examples in extenso.  Dyer had not seen the works referred to, but he presumed that they contained the correct explanation.  He explained how atmospheric refraction can do the trick.  He noted that in every case the person quoted used the word “appeared” or “apparently” when referring to the positions of the sun and moon. 

Regarding the moon, Rowbotham claimed that a sphere cannot reflect light. [ref. 1.101]  Dyer pointed out that all the planets are spheres, and they reflect light.  He said that the most convincing proof that the moon is not self-luminous is the shadows it casts upon itself.  The lunar mountains can be seen with a good amateur’s telescope, and they cast quite long shadows at the terminator.  Dyer had personally made extensive observations of the moon. [ref. 1.102]  Among other claims, Rowbotham claimed that the light of the moon was different from the light of the sun, and that it did not react with photographic plates.  Dyer scoffed:

How such a statement as this could have been made in the face of what has been done in lunar photography, and what must be well known to many thousands, I know not.  I can scarcely imagine that ignorance can be pleaded here. … At the South Kensington Museum … large photographs of the moon by Mr. De la Rue, have been exhibited for several years past, and are still (December 2, 1869) on view. [ref. 1.103] 

Dyer gave several quotes from Ross that refute Rowbotham, including an explicit statement by Ross when he was in 78° south that “in this latitude” a degree of longitude is “less than a quarter mile of distance.” [ref. 1.104]  According to zetetic astronomy, a degree of longitude in 78° south latitude should be nearly two nautical miles.  Dyer could not understand how Ross could confuse a quarter mile with two miles. 

Dyer also analyzed Rowbotham’s claims about the dip of the horizon.  He discussed Rowbotham’s experiment with a convex lens and scornfully dismissed it.  If a theodolite’s level sight is incorrect, he noted, all of its other sights must be incorrect, too.  Isn’t it remarkable, he asked, that all makers of these instruments make exactly the same error?  In Rowbotham’s experiment, if the lens is centered slightly above the line, it apparently shifts the line that way.  On the other hand, if center of the lens slightly below the line, the line apparently shifts down.  Why does the theodolite crosshair never appear below the horizon?  And why did Rowbotham merely make assertions?  Why didn’t he examine a theodolite to determine the supposed error? [ref. 1.105] 

Dyer described Rowbotham’s famous air-gun experiment, quoting his account of it at length. [ref. 1.106]  As it happened, he was well-prepared to shed some light on this experiment.  He wrote:

The account of the air-gun experiment is not correct in its most essential part.  During his stay at Northampton, Parallax gave four lectures—two in the hall of the Mechanics’ Institute, and two in Milton Hall, then belonging to me.  In one of the lectures delivered in the latter place, he stated that “if bullets were propelled from an air-gun, fixed perpendicularly to a post or other suitable object, they would return to the barrel of the gun again.” [ref. 1.107] 

Dyer owned an air-gun, and at the end of the lecture, he publicly challenged Rowbotham to make the experiment, offering him five shillings for every ball of twenty that fell back into the barrel.  Rowbotham could hardly refuse, and a committee was selected from the audience to observe the experiment and make a report at the next lecture.  Dyer continued:

The experiment was carried out on a piece of land at the back of my house.  The twenty bullets were propelled from the gun, but in place of “invariably descending within a few inches of the gun,” or “back to the place of their detachment,” as stated by Parallax, they fell in all directions, and from ten to twenty feet from the gun. 

* * *

You can therefore fancy my surprise and astonishment when I saw it stated in his book that “the balls invariably descended within a few inches of the gun,” and also “back to the place of detachment.” He likewise states that “twice it fell upon the very mouth of the barrel.” Not two of the twenty balls that were propelled from the gun and formed part of the experiment. [ref. 1.108] 

Two balls did strike the barrel, however, after the experiment.  When Dyer was letting the remaining air out of the gun, Rowbotham brought him two balls and asked him to try them again.  There was barely enough air pressure to pop them out of the barrel, and they rose a few inches and fell back onto the muzzle! [ref. 1.109] 

Dyer noted that a southern Parallax would claim the sun circles the south pole, as it appears to do from the Antarctic circle.  He pointed out that Ross, one of Rowbotham’s favorite sources, reported seeing the sun two degrees above the southern horizon at midnight on January 22, 1841 from latitude 74° 15′ S.  On another occasion, Ross observed the sun with a sextant at 28 minutes after midnight, determining his latitude to be 77° 56′ S.  How, Dyer wondered, did Rowbotham miss these observations? [ref. 1.110] 

Dyer had much to say regarding sunset over the zetetic plane.  He noted that sunset strains the zetetic law of perspective.  Rowbotham claimed the sun’s altitude is about 4000 miles and the stars perhaps 6000 miles.  All points on earth more than 6250 miles from the point directly below the sun are in darkness.  Thus, for every mile the sun moves horizontally, it must apparently sink two-thirds of a mile vertically. [ref. 1.111]  The stars, being higher, must sink at virtually a one-to-one rate.  Dyer commented:

Why perspective should appear to lower the sun two feet for every three passed over, and the stars and planets one foot for every foot passed over, I cannot say.  Is it that there is one kind of perspective for the sun and another for the stars? [ref. 1.112] 

Rowbotham claimed that the principle of perspective is modified for luminous bodies, but Dyer insisted that it is not, and he suggested an experiment with a candle to demonstrate this. 

Regarding Rowbotham’s claim that navigators fail to sail completely around the Antarctic circle, Dyer says Rowbotham’s version of the accounts he quotes is a tissue of error. [ref. 1.113]  The only difficulty in navigating extreme southern waters is the tremendous amount of ice encountered.  Rowbotham quoted Ross as saying that when navigating in southern latitudes he frequently found himself in advance of his reckoning, but he neglected to mention that Ross specifically attributed this to strong currents. 

Addressing the friend to whom the letters were written, Dyer ended his pamphlet with the following words:

I have now examined every question of any scientific importance in the book entitled “Earth Not a Globe;” and in doing so, my patience has often been sorely tried.  The great number of dogmatic assertions, the incorrect statements, the suppression of facts, and the misrepresentations found in its pages, have more than once tempted me to throw the book into the fire, as undeserving of a serious reply.  If, however, the reading of what has been written shall have the effect of removing the uneasiness of your mind, caused by the book in question, my object will be accomplished, and I shall not have laboured in vain. [ref. 1.114] 

Dyer labored in vain.  When The Spherical Form of the Earth was published in 1870, flat-earthism had already spread throughout the British Isles.  And that same year a new champion arose who brought zeteticism more attention than it ever got before.