John Tebbutt was born on 25 May 1834 at Windsor, New South Wales. He was the only child of John Tebbutt, who was a farmer and his mother was Virginia Tebbutt. He spent his entire life in Hawkesbury district. John Tebbutt received his education at the local Church of English parish school run by Edward Qualife, who became Tebbutt’s source of inspiration. In 1843, John Tebbutt went to the Presbyterian school which was run by Reverend Matthew Adam. He completed his education under the guidance of Reverend H. T. Stiles in 1845-49.
In 1853, John Tebbutt bought a marine sextant and he used a clock with a second’s pendulum which he synchronized with celestial movements. He also possessed a small telescope with which he projected the image of sun. From a very young age, Tebbutt took deep interest in mechanical objects and accumulated things which won him international recognition. John Tebbutt calculated the consequences of total eclipse of the sun on 26 March 1857 when the sky was cloudy. He made a series of measurements about the position of the comet Donati. On 13 May 1861, John Tebbutt observed a faint lightning object in the sky with his marine telescope and after few days of observation it was found to be a comet. In this way, Tebutt made the remarkable discovery of the Great Comet of 1861. He also made his first familiarity with Encke’s comet in 1862. In the same year he was offered the position of government astronomer by New South Wales government, but he refused to accept this post.
John Tebbutt continued on with his observations on comets, movement of the stars and moon, eclipses, double stars and the position of small planets. He also discovered the great comet of 1881 and made several metrological observations between 1863 and 1896. In 1872, John Tebbutt observed the transit of Venus with the help of his equatorial refractor.
John Tebbutt was a member of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales from 1862 and also won a silver medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867 for his paper “On the Progress and Present State of Astronomical Science of New South Wales”. He became a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London in 1905. He also became the president of the New South Wales branch of the British Astronomical Association in 1895. In his book, ‘Astronomical Memoirs’, John Tebbutt listed 371 publications of himself in various articles. Although, John Tebbutt never went out of Australia, he learnt French and German and enacted with various international colleagues in a very friendly way. John Tebbutt also acquired a large astronomical library with his goodwill.
John Tebbutt passed away on 29 November, 1916 of cerebral paralysis. His wife, Jane had passed away before him and the couple had six daughters and one son.