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Table of Contents

The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908


Early Colonial Weather Reporting

The Impact of the Telegraph

Beginnings of Intercolonial Co-operation

The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences

The Role of Clement Wragge

Towards a Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology





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The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences (continued)

Since intercolonial co-operation depended on the exchange of information via the telegraph, those present agreed, as in 1879, to urge upon their governments 'the need for promptitude in the despatch of weather telegrams'. The conference also provided an opportunity to settle arrangements concerning the exchange of telegrams with New Zealand. All four men reported that their governments had agreed to carry their share of the cost—clear testimony of the public support for this work. However, the cost estimate depended on weather summaries rather than actual data being exchanged. Hector proposed a telegraphic code which, after some modification, was adopted by the conference. They agreed that a word-based code, as used in America, was preferable to the British numerical code, but they had a lengthy discussion before agreeing on what information should be exchanged. The code adopted encapsulated the conference's decision to analyse weather using isobars, different isobaric patterns being summarized by designated code words while other code words represented the general state of the weather at the reporting stations.

The early 1880s were crucial years in the development of meteorology in the Austra-lasian colonies. Just as the three superintendents of telegraphs in the south-eastern Australian colonies (Todd being one) had collaborated during the late 1850s on the construction of the intercolonial telegraph network linking Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, so these four colonial meteorologists developed a co-operative ethos that culminated in the standard procedures and protocols established at the 1881 conference. The more reliable and extensive reporting system that resulted gave them confidence to move from recording weather patterns after the event to issuing forecasts.

Simply to maintain the system became, however, an increasingly burdensome bureaucratic task, one that threatened to overwhelm their other scientific responsibilities. Russell, in particular, was criticized by local astronomers for allowing his observatory's astronomical work to run down in favour of meteorology.[73] Likewise, the onerous nature of Ellery's meteorological work helps explain why he was never able to develop a sustained astronomical research programme for his prime instrument, the 48-inch reflector known as the Great Melbourne Telescope, the world's largest operating telescope at the time.[74]

People in Bright Sparcs - Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Todd, Charles

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Home, R. W. and Livingston, K. T. 1994 'Science and Technology in the Story of Australian Federation: The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 10, no. 2, December 1994, pp. 109-27.

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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