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Table of Contents
Astronomical and Meteorological Workers in New South Wales
Admiral Phillip Parker King
Sir Thomas MacDougall Brisbane
Dr. Charles Stargard Rumker
P. E. De Strzelecki
Captain J. C. Wickham
Rev. W. B. Clarke, M.A.
Rev. A. Glennie
E. C. Close
Sir William Macarthur
S. H. Officer
William Stanley Jevons
Establishment of Meteorological Observatories
Votes and Proceedings, N.S.W., 1848.
Sir Thomas MacDougall Brisbane
We come now to Sir Thomas Brisbane, a man whose enthusiasm for science, and especially for Astronomy. knew no bounds. In the midst of harassing marches in the great Continental war, with the enemies' bullets always whistling about him, his sextant was always in his baggage, and came into active service directly its owner was off duty. His appointment as Governor of New South Wales marks an era in the history of Australian Science, and his princely munificence in the erection of the Parramatta Observatory and cost of maintaining it for four years, will never be forgotten. Sir Thomas Brisbane entered the army in 1790, fought in the first battle of the war, and in 1794 had to sleep six nights in the snow with nothing but his cloak and the canopy of heaven over him. Each morning he found himself frozen to the ground, and during one of these nights 900 soldiers were frozen to death around him. He fought in fourteen general actions, twenty-three great affairs, and assisted at eight sieges. He crossed the equator twelve times, yet throughout this busy active life he always found time to cultivate his favorite study, Astronomy, and when it was proposed to send him to govern the far-off Colony of Australia, Lord Bathurst informed the Duke of Wellington that he "wanted a man to govern, not the heavens, but the earth." Sir Thomas appealed to the Duke to say whether science had ever stood in the way of his duty as a soldier. "Certainly not," said the Duke, "I shall say that you were never in one instance absent or late in the morning, noon, or night, and that in addition you keep the time for the army."
It is not surprising that a man of such antecedents, persevering and methodical in his habits, and having a passion for astronomical pursuits, should catch the feeling of the day, which asked for two astronomical observatories to explore the wonders of the southern sky, and when he found the Government would not give the money, put his hand into his own purse and found all that was required. Arrived at Parramatta, the instruments were unpacked and used within a few days to observe the solstice in December, 1821, before there was an observatory to cover them; and that he might devote every spare moment to the work he built the Observatory alongside his residences and there is abundant evidence to prove that at first, and before his office position brought so many worries, Sir Thomas was one of the most active of the three observers.
It was in recognition of his princely patronage of Astronomy, and for the abundance of observations that came pouring in from Parramatta, that in 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society awarded him the Gold Medal for the Parramatta Catalogue of Stars and General Observations, amongst which were observations of the length of the seconds pendulum in 1823, printed by the Royal Society in their Transactions. Sir John Herschel, at that time President of the Astronomical Society, said, in presenting the medal:"We give this medal accompanied with the strongest expressions of our admiration for your patriotic and princely support given to Astronomy in regions so remote. It will be to you a source of honest pride as long as you live to reflect that the most brilliant trait of Australian history marks the era of your government, and that your name will he identified with the future glories of that colony in ages yet to come, as the founder of her science. It is a distination worthy of a British Governor. Our first triumphs in those fair climes have been the peaceful ones of science, and the treasures they have transmitted to us are imperishable records of useful knowledge, speedily to be returned with interest, to the improvement of their condition and their elevation in the scale of nations."
Having formed the resolution to establish an observatory in New South Wales, Sir Thomas made a collection of astronomical books and instruments, and engaged two gentlemen, Mr. Charles Rumker, who had already attained a position as a good astronomer and mathematician, and Mr. James Dunlop, whose great natural ability, and especially his fondness for and success in mechanical appliances and instruments, had pointed him out as a most suitable man for second assistant in the Observatory in an out of the way place like Parramatta, where nothing towards the repair of the instruments could be done outside the Observatory. They arrived in the colony in November, 1821. A site was immediately chosen for the Observatory close to Government House, Parramatta, only About one hundred yards from the back door. Men were at once set to work, and by the end of April, the building was completed and the instruments erected.
People in Bright Sparcs - Brisbane, Thomas Makdougall; Dunlop, James; Rümker, Christian Carl Ludwig; Russell, Henry Chamberlain
© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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