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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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Early Colonial Weather Reporting (continued)

Smyth's Victorian operation was taken over in March 1859 and expanded and systematized by the young German geophysicist Georg Neumayer from his base at Melbourne's Flagstaff Observatory. In South Australia, the Government Astronomer and Superintendent of Telegraphs, Charles Todd, began systematic meteorological observing in Adelaide in November 1856, exactly a year after arriving from Britain. He soon established observing stations in several country centres, linked to Adelaide by his expanding telegraph system.[20] Todd brought to this work his earlier experience as telegraphic assistant at the Greenwich Observatory, where he had worked under James Glaisher at the hub of the British Meteorological Society's observing network. For several years during the 1850s, Sydney depended for its weather reports on the private enthusiasm of W. S. Jevons, then assistant at the Sydney Mint. Responsibility for the work was assumed by the Sydney Observatory when it opened in 1858 and the director, W. S. Scott, moved quickly to build up a network of observers throughout the colony.[21]

In Victoria, meteorological reports first appeared in the newspapers in 1856, when the Argus began publishing barometer and thermometer readings and reports on winds and rain, drawing on 'results deducted from the meteorological register kept at the Observatory, Surveyor-General's Office, Melbourne'.[22] The Sydney Morning Herald reported sunrise and sunset times and the tides from April 1857, while a table of 'meteorological observations' giving barometer and thermometer readings first appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser in December 1858.[23] As his network grew, Todd in 1859 promised monthly statistics, including rainfall reports, from fourteen stations, and reported his intention to obtain from the other colonies similar information that he planned to 'collect and publish periodically'. By the end of 1860, he was providing the Advertiser with regular weather reports (for example, 'Wind N.E., weather, fine, hot') from thirteen locations.[24] Newspaper weather reports, including growing numbers of intercolonial reports, soon became a regular feature in the eastern mainland Australian colonies. The service was seen as useful primarily for the 'nautical population', echoing northern hemisphere hopes for a storm warning service: 'If a peculiar state of the weather revealed itself at Adelaide, notice might be transmitted at once to Victoria and from thence to Sydney. The intervening stations might be warned of the change, and thus all would be prepared to provide against the consequences of a storm'.[25] In the event, forecasts were not published for another two decades and more, even though in Sydney, for example, by the early 1870s the weather information provided by the new Government Astronomer, Henry Chamberlain Russell, occupied almost a whole column in the press.[26]

People in Bright Sparcs - Jevons, William Stanley; Neumayer, Georg Balthazar; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Scott, William; Smyth, Robert Brough; 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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