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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)

Because Todd in South Australia had no assistant, his network remained small for a number of years, with only six country stations providing full reports, plus rain gauges at some telegraph offices. Following the opening of the overland telegraph to Darwin in 1872, his coverage expanded dramatically. In New South Wales, Scott, by the time of his retirement in 1862, had established a dozen country stations (including two in what became in 1859 the separate colony of Queensland). Several of Scott's stations were allowed to lapse by his successor, G. R. Smalley, who inclined to the view that 'a few important facts are better than large masses of ordinary observations'.[27] Not until Smalley was succeeded in 1870 by Russell was this policy reversed and the building up of a reliable network of observers resumed.[28] In Victoria, Neumayer not only laboured diligently to improve and standardize the data generated by his observing stations, he reduced and published these in systematic form.[29] Eleven country stations furnished with 'complete' sets of instruments sent him data for at least part of his five-year cycle of observations, and he also received rainfall and other information from volunteers elsewhere. Following the transfer of Neumayer's equipment to the Melbourne Observatory at its formation in September 1862 and his return to Germany in July 1864, the work was continued under the supervision of R. L. J. Ellery, the Government Astronomer.

The Impact of the Telegraph

Todd, Ellery and Russell remained in charge of their respective observatories for another generation and were chiefly responsible for the system of co-operative meteorological observing established in the Australasian colonies during the final quarter of the nineteenth century. They did so in line with a further profound shift that overtook the science of meteorology at this time, one that is generally seen by meteorologists as constituting a watershed in the history of their subject.[30] The nature of the change can be seen by comparing the way Neumayer approached his task in the early 1860s to the approach adopted by Todd, Ellery and Russell a decade later.

Before coming to Melbourne, Neumayer worked at the Bogenhausen Observatory near Munich under one of the leading geo-physicists of the age, Johann von Lamont, and he carried to Australia an up-to-date knowledge of his subject.[31] His work in Australia therefore provides an insight not just into his own thinking, but into the science of meteorology more generally in his day. At the Flagstaff Observatory, he recorded the usual variables-shade temperature, wet-bulb thermometer, barometric pressure, wind strength and direction, and cloud cover-but at hourly intervals rather than the usual three or four times a day. From these observations he extracted daily and five-day means. The dew point was measured every three hours using a Reg-nault hygrometer, and the rain gauge checked twice daily. Neumayer also systematically recorded atmospheric electricity, soil temperature, evaporation rate, and maximum solar and minimum terrestrial radiation. He noted any special occurrences, along with the general state of the weather each day. From all this data, he sought to extract a 'completely reduced and calculated journal', of which, in his view, too few had been published. He devoted his attention in particular to 'the examination of the annual and diurnal variation in the various meteorological elements' and to investigating 'the change of these elements, as far as it depends upon the wind's direction'.[32]

People in Bright Sparcs - Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Neumayer, Georg Balthazar; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Scott, William; Smalley, George Robarts; 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.

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