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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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The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences

Simple though the system of weather telegrams was in principle, difficulties arose almost at once, chiefly due to the reluctance of the telegraph authorities to give the weather telegrams priority.[60] The need for closer standardization of instruments and observing practices, and for a more extended observing network, also became apparent. Russell's mapmaking activities perhaps made him more aware of the problems involved. In any event, his earlier feeling that everything could be managed by correspondence quickly evaporated. In 1879 he persuaded his minister that New South Wales should invite the other colonies to send representatives to an intercolonial scientific conference in Sydney 'to consider what means should be adopted to improve the system of intercolonial weather signals'.[61] Invitations were sent to the governments of South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and New Zealand but, curiously, not Western Australia. Tasmania failed to respond, as did Queensland which was treated for the purposes of the conference as part of the existing system, presumably because Russell was being supplied with data from some stations there. Todd and Ellery were nominated by their governments and were joined by New Zealand's James Hector, attending as that colony's Inspector of Meteorological Stations. Russell, as host, presided.

The conference, held on 11-14 November 1879, began by restating the importance, especially for shipping, of having a reliable meteorological system:

in view of the great importance which a better knowledge of the movement and origin of strong gales and storms on our coast lines and neighbouring seas is to the shipping and commercial interest generally, it is desirable to secure, as far as possible, co-operation in all the Australasian Colonies for the investigation of storms, as well as for agricultural and general cli-matological purposes.[62]

All present were experienced public servants who knew there were limits to what their governments would support. 'The different Colonies worked under different circumstances', Ellery insisted, 'and all that was required was to secure their co-operation'. Hector reinforced the point: 'The Conference should not dictate to the Colonies what expenditure they should incur; nor did he think they should lay down any expensive or elaborate scheme, which might have the effect of preventing cordial co-operation'. Though they affirmed a need for more 'first class' meteorological stations (equivalent, in the range of data recorded, to the observatories in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide) they made no recommendation as to where these should be located.

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.

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