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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 Role of Clement Wragge

It was not simply pride that led the others to respond so angrily to Wragge's attack. His criticisms also posed a political threat since they could easily be taken up by an ill-informed public. Todd, having endured Wragge's provocations at closer quarters than the rest, insisted that the rejoinders that he and his colleagues had made should be fully recorded in the conference report:
[H]e felt the position of the official meteorologists in the different colonies had been ignored by the Meteorological Society of Australasia, The reason for establishing that society appeared to be the allegation that they were not carrying on observations exactly according to the science of modern meteorology. He thought that should not go forth to the world, and this was the first opportunity they had had of rebutting it. He did not say that was the intention, but it certainly was the effect upon the public mind.[84]

Todd was right to be concerned. His public standing and that of his colleagues was indeed threatened by Wragge's incessant activity—especially by his constant self-promotion at their expense. In an address a few years later, for example, while explaining how in issuing forecasts he relied on data obtained from the whole of Australia and even beyond, Wragge contrived not to mention the meteorological services of the other colonies, leaving the impression that he alone was responsible for establishing and maintaining the intercolonial network of observing stations.[85] Here and elsewhere, he compared the place of his Brisbane office to that of the Chief Signal Office in Washington or the Meteorological Office in London: 'at the Chief Weather Bureau, Brisbane, where all the Australasian weather data are accumulated, we can issue forecasts for any colony with as much accuracy as if we were forecasting for Queensland alone'[86] When he did mention his counterparts in the other colonies—who, he acknowledged, 'most kindly assist by sending information"—he conveyed the impression that he was the driving force behind the intercolonial exchanges of meteorological data, while the astronomical duties of the others left them unable to give their meteorological work the attention it required, even though it was of greater practical importance. 'Does not the pastoralist appreciate far more the intimation that a prolonged drought is likely to break up', he inquired, 'than a bulletin from an astronomical observatory announcing the discovery of a new comet?'[87]

People in Bright Sparcs - Todd, Charles; Wragge, Clement Lindley

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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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