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Table of Contents

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 (continued)

During the late 1870s and the 1880s, Ellery, Russell and Todd had laid the foundations for a comprehensive national meteorological system, the effectiveness of which depended on there being a network of well regulated observing stations extending beyond the bounds of any one colony. As the space made available in the newspapers makes clear, the weather reports and forecasts they produced aroused considerable public interest. Wragge, though, was more directly influential than his peers in the public arena. In particular, it was Wragge's reputation that ensured that meteorology was included among the constitutional powers of the Australian Commonwealth. During the brief debate at the 1897 Constitutional Convention about including 'astronomical and meteorological observations' among the matters on which the federal government could legislate, the strongest advocate for their inclusion was Sir Joseph Abbott, the Speaker in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He quoted Wragge as his main authority, arguing that for meteorological observations, it was 'essential that there should be uniformity', whereas there was less such need 'in regard to astronomical observations'.[93] His citing Wragge as the leading Australian authority on meteorology anticipated similar remarks by federal politicians debating the Meteorology Bill in the Commonwealth Parliament in mid-1906.[94]

Wragge was a populist who enhanced meteorology's profile with the Australian public in the critical years before and after federation, even though he alienated his fellow meteorologists. Indeed, he was a central figure in the events that provided the immediate motivation for the federal government's exercising its powers over meteorological services. In 1902 the recently created federal Postmaster-General's Department promulgated new regulations covering weather telegrams. Todd had become a senior official in the new department and doubtless had a considerable say in determining the policy adopted, which was to transmit free of charge only messages between reporting stations and the 'principal meteorological officer' of the relevant state, or between principal meteorological officers of different states.[95] Wragge's Chief Weather Bureau, which had been part of the Queensland government's Post and Telegraph Department, was not transferred to the Commonwealth when the post and telegraph services were federalized in 1901. During the first 18 months after Federation, the weather telegrams sent to Wragge's bureau, previously transmitted free by the Queensland department, had to be paid for. The resulting financial difficulties facing the bureau led Wragge's political masters in Queensland to open correspondence with the Commonwealth to negotiate a federal takeover of the Queensland meteorological bureau.[96] In July 1902 the Chief Weather Bureau was closed. Wragge carried on with his own private 'Central Weather Bureau' in Brisbane until July 1903 while lobbying the press, governments and the public for further funding. During this time, he survived partly on small government subsidies and partly on subscriptions to the weekly gazette that he edited-entitled, with typical lack of modesty, Wragge[97]—but he lost much local support through the fiasco of his highly publicized failed attempt to break a drought by firing cannon at passing clouds.[98] Soon afterwards, he left Queensland. However, the cessation of his Australia-wide forecasts resulted in an increasing public pressure on the federal politicians to take legislative action.[99]

People in Bright Sparcs - Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; 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.

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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