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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
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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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So far as meteorology was concerned, we have seen that, in Australia as elsewhere, the subject was transformed during the second half of the nineteenth century. The lone meteorologist collecting and analysing data became everywhere a thing of the past, replaced by someone supervising a widespread network of observers—the more widespread the better—sending in data by telegraph at set hours every day. Simply managing the network became an onerous task, the burden being compounded by the growing public demand for dependable weather forecasts. The tendency everywhere was for the meteorological researcher to become a bureaucrat administering a meteorological bureau. Instead of trying to understand the physical behaviour of the atmosphere, the meteorologist became an expert in predicting tomorrow's weather on the basis of today's synoptic charts. If research was done, it came to be largely confined to climatological work, seeking patterns in the weather records of particular locales or even whole regions. This style of work became universal among Australian meteorologists prior to Federation, and was institutionalized in the new Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology.

Our study of the growth of Australia's meteorological services has served not only to delineate this aspect of the history of science in federating Australia, but also to expose hitherto neglected links with the history of federalism itself. In particular, developments internal to the science of meteorology created demands for co-operation across the political boundaries between the colonies. Nor was meteorology alone in this, since similar pressures emerged in the administration of the postal and telegraph systems, in defence procurement, and perhaps in other contexts. No sooner had the separate colonies achieved self-government than technical considerations arising in such fields began to pull them together. While these consideratons did not suffice to bring about a political federation—they certainly did not suffice in Europe, where the same technical considerations, apart from those relating to defence, applied—in the Australian case, where the peoples of the different colonies already had much in common, they undoubtedly helped create a climate of opinion favouring such a development. The role played in the federation story by these technical considerations, and by the technical experts in the colonial government bureaucracies—Ellery, Russell, Todd and the New Zealander, Hector, in the case considered here—who saw the need for cross-border co-operation and established mechanisms to secure it, warrants more attention.

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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