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Origins of Australian Meteorology



The Origins of Australian Meteorology
FitzRoy and Maury
Thomas Brisbane
Phillip Parker King
Charles Todd
Ellery and Neumayer
Henry Chamberlain Russell
Clement Wragge
The International Scene
The End of the Beginning

Appendix 1: Chronological Chart of Early Meteorologists



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Clement Wragge (continued)

The British meteorologist R. Abercromby had had military experience as an officer in the British army and had developed a theory that gunfire influenced rainfall. This led to the idea that a discharge of a large number of guns might bring rain in time of drought. The Italian Benvenuto Cellini in the 16th century had claimed to have stopped rain and hail by firing artillery pieces. In 1896 an enterprising town burgomaster, Albert Steiger, set up 36 'hail cannons' on the hills surrounding his district of Steiermark in Austria. These were vertically pointed shaped cannon which not only produced an appalling sound but also created a smoke-ring a metre or more in diameter which ascended at almost 100 feet per second and produced a singing note lasting about 10 seconds. Initial successes were impressive and the hail cannon was widely and rapidly copied throughout central Europe. With Queensland's fickle rainfall producing recurrent droughts it was not surprising that Wragge should be called on to do something about it. In 1902 he installed six Steiger vortex guns in the vicinity of Charleville with the object of breaking a severe drought at that time. On 26 September 1902 Wragge had judged that the clouds were suitable for rain-making and the guns were exploded at one-minute intervals. The finance for the guns had been subscribed by the Queensland government and by members of the public. When Wragge admitted that the project was a failure he was unprepared for the flood of criticism that burst upon him from official sources. He left Queensland soon after.

When the individual States had agreed that meteorology should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government the position of Commonwealth Meteorologist was advertised in 1907 and Wragge was a confident applicant. When his application was unsuccessful he turned public lecturer, touring Australia and other parts of the world giving popular lectures on the wonders of science, illustrated by lantern slides. In 1910 he settled in Auckland, New Zealand, where he operated his own private weather bureau for the numerous contributors to his long-range forecasts. Wragge collapsed while delivering a lecture at the age of 70 and died a few weeks later.

Wragge's language was as colourful as his personality. To him must be given the credit of being one of the first meteorologists to give names to cyclones. He began by using letters of the Greek alphabet, then drew from Greek and Roman mythology and progressed to the use of feminine names. Finally he used the names of politicians, many of whom, being unpopular with Wragge, would find their name attributed to a cyclone which 'did not know what to do next' or which was 'whooping around and making a nuisance of itself as usual'.

But Wragge's eccentricities should not be allowed to detract from his very real contributions to Australian meteorology.

People in Bright Sparcs - Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Wragge, Clement Lindley

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Gibbs, W. J. 1998 'The Origins of Australian Meteorology', Metarch Papers, No. 12 June 1998, Bureau of Meteorology

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