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Astronomical and Meteorological Workers in New South Wales


Lieutenant Dawes

Captain Flinders

Admiral Phillip Parker King

Sir Thomas MacDougall Brisbane

Dr. Charles Stargard Rumker

James Dunlop

P. E. De Strzelecki

Captain J. C. Wickham

Rev. W. B. Clarke, M.A.

Rev. A. Glennie

E. C. Close

Sir William Macarthur

J. Boucher

S. H. Officer

John Wyndham

William Stanley Jevons

Establishment of Meteorological Observatories

Votes and Proceedings, N.S.W., 1848.

Appendix A.

Appendix B.

Appendix C.

Appendix D.

Appendix E.

Appendix F.

Appendix G.

Appendix H.

Appendix I.

Appendix J.

Appendix K.

Appendix L.

Appendix M.

Appendix N.

Appendix O.

Appendix P.

Appendix Q.

Appendix R.

Appendix S.

Appendix T.

Appendix U.



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Appendix P.

No. 21.

[Copy of a Letter from the Colonial Secretary to the Commanding Royal Engineer.]

Sydney, 19th October, 1850.

SIR,—Referring to my letter of the 21st December, 1849, relative to the Astronomical instruments belonging to the late Observatory at Parramatta, now in the Ordnance Stores, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that the reply of the Home Government having been received with respect to the disposal of the instruments, they will be taken over by the Colony, with a view to the establishment of a time ball.

I have been in correspondence on this subject with Captain P. P. King, R.N., to whose care the instruments named in the annexed list are to be committed, and I have accordingly referred that gentleman to you in order that they may be handed over to him. Captain King proposes, whilst selecting those instruments, as packed, which are to remain in the Ordnance Stores at present.

I have, &c.,

The Commanding Royal Engineer.

A long correspondence (see Votes and Proceedings, N. S. Wales, 1855) then followed as to the position of the Observatory, extending over the years 1851, 1852, 1853 and 1854.

Upon the arrival of Sir William Denison as Governor, in 1853, he immediately took steps to get the Observatory established, and the following papers show that he did so to some purpose.

Appendix Q.

31st March, 1853.

I heard with some regret a few years since that the Observatory at Parramatta had been broken up. I am aware that this was in great measure due to the misconduct of the person then acting as Astronomer, in consequence of which some, doubt was thrown upon the correctness of his observations, and consequently on the value of the results deduced from them. This was perhaps a sufficient reason for the withdrawal by the Home Government of the allowance granted to an observer in these latitudes. But there are many circumstances which would, in my opinion, make it very advisable to re-establish the Observatory, not on the old site, but upon one in the immediate vicinity of Sydney. In the first place, provision has already been made for the erection of a building to contain the machinery of a time ball and for the purchase of the machinery, but the time ball will, in point of fact, be worse than useless unless there are means of determining the time correctly—that is, unless there are proper clocks and proper instruments for determining the time; and these instruments are in the hands of an observer responsible to the Government for their proper application. I say that a time ball would be worse than useless without these; for as the time ball is established for the purpose of enabling captains of vessels to rate their chronometers properly, any error in the time given by the ball has the effect of deceiving the captain as to the quality of his chronometer, and as to the daily rate at which it either loses or gains; and a very trifling error in the rate, accumulating daily, will in the course of a month amount to a serious error in time, and a still more serious one in longitude.

In the second place, I am anxious for the establishment of an observatory in the immediate vicinity of Sydney, as affording to all persons, and especially to those educated at the University, a practical example of the application of science to the determination of matters altogether beyond the scope of our ordinary or uneducated reason. The student sees in the results deduced from the observation the application of those truths or principles which have been put before him at school in an abstract form, and he begins to comprehend that what he has hitherto been engaged in is to be looked upon in the light of an apprenticeship, during which he has learned to handle the tools which he will from henceforward have to apply to the purposes of life.

In the third place, I am desirous to establish an observatory for the purpose of connecting it with the trigonometrical survey of the country, and thus, by means of the perfect and absolute determination of the position on the earth's surface of one point, to he enabled to lay down with perfect accuracy the whole of the remainder of the country, not merely with relation to that spot, but with relation to the remainder of the earth's surface.

In the fourth place, I am anxious for the establishment of an observatory as a means of connecting this Colony with the Scientific Societies of Europe and America. I have no doubt but that from my acquaintance with the Astronomer Royal I shall be able to obtain from him a recommendation of a person thoroughly qualified to take charge of the Observatory, and we can then procure assistants from the youth of the Colony, some of whom will be trained up to take the place hereafter of the Astronomer at first supplied from England. The instruments in our possession already are of great value, and I believe only require to be properly adjusted to allow of their employment at once. Provision should be made for a building to contain them, for such repairs as may be found necessary to the instruments themselves, for a house for the Astronomer in the immediate vicinity of the Observatory, and such additional accommodation for computers, &c., as may probably be required.

It would also be desirable to provide for the purchase of a dozen sets of meteorological instruments, for the purpose of establishing at different points throughout the extensive area of the Colony such observations as to temperature, moisture, direction of wind, and generally of such atmospheric phenomena as may afford data from which we may be enabled at some future period to deduce the laws upon which these phenomena depend or by which they are regulated.


People in Bright Sparcs - Denison, William Thomas; Dunlop, James; King, Phillip Parker

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Russell, H. C. 1888 'Astronomical and Meteorological Workers in New South Wales, 1778-1860,' Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science vol. 1, 1888, pp. 45-94.

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