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Meteorology at Melbourne Observatory, 1863-1908
Image: Negative - Copy
Source: Museum Victoria
The collecting of meteorological data was an important aspect of Melbourne Observatory's work from its inception in 1863. Just as astronomy had an important practical role to play in navigation, timekeeping and surveying, so the meteorological service provided up to date weather information and forecasts that were essential for shipping and agriculture.
By 1870 Government Astronomer Robert Ellery had a well organised system in place. Meteorological instruments on the east of the Observatory site automatically recorded temperature and air pressure; full records were sent from 7 major country sites, and records of rainfall from another 16 volunteers. This network gradually expanded until by 1893 Ellery was receiving rainfall records from 514 places around Victoria.
In collaboration with the government astronomers at Sydney and Adelaide, Ellery also established a system of intercolonial weather reports, sent daily by telegraph. By 1877 the three observatories were exchanging weather information twice a day by telegraph, and from 1881 Ellery provided the newspapers with a daily weather map of Australia and a forecast of the day's weather. Information and forecasts were telegraphed to the country stations each afternoon.
In the late 1890s the Observatory participated in an international project to observe and photograph clouds for one year, to provide data that could relate cloud types to other meteorological information such as air pressure and rain. Observers around Victoria were trained to observe cloud types and send in information, while special photographic apparatus was installed at the Observatory and on the roof of Parliament House.
Meteorology also had an important symbolic role in the development of the nation. The colonial government astronomers, with their dependence on one another for astronomical information, timekeeping, surveying and weather information, had established a form of scientific federalism that predated the moves to political federalism. The daily weather map of Australia inside each newspaper declared that there were fundamental meteorological relationships linking the colonies. Meteorology, like astronomy, was one of the specific functions listed in the Australian Constitution to be taken over by the Commonwealth Government, and in 1907 several Melbourne Observatory staff were transferred to the new Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology.
The long-term value of the records was also recognised, and in 1919 the complete records of the Melbourne Observatory and its network of stations was statistically analysed and published.
Baracchi, Pietro (1919). Victorian Meteorological Statistics Based on all available records obtained at 1,046 official stations from Jan. 1856 to Dec. 1907, Melbourne: Government Printer.
Home, R.W. & Livingston, K.T. (1994). 'Science and Technology in the Story of Australian Federation: The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908,' Historical Records of Australian Science, 10(2), pp.109-127.
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Recording thermometer in a glass case, made by T. Gaunt & Co, Melbourne. Graph indicates temperature changes over one week. Used at Melbourne Observatory.From: Melbourne, Australia Images: 1
Metallic-spiral hygroscope, by Mithoff, Germany. Used at Melbourne Observatory. A hygroscope measures the amount of moisture in the atmosphere
Portable transit telescope, 3.25 inch aperture, 42 inch focus, made by Troughton & Simms, London, circa 1850. This instrument was transferred from the Victorian Survey Department to Wi ...
Lloyd's Hygrodeik, manufactured by Taylor Brothers, Rochester, New York, and distributed by T. Gaunt & Co, Melbourne. A hygrodeik measures relative humidity, with wet and dry thermome ...From: Rochester, United States Images: 1
Vacuum solar radiation thermometer, made by Negretti & Zambra, London. Range +20 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Used at Melbourne Observatory.
Solar radiation thermometer, used to furnish an estimate of intensity of solar radiation. Scale marked 10 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Made by J. Hicks, London, and furnished with a Certi ...
Set of three normal alcoholometers. Used at Melbourne Observatory as part of its responsibility for administering weights and measures standards for Victoria. An alcoholometer measures ...