ASTRONOMY AND GEODESY IN AUSTRALIA : Part 5.
By Pietro Baracchi, F.R.A.S.,
Government Astronomer of Victoria.
“The Commonwealth of Australia; Federal Handbook, prepared
in connection with the eighty-fourth meeting of the
British Association for the Advancement of Science,
held in Australia, August, 1914.”
By British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Federal Council in Australia, Australia.
Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, George Handley
(d) Australian Expeditions on Special Astronomical
There were five occasions upon which the official astronomers of
Australia recognised it as their duty to organise astronomical
expeditions for observing important astronomical phenomena at places
remote from their permanent observatories.
These occasions are—
1. The total eclipse of the sun of December, 1871
— at Eclipse Island, of the extreme north of Australia ;
2. The transit of Venus of December, 1874 ;
3. The transit of Venus of December, 1882 ;
4. The total eclipse of the sun of May, 1910 —
at Bruni Island, in the South Pacific ;
5. The total eclipse of the sun of April, 1911 —
at Vavau (Friendly Island).
1. This eclipse occurred on the 11th December, 1871. The path of
totality crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria, touching Australia near its
extreme northern points.
The proposal to fit out an expedition to observe the eclipse was
made by the late Professor Wilson, and, on the recommendation of the
Royal Society of Victoria, the Governments of Victoria and New South
Wales authorised their respective astronomers — R.L.J. Ellery
and H.C. Russell — to organise a party of observers suitably
equipped for the purpose.
The locality selected for observation was a small island off the
north coast, called, since. Eclipse Island. The Queensland Government
provided the, then new, steamer Governor Blackall to carry the
expedition to its destination and back.
The party consisted of the principal assistants of the Melbourne
and Sydney Observatories and a large number of other observers
recruited amongst the most eligible in the colonies.
The expedition was provided with the 7¼-in. equatorial, by
Merz, of the Sydney Observatory, upon which was mounted a camera with
lens of 3 inches aperture and 30 inches focal length ; the
4½-in. equatorial of the Melbourne Observatory, and several
other smaller equatorial telescopes, all driven by clockwork ;
photographic and spectroscopic apparatus fitted for the purpose.
Special instruments, adapted for the occasion, had been forwarded by
the Eclipse Committee of the British Association for the service of
The expedition started from Sydney on 27th November, 1871, reached
Eclipse Island on 7th December, and had the instruments ready by the
10th December, the day before the eclipse. On the 11th, unfavourable
weather prevailed, and the sky was overcast during the whole time of
Thus the expedition failed in its main object. [pg.363]
2. For the observation of the transit of Venus, in 1874, the
official astronomers of the time — Ellery, Russell, and Todd
— organised various parties, which were sent to occupy
favourable spots in their own respective colonies.
In the colony of Victoria, Ellery selected, in addition to the
Melbourne Observatory, where he himself and his assistants observed
the transit, three subsidiary stations. These were—
Mornington, on the shores of Port Phillip Bay, and
about 30 miles south of Melbourne ;
View Hill, Sandhurst, 86 miles north-west of Melbourne
Glenrowan, 150 miles north-east of Melbourne.
The observations at the Melbourne Observatory were directed by
Ellery using the 8-in. equatorial, an 18-in. altazimuth, the Grubb
4-ft. reflector, and Dallmeyer’s 4-in.
photoheliograph. Good observations of internal contact at “Ingress” and
were obtained. Many micrometric measurements of diameter of Venus
were made by a double image micrometer, and physical phenomena well
observed. Several photographs were secured, both with the
photoheliograph and the great telescope.
The party at Mornington was in charge of Professor Wilson, of the
Melbourne University; its equipment consisted of a 4½-in.
equatorial, by Troughton and Simms, with which micrometric
measurements and contact observations were made ; fair results of
and “Egress” phenomena were obtained.
At View Hill, Sandhurst, Mr. C. Moerlin (assistant of the
Melbourne Observatory) directed the operations. The instrument
employed was an equatorially-mounted telescope, with objective
6¾-in. aperture, by Ertel, of Munich, provided with a double
image micrometer. Cloudy weather prevented contact observations at
“Ingress,” but some satisfactory results of “Egress”
phenomena were obtained.
At Glenrowan, the party was in charge of Messrs. A. C. Allan and
James Gilbert. The instruments employed were a 4½-in.
equatorial, by Cooke and Sons, and a reflecting telescope, by
Browning, 8½-in. aperture, equatorially mounted. Observations
of “Ingress” were made satisfactorily in clear weather,
except the first external contact, but no observations of “Egress” could
be made, the sky being overcast.
In New South Wales, Russell, with the aid of the local Royal
Society, was able to obtain sufficient encouragement and assistance
from his Government to carry out the extensive preparations which he
had planned with the object of securing observations on the eventful
day of 9th December, 1874, at four different places in his colony.
The Sydney Observatory ;
Eden, on the north shore of Twofold Bay, 350 miles
south-west of Sydney ;
Goulburn, 134 miles south-west of Sydney, 2,071 feet
above sea level ;
Woodford, in the mountainous district, 50 miles west
Parties were despatched to these places equipped with
equatorially-mounted telescopes, fitted with apparatus for
photographing the sun, and provided with means for determining time,
material for obtaining upward of 200 pictures of the sun, observing
huts, and all necessary appliances. [pg.364]
(21) At Sydney, the observers were directed by Russell ; the
instruments employed were the 11.4-in. equatorial, by Schroeder,
fitted with photographic apparatus, which could be quickly removed
and mounted again ; a 4¾−in. equatorial, by Troughton
and Simms ; and a 10-in. Browning silvered glass reflector.
Eden, the Rev. W. Scott conducted the work ; the instruments used
were a 7¼-in. equatorial, and two other smaller achromatic
telescopes, with objectives 4¼ inches and 3¼ inches
The station at Goulburn was occupied by Captain Hixson ; this
party was provided with an achromatic telescope of 6 inches aperture,
equatorially mounted and fitted with a camera ; also two smaller
equatorial refractors of 3¾ inches and 3¼ inches
At Woodford, the observing party was in charge of
Surveyor-General Adams. The observations were made with
3½−in. equatorial, and a 4-in. photoheliograph was
employed for obtaining pictures of the sun. This station, in addition
to the provisions made as at the other three places for taking 220
pictures, had a supply of 30 Janssen plates, each to hold 60
Mr. Tebbutt observed the transit independently at his observatory,
Windsor, with a 4½-in. equatorial. He had fine weather, and
obtained accurate times of the beginning and end of the transit.
In South Australia the transit was observed—
By Mr. Todd, at the Adelaide Observatory, the
instruments used being the 8-in. equatorial, by T. Cooke and Sons,
and a camera arranged to give an enlarged picture of the sun.
By T. D. Smeaton, J.P., at his residence. North
Adelaide, using an excellent 3i-inch equatorial by Cooke and Son.
By F. C. Singleton, on the grounds of the Adelaide
Observatory, using a 3-in. equatorial.
By A. W.
Dobbie, at his residence, 2 miles north-east of the Adelaide
Observatory, using an 8½−in. silvered glass reflecting
The weather was unfavourable at Adelaide up to a short time after
and was only intermittently clear afterwards.
Todd obtained a few micrometric measurements, and made some
observations of the approach of internal contact at “Egress.”
Messrs. Smeaton, Singleton, and Dobbie were able to observe and
record the times of internal and external contact at “Egress.”
On the whole, Australia acquitted itself with credit on the
occasion of the transit of Venus of 1874, and the Australian results
form an important part in the investigation of the solar parallax,
based on the observations of this transit.
3. The Australians had no opportunity of observing the complete
set of phenomena of the transit of Venus of 7th December, 1882, as
the beginning of the transit took place before sunrise. The
importance of securing observations of the other phases was, however,
fully understood, and extensive preparations were made accordingly.
In Victoria, Ellery sent out two parties from the Melbourne
Observatory — one to Hobart, and one to Sale, Gippsland &@8212;
Ellery himself remaining stationed at the Observatory in Melbourne.
The instruments employed at these three stations were the same as
those with which observations of the previous transit had been
Ellery and White had fine weather and obtained good results.
The weather in Gippsland was unfavourable, and no
In New South Wales, Russell organised, equipped, and trained five
expeditions, which he was able to supply in each case with two
equatorially-mounted telescopes of 6-inch and 4½-inch
aperture. Fifteen observers took part in the work. The five stations
occupied by these parties were Port Macquarie, Clarence River,
Dromedary, Katoomba, and Lord Howe Island. Russell and his staff were
stationed at the Sydney Observatory.
None of these parties were successful, owing to adverse weather
Tebbutt, at the Windsor Observatory, met with similar ill fortune.
Thus no contribution was made by New South Wales observers upon the
transit of Venus of December, 1882.
The Government Astronomer of South Australia—Mr.
Todd—observed the transit at Wentworth with a
4½−inch equatorial. He me with fine weather, and his
programme of observations was successfully carried out. (15)
4. The southern parts of Tasmania and Bruni Island were the only
localities from which the total eclipse of the sun of 9th May, 1910,
could be seen. The chance of successfully observing this eclipse was
very small on account of he low altitude of the sun at the time of
totality, and of the unfavourable and severe weather conditions
generally prevailing in these particular localities so late in the
autumn. It was known that, owing probably to this uncertainty and to
the great length of the journey involved, no official expedition was
to be despatched to Tasmania on this occasion, and only one private
party, conducted by Mr. Frank McClean, was expected to come out in
due course to occupy some spot within the belt of totality.
Under the circumstances it was clearly the duty of Australian
astronomers to deal with the Tasmanian eclipse.
Dr. W. G. Duffield, of South Australia, now Professor of Natural
Philosophy at the University College of Reading, brought this matter
before the Council of the Australasian Association for the
Advancement of Science at its Brisbane meeting, of January, 1909, and
that Council appointed a committee, with Dr. Duffield as secretary,
for the purpose of taking steps to ensure that efficient preparations
were made to observe the eclipse in question. The result was that the
Government of Victoria provided its own astronomer with the required
means for organising and fitting out an eclipse expedition to Bruni
Island, which was done.
The Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee of the Royal Society and
Royal Astronomical Society supplied a part of the equipment to this
Unfortunately it is needless to detail the elaborate preparations
made since the day remained completely overcast, and nothing was seen
of the eclipse, except a general darkening of the landscape.
Mr. Frank McClean and his party, who were stationed at Port Davey,
some 60 miles to the west of us, and Mr. Walter Gale, of Sydney, who
had purposely gone to Hobart on his own initiative to observe the
eclipse from a position in that city, were also unable to see the
eclipse owing to cloud and rain. [pg.366]
5. At the Sydney meeting of the Australasian Association for the
Advancement of Science, in January, 1911, the same Eclipse Committee
was reappointed with the object of forming an Australian expedition
for the observation of the total eclipse of the sun of 29th April,
1911, at Vavau, one of the islands of the Tonga Group in the Pacific
Ocean. Dr. Duffield being in Europe, Professor Moors, of the Sydney
University, was appointed secretary to the committee.
committee, having succeeded in obtaining a subsidy of £500 from
the Commonwealth, was able to organise and equip a party.
The equipment of the expedition comprised principally —
4-inch photoheliograph (Melbourne Observatory) ;
4½-inch equatorial telescope (Melbourne
Observatory), with two large portrait lens cameras attached ;
One coronograph (Perth Observatory) ;
One coronograph (Adelaide Observatory) ;
One 16-inch coelostat, lent by the British Eclipse
One 12-inch coelostat, lent by the British Eclipse
One coronograph (Sydney University) ;
One 6-inch refracting telescope, with camera attached
One smaller equatorial ;
A large altazimuth, for time determination (Perth
Also several cameras of various sizes, chronometers, subsidiary
apparatus, observing sheds and huts, living tents, and camp
On the morning of the eclipse all instruments were in good order
and adjustment and the observers had been thoroughly drilled.
The weather was unpromising, and the face of the sun was obscured
intermittently by passing clouds up to the beginning, and during a
considerable part, of the phase of totality. Each observer, however,
accomplished his allotted programme, and some 45 plates were exposed
during the three and a half minutes of totality. The plates were
developed the dame evening, and the results obtained were found to be
much better than was at first expected.
The form of the corona was found to correspond to the type which
had been observed on several previous years of minimum solar
Although this single result brings no new knowledge of eclipse
phenomena, yet, taken as additional evidence concerning an important
characteristic of the solar corona which is obtainable only on
relatively rare occasions, it becomes a valuable contribution to the
store of eclipse records.
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