Sydney Observatory Papers No.31

Part 3



Meanwhile steps were being taken to appoint an astronomer. Denison wrote to the Secretary of State (1855, October 15) and to the Astronomer Royal (G. B. Airy) who was asked to secure the services of a competent person. On October 26 he wrote, I have forwarded to England a large meridian circle which appears to require some alteration and correction before can be made useful in the Observatory. Airy was asked to supervise this as well as the purchase of the sets of the meteorological instruments. The appointment was accepted by the Reverend William Scott, M.A., to whom Airy offered it. Scott was born at Hartland, North Devon, in 1825, graduated as Third Wrangler in 1848 and continued to reside in Cambridge as Fellow and afterwards Mathematical Lecturer of Sidney Sussex College. Airy, in recommending the appointment to the Secretary of State, said : Mr. Scott will be prepared to commence the duties of the office (including in that term the making himself generally familiar with the technicalities of an Observatory, the examination of the Sydney instruments, etc.) under my general superintendence, tomorrow, April 16, and I request that his nomination may be dated from that day. Scott spent as large a portion as possible of the intervening time before sailing early in July at the Greenwich Observatory, where he received every assistance from the Astronomer Royal in completing his knowledge of practical Astronomy, and in making himself familiar with the most recent improvements in the construction and use of astronomical instruments. His salary was £500 per annum. Passages were arranged for Scott, his wife, three children and one female servant on the ship Sultana at a cost in whole of £.200, including beer, and wine and spirits for Mr. and Mrs. Scott. He arrived in Sydney on 1856, October 31.

Five days later Denison wrote to Parker, the Colonial Secretary, I went with the Astronomer over the ground yesterday, and he agreed with me that the best site for the Observatory would be on Flagstaff Hill at Fort Phillip. Would you write to the Secretary of Lands and Works requesting him to direct the Colonial Architect to put himself in communication with the Astronomer, for the purpose of forming a plan and estimate of the Observatory, and the dwelling-house for the Astronomer, the sooner you get to work at this the better. Scott, in writing of this choice, said it was considered of great public utility that the Time Ball attached to the Observatory should be visible over as great a portion of the Harbour as possible; it was also thought desirable for other reasons that the Observatory should be in or very near to the town. Such being the case, no better site could be found than that on which it now stands and no other foundation could be obtained than the sandstone rock on which the whole of Sydney is built..

A plan was immediately prepared by the Colonial Architect said Scott, as to its scientific requirements by the Governor General and the Astronomer. Tenders for the erection of the Observatory and Astronomers Residence were invited by the N.S.W. Government Gazette of 1857, February 17, and on March 18, the successful tenders, Charles Biningermann and Ebenezer Dewar, signed the contract to do the work for £4,330. The original plan did not include a dome but when it was found that sufficient money was available one was included on the the western end of the building. [pg.9]

From 1858, February, Scott dated most of his letters from Sydney Observatory. from the beginning, they were from 11 Macquarie Street South. On April 11th he moved into residence and by June, 1858, the building was sufficiently advanced to admit of meridian observations for time The first recorded meridian observation is of a transit of the Sun on 1858, July 5. The time ball was at first at mean noon (beginning on 1858, June 5) but by the time of Scotts in December, 1858, it was being dropped at 1 p.m. as it has been ever no doubt to enable to observe the transit of the Sun.

The Observatory was built in Sydney sandstone designed in the style of the Florentine Renaissance. From west to cast were the dome for the equatorial telescope, the transit room, the time ball tower and the Astronomers residence. So that the time ball could be seen over most of the Harbour the tower was made 58 feet high and consequently covered much of the eastern sky as seen from the dome. Scott said that during his absence from the Colony (Scott was away from from 1857, May 13, to about 1857, September 21) it was made higher than he had originally agreed.

Meanwhile Scott, having approved of the the site of the Observatory and set in train the arrangements for building it, started to work in other directions. He unpacked and made ready the twelve sets of meteorological instruments which, had from England, collected together the instruments which had formerly to Parramatta Observatory and began to prepare them for use in their home. He also made extensive journeys into country areas to establish meteorological stations. Of these Brisbane and Rockhampton were soon transferred to the newly formed state of Queensland and Gabo Island in Victoria.

His entailed a good deal of work and much of Scotts correspondence at this was concerned with coaching the observers to get satisfactory results. Most of them had no scientific training and several changes of observers had to be made within a few years. Communications ere poor and Scott, writing to Airy, said that of 10 (mercurial barometers) which were distributed only one (was) broken which was carried over a mountainous country in a bullock dray that was overturned four times on the road.

The observers selected by Scott were paid a fee of £20 per annum but the experienced finally led to a changed arrangement. On 1860, October 8, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary asking that eight of the sets of instruments should be transferred to telegraph stations and recommending that it be made a part of the telegraph clerks duty to take regular observations and transmit a monthly return to the Observatory .The arrangement, which played an important part in developing Australian meteorological services, was made in 1861 with the Superintendent of Telegraphs. One of its advantages was that the observer would have at hand a convenient means of communication. At the same time Scott a plan for the inclination of storm warnings.

At the Observatory Scott initiated correspondence with astronomers in other parts of the world in order to establish a library, seek suggestions about his programme of work and make enquiries preliminary to obtaining an equatorial telescope for his dome. The old transit instrument from Parramatta was known to be very poor and serious meridian work was postponed until the arrival of the Jones meridian circle which had been used at Parramatta Observatory from 1835 and had been sent to England to be repaired by Messrs. Troughton & Sims under the direction of the Astronomer Royal. [pg.9]

About this time occurred two astronomical phenomena which aroused public interest. These were the total solar eclipse of 1857, March 26, and the appearance of Donatis Comet in 1858. They underlined the necessity for providing the Observatory with satisfactory equipment for observational work.

Soon after the Observatory was occupied Scott wrote to the Colonial Secretary proposition the appointment of a Board of Visitors for the Observatory. The Executive Council appointed, under the title of the Observatory Board, a body consisting of the Governor General, the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor General, the Professor of Mathematics of the University of Sydney and the Commanders of such of Her Majestys Ships of War as may be in the Harbour The Board so constituted received reports of the Observatory and took interest in its affairs until 1876 when it appears to have lapsed. At the first meeting on 1858, December 2, support was given to Scotts plans for obtaining an equatorial telescope and appointing an assistant. Scott outlined the requirements for the telescope for which a sum of £1,000 was voted. He wrote to Airy who had offered to arrange the purchase of the instruments which was of 7¼ inches aperture and 124 inches focal length and was made by Merz and Son of Munich. It arrived in Sydney about the end of April, 1861 and, appropriately, was first used on June 8 to observe the great comet of 1861 which was discovered by John Tebbutt of Windsor on May 13. The position of computer was advertised and Scott recommended the appointment of H. C. Russell who had recently taken the B.A. Degree at the University of Sydney and was to give distinguished service to the 0bservatory for many years.

Until the return of the meridian circle from England the work of the Observatory was confined to observations for time with the old Parramatta transit instrument and the collation and publication of the meteorological returns of the twelve stations.

The meridian circle arrived in December, 1858, and regular observations were commenced in June, 1859. He observed stars near the zenith at Sydney or near the celestial pole which were not in the programme of the Cape Observatory. The work was pursued with energy and a really good tally of transit observations, the results of which were published in annual volumes, was recorded from 1859 to 1862. However he was not entirely pleased with his transit instrument and decided that on the arrival, of the new equatorial telescope it would be more useful to devote himself to that, paving especial attention to the re-examination of the double stars of the Southern Hemisphere observed at the Cape of Good Hope by Sir J. Herschel. The work with the meridian circle also included observations of Moon culminations or the determination of longitude and observations for the determination of latitude.

In May, 1861, he made, with Ellery of Melbourne a telegraphic determination of the difference in longitude between Sydney and Melbourne. In connection with his meridian work he at first wished to establish a meridian mark some distance away on the North Shore and selected a site on property belonging to Alexander Berry but, having had some experience with a temporary mark, he decided to erect to the south, about 45 feet away, a pillar with a mark which could be allowed through a lens of long focus built into the wall.

Daily observations of the temperature of the sea water were commenced in 1860 as were also observations of the rise and fall of the tide with the co-operation of the Harbour Master.

Scott made some observations of positions of comets and a series of results for the comet 1860 III and comet 1861 II (Tebbutt), is reported in the volumes he published for those years. The latter case is interesting in that the orbits calculated by Scott, Tebbutt and others suggest that the Earth passed through the tail of [pg.10] the comet about June 29. He also [pg.10] the comet about June 29. He also made observations of a solar eclipse on 1861, January 11, the transit of Mercury on 1861, November 11 (12) and Enckes comet in February, 1862. Observations of occultations of stars and measurement of some of J. Herschels double stars were also begun with the new equatorial.

Scott and the Observatory Board wished to promote a popular taste for astronomy and Scott invited persons with suitable qualifications to attend for instruction in the subject. He managed to get a small class together but no persisted to the stage of undertaking, useful amateur work for which he was willing to provide facilities and by which indeed he had hoped to augment the output of the Observatory.

By early 1861 Scott had become discouraged in his work. He referred, in 1861 report, to the strain put upon him and finally, on 1862, May 9, he penned his letter of resignation. He said four years of close application to my duties have so far affected my sight as to convince me that 1 could not much longer continue to perform those duties in a manner satisfactory to myself. I have therefore thought to restrict my appointment as soon as I should be able to do so without at my duty altogether ruining myself by so doing.

The work to which Scott went was with the Church, first as master of school. From 1865 to 1878 lie was Warden of St. Pauls College within the University of Sydney, after which he entered into parish work in the Goulburn diocese. He retained his interest in science and remained an active member of the Philosophical Society of N.S.W. and the Royal Society of N.S.W., of which he was Honorary Secretary from 1867 to 1874 and Treasurer for several years. He died on the 29th March, 1917.

Scott recommended that John Tebbutt, whose astronomical work was now well known, should be appointed in his place and the Colonial Secretary would appointed but that Tebbutt indicated his unwillingness. Scott then, in response to a request from the Colonial Secretary, suggested that the choice should be left to Sir J. Herschel and the Astronomer Royal. Until Scotts successor arrived the essential work of the Observatory was carried on by Russell who prepared for publication the observations made in Scotts time and designed and set up a self recording anemometer.


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