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.”
pg.326-390. (1914)

By British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Federal Council in Australia, Australia.
Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, George Handley Knibbs


1. Astronomy


(a) By Navigators, Surveyors AND Explorers, for Geographical PURPOSES.
(b) By the Permanent Government Observatories.
(c) By Amateur Astronomers.
(d) By Australian Expeditions on Special Astronomical Occasions.
(e) For the Determination of Australian Longitudes.

2. Geodesy

(a) Trigonometrical Surveys of High Precision.
(b) Pendulum Observations.

Appendix A. — List of References.

Appendix B. — Some Astronomical Papers by Australians.


(On the One-Hundred Year Anniversary)

Version Update : October 2014

By Andrew James

The following reproduced article continues from the other Australian Astronomy histories occurring after Thomas Brisbane at Paramatta Observatory roughly between 1827 and 1914. Production of this interested document was during the first decade-and-a-half when Australia had became an independent country, but pivotal towards plans of national development on the very brink of starting World War I. Foregoing Federation on 1st January 1901, governing the then seven individual British colonies by their appointed Governor Generals in a region then commonly referred as Australasia. These colonies formally became the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, with the seventh, New Zealand, becoming its own independent country. Additionally created were three other territories; namely, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Northern Territory and Papua. Later Papua became Papua-New Guinea when granted its independent nationhood by the Australian Government on 16th September 1975. A fourth, and largest, is the 5.9 million square kilometre Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT), as first declared during 1933 and claimed sovereignty on 1st January 1936, but whose legal claim was partial diminished by proclamation of the Antarctic Treaty on 22nd September 1961.

Australasia Map

Map of Australasia in 1914

[Map Presented Prior to the Early Text by Sir Ernest Scott. pg.xi.]

This particular document follows very well from my own Southern Astronomical Delights article The Dawn of Australian Astronomy, as it details the commonly neglected period during the first fifty years of European settlement. Chapter 1, not presented here, finds the excellent summary of the History of Australia written by Sir Ernest Scott (1867-1939), who was the famous Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. This too, adds much broader balance to my earlier work.

Formally produced and sponsored by the Australian Government, this useful Federal Handbook aimed simply to highlight the whole countrys scientific endeavours and achievements. All the book contents was formulated during several preliminary meetings held in March 1914, although the main Australian conference, the eighty-fourth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was held in Melbourne during August 1914. Its purpose is stated in the Preface of this 628 pages, that;

This Handbook, specially prepared for the use of members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Australian Meeting of 1914, contains a series of articles written by persons selected for that purpose by the Federal Council in Australia. These articles set forth matters which, it is believed, will be found of interest, and the data of which are in most cases not readily accessible to general readers abroad, nor even to those in Australia. Much of the material also has not hitherto been published. It goes on to say:
The issue of the Handbook has been made possible by the generosity of the Federal Government of Australia… The articles were decided upon by the Federal Council in Australia of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in whose name the invitation was made to each of the writers to contribute. Each author is alone responsible for all statements made or opinions expressed in his article.

I have only given Chapter VIII here, as it relates only to the national development of astronomy and geodesy, giving much insight into the nature of these sciences in Australia. This period is also the transition of science in New Zealand, which for several decades until just after WWII, continued to share and develop the sciences.

Most of the written text was by the then Government Astronomer of Victoria, Pietro Paolo Giovanni Ernesto Baracchi (1851-1926), who was once a civil engineer but later became an astronomer. His appointed position at Melbourne Observatory succeeded the more famous and highly competent, Robert Lewis John Ellery (1927-1908) Baracchi had come to Australia from New Zealand in 1876, and importantly, saw and experienced the transition from British control to independency of both countries. Well versed in the discussions on the overall astronomy and geodesy studied in these once separate colonies, he presents a positive, well-balanced and historically useful report of activity.

Much of the earlier text is a grand summary of Australasia, written by prominent Australians. There are extensive early chapters on history, the Aboriginal population, geography, climate, the fauna and flora and geology: before reaching the section on astronomy and geodesy. After this, some of the most important sections focus directly on the economic potential of Australasia and Australia, specifically, agriculture, mining and manufacturing — still the major focus 100 years later in the 21st Century. The papers conclude on education and Australia’s political system.

More interesting to general readers is the section (c) Amateur Astronomy, showing that astronomy was quite prolific in the 19th to early 20th Century — predating much that is written after this time. Baracchi surmises the brilliant and very optimistic view that:

In the popular mind, amateur efforts are frequently associated with the idea of inferiority, but the persons who will be referred to in this division of Australian Astronomy need not fear that the adjective amateur is given to them with any intention on my part of underrating their abilities as astronomers or of placing them and their work in a class below that of officialdom.

As time permits, I will include a larger summary of some important aspects of the material this document contains. It is made available at part of the missing chapters of astronomical activities in Australia and the people involved in it development. The list of references is particularly useful in searching for other research into the historical discoveries in this Australia.

The text layout of this document is extremely complex, having many different fonts, font size, notations, special or typographical characters and scripts. I have attempted to preserve as much of the original outline as possible. Numbers in [xxx] are pages numbers in the original documents, while those in (xx) are the notes at the end of this section of the document.

Andrew James : 18th October 2014


Last Update : 20th October 2014

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