Henry Chamberlain Russell (1836-1907) :
N.S.W. Government Astronomer


Australian astronomer Henry Chamberlain(e) Russell, often referred as H.C. Russell was born in West Maitland, near Newcastle on 17 March 1836. He was educated in New South Wales at Sydney University, and achieved his Bachelor of Arts in 1858 - one of the first of the science-based degrees ever produced by an Australian. By 1859, he was then employed as an assistant at Sydney Observatory, where he remained in this same position until 1870, when he became the appointed Government Astronomer of New South Wales. Renown for significant meteorological, hydrological and astronomical work in the Colony of New South Wales, he became an elected and active fellow of the Royal Society in 1886.

He retained the position of the Government Astronomer New South Wales from 1870 to 1905, and was alive during the time when the most significant changes were happening in both astronomy and astrophysics.

Russell was very active and keen when he succeeded to the directorship, being determined to improve scientific observation in Australia and the southern hemisphere. Both astronomy and meteorology become his forte. The most significant undertakings were;

• Obtaining observations and measures of double stars, rechecking John Herschels own measures some fifty years earlier.
• Setting up the first weather stations throughout New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, and made records and rough predictions.
• Organised the scientific section of the Royal Society of New South Wales (est.1866).
• Proceeded to photograph the southern hemisphere skies.

The last item was one of the most significant, which was concieved in 1887 when Russell went to Europe to attend the Astrographic Congress in Paris. Here he committed Sydney Observatory to share in the preparation of the Astrographic Catalogue and Charts, and was subsequently assigned the declination range of -52°S to −65°S. This program once started continued for many decades to follow.

Upon returning in 1891 he experimented with various astronomical techniques in photography and produced several remarkable photographs which were exhibited to the Royal Society and to the public.

Russell was to die from Brights Disease, a chronic and painful kidney disease, in Sydney on the 22nd February 1907.


Last Update : 1st December 2012

Southern Astronomical Delights © (2012)

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