Sydney Observatory Papers No.31

Part 4



George Roberts Smalley was appointed on the 6th August, at the recommendation of the Astronomer Royal of England and arrived in Sydney on 7th January, 1864, accompanied by his sister and family of three. Smalley from the County of Suffolk and after taking his B.A. Degree at St. Johns, Cambridge, in 1845, was Assistant Astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Good Hope, and lecturer in Mathematics in Kings College in London.

The Astronomer Royal prepared for the new Director of the Observatory a set of instructions which were very extensive and far beyond the resources that Smalley could command. Among the nineteen objects listed, the more important were :-

1. The formation of a Southern Catalogue of Stars

2. The trigonometrical survey of N.S.W.;

3. Magnetic observations both for pure science and for assistance to navigation

4. Meteorological observations [pg.11]

5. A time service, including the rating of ships chronometers

6. The erection and superintendence of tide gauges

7. General observations of eclipses, occultations, minor planets, southern comets, measures of double stars, nebulae and the like, and observations of Mars or Venus for parallax ;

8. The promotion of education in Astronomy.

Smalley in reporting on these (1864, January 28), naturally pointed out that the various suggestions, of Professor Airy, valuable as they are in every point of view, can only be fully carried out gradually as the occasion may arise and with the aid of additional assistance to the funds and staff of this establishment. Scotts attempt at education, he pointed out, had ended unsatisfactorily and at present visitors were received at the Observatory on Monday afternoon of each week, and by appointment, on one evening each month at which attendance was so far unsatisfactory. Smalley decided, that he could go on with the magnetic work and tidal observations and urged that the trigonometrical survey be started, but, having in mind the experience of Scott, he decided to restrict the programme on the meridian instrument which, he said in his first report to the Observatory Board, should be replaced by a first class instrument. However he made an arrangement to provide an azimuth mark on the northern side of the Harbour at a distance of 1.79 miles. He limited the observations to clock stars, stars required for observation of latitude and longitude or as reference stars in the work with the equatorial. Smalleys main work with the equatorial was the observation of positions of Comet 1864 and Comet Encke in its 1865 apparition. The results were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He then turned to other work.

Smalley soon resolved to undertake the magnetic work for which Scott, before, his resignation, had planned and obtained instruments from the Kew Committee in England. On 1864, July 3, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary expression, his wish soon to start the magnetic survey, the object of which he said, will be the determination of the magnetic elements, viz. the Variation of the Compass — the Dip — and the Intensity — in as many localities as possible in order to construct a magnetic chart of this country comparable with those of most countries… Since the latitude and longitude of every station will be determined with as much astronomical accuracy as portable instruments will admit, this survey may be looked upon as affording much useful assistance to the Surveyor and the Geographer. Smalley said that travelling in connection with this work would give him the opportunity of inspecting and to some extent reorganising the work of the meteorological stations. He got together two horses and camping equipment for himself and two assistants and made arrangement for telegraphic exchanges of time signals between the Observatory and his observing posts. Leaving Russell in charge of the Observatory in January and February of 1865 he travelled in parts of the State north of Sydney working twelve stations, to several of which Russell records having sent time signals. In reporting this work on his return Smalley said that be hoped soon to do some more in the vicinity of Sydney. He was absent from the Observatory on several subsequent occasions on this work. An iron free building in which to carry out periodical determination of the magnetic elements at the Observatory was built in 1866. Unfortunately only the results for Sydney, where the work continued for many years, have ever been published.

Smalley was responsible for beginning systematic recording of tides in Sydney Harbour and in a letter 1864, September 14, to the Colonial Secretary about building work needed for the Observatory, he included a request for a wooden shed for a tide gauge in some available position in the Harbour probably the Eastern [pg.12] extremity of Goat Island however Fort Denison was selected and before his report to the Observatory Board in 1866, August 24, the automatic recordings were being taken regularly, as they still are. The work on the tide gauge sheets is mentioned from time to time in the diary kept by Russell and in letters to Smalley during his absences. At this time Smalley was a member of the harbour Commission frequently meetings of which were attended by him for a time from 1866, January 2, onwards.

Under Smalleys direction the meteorological work was continued. He arranged telegraphic connection to the Observatory for the communication of meteorological observations each day as well as for the longitude work in New South Wales. At one stage he apparently thought of curtailing this work but in November, 1869, he prepared a circular letter asking for volunteer observers, in which he said, at the request of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales I am about to establish an extensive series of stations in different parts of the colony. The observers were be issued with instruments and forms for the recording rainfall evaporation, maximum and minimum temperatures and wind at an observation to be made at 9 a.m. each day. This led immediately to the establishment of additional stations of which listed in a paper laid before the Legislative Assembly in March, 1870. In September, 1868, he arranged for the reading of earth temperatures at Observatory down to a depth of twenty feet. The reading of these thermometers was carried on for many years and published among the meteorological results.

Soon after his arrival Smalley joined and became an active member of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales. Suggestions made by him led to the change in designation to the Royal Society of New South Wales of which became Vice President from 1867 to 1870. Among the five papers published in his name by Society those on Enckes Comet and Mutual Influence of Clock Pendulums are the most interesting. It is interesting that in his opening address at the meeting on 1868, June 3, he expressed the hope that future ladies will not only grace with their presence the conversations of this Society but will sometimes attend the ordinary meetings. This was only sixty years before women were admitted to membership of the Society.

In January, 1867, Smalley received a letter from Charles — later Sir Charles Todd, Observer and Superintendent of Telegraphs in South Australia, after which arrangements were begun for fixing the boundary line between the Colonies of South Australia and New South Wales. Exchange of time signals for this purpose took place in May between Todds observing station on the boundary and the observatories in Sydney and Melbourne. In November, 1868, Smalley and Todd meet at Wentworth and had the boundary permanently indicated by a brick pyramid 13 feet 6 inches high and 5 feet 6 inches square at the base… erected on the slope of the scarp forming the limit of the Murray floods.

In a long letter to the Chief Secretary in 1865, August 10, Smalley advocated, for purposes of geodetic surveying, the measurement of a baseline of an arc of the meridian and the establishment of a network of astronomically determined positions. This would serve as a basis for the future operations of the surveyor is carrying out a new and complete triangulation of New South Wales. and afford new and valuable data for the solution of the problem....of the of the earth. Smalley was instructed in January 1868, to go ahead with measurement of a base line for triangulation and after conferring with the Surveyor General and obtaining reports from surveyors in various localities selected for it near Lake George. [pg. 13]

The remainder of Smalleys life was devoted to this work which proved full of difficulties. The ship on which came some instruments borrowed from England took fire and had to be scuttled in the Harbour and although the instruments were recovered there was much delay in having them cleaned and repaired. Transport was not well developed and difficulty was experienced in getting heavy material is to the site. On one occasion one of his men who had to go up from Sydney said that if he had to pay his own expenses he would buy a horse to ride up as it would be cheaper, and at another time Smalley, in a letter to the man he left in charge at Lake George, remarked, when he was sending cheques, I have crossed them all in consequence of the sticking up lately of the mail and I do not like to send too much at a time.

Unfortunately, the fluctuating level of the Lake proved troublesome and although the work was almost completed by Smalley the line had afterwards to be moved to a higher level and remeasured under the direction of the Surveyor General.

Apparently Smalley took very seriously the programme which had been suggested by Airy when he was appointed and in planning his work he always showed that he appreciated the contribution that the world should make either to science or to the advancement of the community being in some ways ahead of his time. However he was unfortunate inselecting those tasks which, with his small resources and staff, necessarily kept him away from the Observatory. The worry of this, his rather poor health and the difficulties of the Lake George position appear to have affected him. The cordial relations which existed between Smalley and Russell are apparent in the tone of the letters between them when Smalley was absent and Russell managed the Observatory and looked after some of Smalleys family affairs. Smalley took ill in 1870, and his illness lasted until he died on July 11. At the time of his death he was 48 years of age.


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