Sydney Observatory Papers No.31

Part 5



Immediately after the death of Smalley, his assistant, Russell, was appointed to succeed him.

Henry Chamberlaine Russell was born at West Maitiand in New South Wales on 1836, March 17. He was educated at the local Church of England Grammar School and at Sydney University. After graduation as B.A. he was appointed on 1859, January a computer at the Observatory under Scott. His father was the Honourable Bourn Russell, who was a member of the Legislative Council from 1858 till his death in 1880.

Russell, reversing Smalleys policy, decided todevote himself to the astronomical work which could be carried on at the Observatory itself without necessitating absences and a letter to John Tebbutt on 1870, November 29, shows that he had already begun to work energetically on double stars with the equatorial telescope and on a meridian programme with transit instrument. As soon as the necessary arrangements could be made to work on the base line was handed over to the Surveyor General.

In 1871 Russell arranged for a time ball to be dropped at Newcastle as Smalley had recommended. This was afterwards placed on the Custom House building and dropped for many years at 1 p.m. lie also organise a group to observe the total solar eclipse in northern Australia where he was frustrated by cloud. He made and published charts with measures of the positions of the stars near Eta Argus and the cluster Kappa Crucis. [pg. 14]

The work on double stars, which Russell had so promptly begun, was continued during the whole of the time that he was Director of the Observatory. Measures of the orbital motion of double stars about one another afford a means of estimating the masses of the stars. The foundation of double star astronomy in the southern hemisphere was laid by John Herschel during his stay at the Cape of Good Hope from 1834 to 1838 and Russells first object was to make a new measure of doubles discovered by Herschel to find any which would show a motion. He and his assistants, L. Hargrave, J. A. Pollock and R. P. Sellors, made a substantial contribution to double star work in the Southern Hemisphere. The measures were published in contributions to the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, in two small volumes printed by the Government Printer in 1882 and 1891 and, during the latter part of the period, in Astronomische Nachrichten. About five hundred new double stars were discovered.

At the time when Russell took office preparations were being made to observe the transit of Venus on 1874, December 9. Astronomers had great hopes that observation of this phenomenon would give a more accurate value for the distance of the Sun. He decided to take an active part in the work and, with the support of the Observatory Board, he asked in a letter, 1872, August 20, that the Government grant resources to make the observations. He pointed out that it was of the utmost importance to secure as many observing stations as possible in the Southern Hemisphere and that the eastern coast of Australia was very favourably situated. He was supported by the Royal Society of New South Wales which appointed a deputation to urge upon the Government the importance of this work. A grant was obtained for the purchase of an 11½ refractor and other instruments necessary to equip several observing stations. In the next two years much of Russells energy was devoted to this project. He had meteorological observations made for the selection of stations and trained twelve observers, nine of whom were volunteers not of the the staff of the Observatory to occupy four stations which were at Woodford, Goulburn, Eden and at the Observatory in Sydney. Because instrument makers in Europe were already fully engaged before he was able to place orders lie orders he has to design and supervise the construction of much of the equipment himself. The weather was satisfactory on the day of the transit except at Eden where cloud intervened before egress. A large number of photographs was taken by the parties and these were measured at Greenwich under Airys direction with financial help from the Government of New South Wales. The results Russells parties received due weight in the complete analysis which gave the solar parallax as 8.85 arcsec. Although this result is now known to be too it would happen appreciably higher without the results from New South Wales.

Here it may be mentioned that full preparations were made for the observation of the transit of on 1882, December 7, but cloudy weather prevented observations being made.

After the observation of the transit of Venus of 1874 Russell went to Europe, present the results in England and to purchase instruments required by the Trigonometric Survey. was absent from February to October of 1875 and made the acquaintance of astronomers and instrument makers in Europe and America, which he also visited. He afterwards maintained a cordial correspondence with several of these, including, Adam Hilger, Alvan Clark and Airy. Among the instruments ordered during this journey was a six inch transit instrument from Troughton and Sims of London. The transit programme this instrument, which arrived in January, 1877, included besides catalogue work, co-operation with the Surveyors General in New South Wales and Queensland the determination of longitudes [pg.15] In 1883 extensive observations and exchange of time signals were carried out to determine longitudes of the stations where the transit of Venus had been observed in 1882. The values were the best available for many years. It will be seen that although Russell had given up responsibility for survey work he had by no means lost interest in it. The standards of measurement for surveying were still maintained at the 0bservatory and the working standards, including those of Queensland, compared with them. During most of this time A. H. Lenehan was responsible for the transit work which in later years was mainly on reference stars for the Sydney Section of the Astrographic Catalogue. Only the results to the end of 1881 were published but those for later years, although for the most part reduced, never appeared and for this Russell and Lenehan each blamed the other.

The resources of the Observatory were much increased. As well as the transit instrument, the 11½-inch refractor made by Hugo Schroeder of Hamburg was acquired and in about September, 1877, the west wing of the building, including a new dome, was completed.

Russells work in meteorology, which he helped to found in Australia, was actuated by a clear vision of the requirements of the country. As he said, in a letter to the Consul for the United States in answer to an inquiry about irrigation, after I was appointed astronomer, knowing what important questions could only be answered by statistics about rain, rivers and evaporation, I began at once to collect them and educate the people to keep rain records. In the course of time the effort to increase the number of places reporting meteorological results by the enlistment of volunteer observers was very successful. From the modest beginnings, in the time of Scott and Smalley, the number grew to 290 in 1881 and to more than 1,600 by 1898. In collaboration with Ellery (Melbourne) and Todd (Adelaide) Russell arranged in 1877 for the exchange by telegraph of meteorological observations from selected stations in each state. This was designed to be of immediate value to our maritimecommunity and others and to add largely to our knowledge of our climate generally and (…of…) movement of atmospheric disturbance. He began, in February 1877, the publication of a daily weather chart the character of which was improved in 1888 to include more detail, such as isobars. The meteorological work was a heavy task since, it was necessary to maintain a constant stream of correspondence with observers, to establish new stations, to send instructions, instrument,, and supplies and answer inquiries and to deal with inexperience and negligence of observers and to arrange for repair or replacement of damaged instruments. Russell wrote many papers on meteorological subjects. In his later years he did a great deal of work which hoped would lead to the recognition of periodical changes in climate and weather. He came to have a great deal of confidence in his 19 year weather cycle.

The work on terrestrial magnetism and on tides was continued. The tide gauge at Fort Denison was maintained and one designed by Russell installed at Newcastle in December. 1870. Gauges were established at other ports in later years. The magnetic work ceased when the installation of electric trams in the vicinity interfered with it. A series of magnetic results was published in the journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1871.

Russell was interested in the application of photography to astronomical work. In 1886 and 1887 he made, with Pollock, some experiments on the measurement of double stars by photography using the four inch aperture lens of 52 feet focal length which had been obtained from Alvan Clark for observation of the transit of Venus in 1882. No results of this work were published. He also took photographs of the Moon-on at first with an enlarging lens on the 11½ inch telescope and later with the astrograph. When it was decided to hold at Paris in 1807 the conference which [pg. 16] lead to the decision to compile by photography a great star catalogue Russell was invited. He undertook portions of the work on behalf of the Observatories at Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney Observatory, at first allotted the zone −34° to −40°, was eventually assigned the plates centred on declinations from −52° to −61° andMelbourne from -60° to the Pole. Russell designed and the mounting of the astrographic telescope made in Sydney by the Morts Dock Engineering, Co. and the Atlas Engineering Co. The photographic lens was ordered from Hollard Grubb and was received in Sydney on 1890 September 19. While awaiting the arrival of this he purchased a 6 inch portrait lens (focal length 32 inches) with which he took a number of photographs of Milky Way fields, a selection of these being published. Among photographs taken at this time were of long exposure of the Magellanic Clouds. He pointed out the spiral structure the larger cloud and expressed himself as disappointed that others did not think as obvious as he did.

The Work on the Astrographic Catalogue, then began. Russell had a good deal corresponding with European astronomers, particularly Mouchez of Paris, the work and it is evident that he and Ellery expected more definite help was forthcoming towards standardising the methods of work. When nothing came of a plan to set up in Paris a central measuring bureau for all zones there was established in 1898 in Melbourne, with resources provided by the governments of Victoria and New South Wales, a bureau for the measurement of positions of the on the catalogue plates taken in Melbourne and Sydney. Russell had planned to have the astrographic telescope set up at a site outside of Sydney and took some to select a satisfactory one in of the proposed City Railway possible close tothe present 0bservatory and leading to thenecessity for its removal at a whole. A place was reserved at Red Hill, near Pennant Hills, in 1893 but these were years of financial difficulty when thirteen out of twenty five banks in New South Wales were forced to suspend operations and all Government departments, including the 0bservatory, were being compelled to economise and so it was until 1899 that the move was made. The new site was appreciably better for observational work since it was often clear at Red Hill when it was cloudy at Sydney

Russell was a most energetic worker and in a list of his works there are 134 publications. It has not been possible to describe many of his less important contributions. No account of his work would be complete without mention of his talent as a designer of instruments of which twenty three are listed with his works. Among these maybe mentioned his description in 1878 of an equatorial mounting with a yoke at the upper end of the polar axis and the telescope mounted in the same way as was later adopted for the 200 inch telescope on Mount Palomar. A reflecting telescope on this pattern was construction and and portions of the mount still exist. There is an example of his portable anemometer in the Science Museum at South Kensington. He was, besides, responsible for a number of self-recording has on meteorological instruments. This kind of work, he said, has on me sometimes like asking one to have a smoke, so much do 1 enjoy designing self-recording machines .

Russell had several able assistants during his term. Lawrence Hargrave, a son of Judge Hargrave, was appointed to the staff of the Observatory in September, 1878, and resigned at the end of 1883 after lie had received a considerable sum of money - proceeds of sale of land in Illawarra. He afterwards became well known for his experiments in aerodynamics and maintained friendly relations with Russell, on whom he relied for meteorological information. [pg. 17]

J. A. Pollock was appointed as acting instrument maker in 1885 and at the end of the year became astronomical observer. He remained until 1888 when he resigned to accept a post at Sydney University, where he was later Professor of Physics from 1899 to 1902.

R. P. Sellors was appointed in 1890 and transferred to the Surveyor Generals Branch in 1900 after which he had a successful Public Service career. These three observers were the ones who did so much observation of double stars as well as general observations with the equatorial telescope. particularly of positions of comets, regularly, reported in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Besides these assistants may be mentioned H. A. Hunt, who became first Head of the Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau on 1907, January 1.

Russell was a vigourous character and many of his letters to meteorological observers were more forthright than would not be considered acceptable. He could also exceedingly blunt with members of the Observatory staff but was always kindly, if somewhat formal, in time of sicknessor trouble and supported them, it was possible, in negotiation with his Department for improved pay or conditions. His correspondence reveals cordial relations with his colleagues, particularly Ellery and later Baracchi of Melbourne. In September, 1877, an attempt was made on his life by someone who caused to be delivered to him a boxcontaining explosive. Abrasive paper attached to the inside of the sliding lid of the box was arranged to light some matches and ignite the explosive in a normal opening of the box. Russell however recognised some grains of the explosive and took special precautions. The messenger and carpenter at the Observatory was charged with the crime but was acquitted after trial in which, without legal assistance, he very ably conducted his own defence. An attack was also made on Russell in 1889 by one of his workmen.

In 1886 Russell was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1890 a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He was several times President of the Royal Society of New South Wales and was in 1888 the first President of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. His term as a member of the Senate of Sydney University from 1873 to 1907 included a period as Vice Chancellor in 1891.

Having taken ill Brights disease in Octobe1903, Russell had a period of leave and finally retired on 1905, February 28, but remained in occupation of the Observatory residence until his death on 1907, February 22.


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