Sydney Observatory Papers No.31

Part 8



In April, 1926, James Nangle (born 1868, December 28), the Superintendent of Technical Education, a well known amateur astronomer and member of the Board of Visitors of the Observatory, was asked to report on the simplest and most economical was of carrying on some of the more necessary activities of the Sydney Observatory, having in view the fact that it is intended to transfer this work to the Branch. Department of Technical Education. He outlined the minimum requirements for a time service and urged that the work on the Astrographic Catalogue should continue, even though on a reduced scale, as it was portion of an international undertaking to which the State was committed. He expressed appreciation of his appointment to direct the Observatory but said he would be even better pleased if the Government decided not to interfere with the establishment at all. His recommendations were in the main accepted and he assumed control of the Observatory on 1926, September 1. Three of the staff were retained and renovations to the building were made before he moved into residence in 1927. As part of this re-organisation a trained librarian was borrowed for a period from the Public Library of New South Wales and the library of the Observatory put on a better basis.

When Nangle took over almost all of the plates for the Astrographic Catalogue had been accepted and most of the remaining ones were taken by the end of 1928. Because of an accumulation of measures of the co-ordinates of the stars on the plates and of transit observations for their reduction was possible to continue the work for a few years even with the staff reduced as it was. This work was carried on with devotion by W. C. Graham. Eventually, however, it became necessary to obtain more assistance for him, and Nangle and the Board of Visitors made recommendations which led in 1937 to the appointment of two assistants for the measuring work. Thirteen more volumes of the Catalogue were published in Nangles time.

In the meantime Raymond was carrying on the transit work to obtain positions of reference stars for the Catalogue. Naturally single-handed work of this kind proceeded rather slowly and eventually the preparation of Catalogue volumes overran the supply of reference stars and, in order to take advantage of the resources granted for printing, it became necessary to publish some of the volumes without plate constants. In order to reduce the transit programme to give hope of completing it within more reasonable time it was then decided to give up the attempt to observe all of the reference stars at Sydney but to make use of positions available from published catalogues.

Sydney Observatory took part the World Longitude Campaign in 1926, October and November. When in 1938 the observations were made for re-determination of the longitude of Lord Howe Island the resulting longitude for the Observatory was 10h 4m 48.97″, a value very close to one obtained 1921. In 1927 a request for redetermining of the latitude of Parramatta Observatory was received from A. Wegener with the idea of providing a test of his theory of drift of the continents. It was not practicable to do this but the Surveyor General arranged for a connection between Sydney Observatory and the position of the transit instrument of the Parramatta Observatory and Nangle remeasured the latitude Sydney. No change from the old determinations was measurable.

Nangle attached much importance to the educational work of the Observatory. In 1927 he arranged for H.E.G. Rayner, who had been transferred from the staff a year before, to be employed on a part time basis to give evening demonstrations to public visitors. This is an activity which has continued to grow ever since. In [pg. 23] 1929 heprepared a book, Stars of the Southern Heavens, to serve as a guide for amateurs wishing to observe the sky with field glasses or small telescopes. By 1937 a third edition of this work was necessary.

Nangle had several difficulties to contend with one of which was the uncertainty time as to the respective responsibilities of the State and Commonwealth Governments for astronomical work. In March, 1927, a conference was held in to discuss the organisation of astronomical work in Australia. It was by all of the state government astronomers, the director of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory and the Chairman of the Council for Scientific and Research, but the views put forward varied so much that they were only able to urge the Commonwealth to take a more active interest in astronomical and the state governments to give more generous resources towards the Astrographic Catalogue. Then from 1930 onward for several years, Australia, like most countries of the world, was affected by severe economic depression and ways of economising were sought on all sides. In 1932 after a report by a Commonwealth officer on overlapping of Commonwealth and State Services, there were suggestions that the astronomical work of Australia should be concentrated in two Federal observatories. Nangle vigourously opposed these moves at all stages pointing out that the state observatories, Sydney in particular, were doing work which must certainly be carried on and that no economy would be by the proposed centralisation. The community would lose a great deal allowed the Observatory to be transferred. As there was public reaction against proposal, a deputation to the Minister for Education arranged by influential scientific and educational bodies and as it was proposed that New South Wales should continue financial responsibility for work being transferred the scheme not appear so attractive and finally, in August 1936, a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers agreed that the states should remain responsible for astronomical work.

The financial depression led to the closing on the Branch Observatory at Pennant Hills. James Short who had beenastronomical photographer since 1896 was due to retire at the end of 1930 and despite representations by Nangle and his Board of Visitors, financial circumstance weighed too heavily for a successor to be appointed and so it was necessary in 1931 to move the astrograph back to Sydney Observatory where it was housed in the building from which it had been taken in 1899.

Nangle retired from his position as Superintendent of Technical Education in but he remained in charge of the Observatory. For acting as Government astronomer he had received no salary consideration other than occupancy of the astronomers residence at the Observatory and this arrangement was continued.

At this stage it was a matter of urgency to give attention to the staffing at the Observatory. The administration and clerical work had been done largely by the staff under Nangle at the Technical College but now it was necessary to appoint clerical help for the Observatory. This was done in 1935. The, too, as Raymond was due to retire at the end of 1933 and Graham in 1937, Nangle had begun in 1930 to urge for the appointment of a man who could gain something from Raymonds experience by working with him for a time. It was not, however, till the beginning of 1936 that H. W. Wood was appointed.

Interesting minor activities of the Observatory in this period were connected with aviation, radio time signals and tides. There were many pioneering aviation flights in the late twenties and early thirties. The support of such astronomical information as the aviator needs is now thoroughly organised but in those days of the pioneers received help from the 0bservatory and the members of the [pg. 25] staff valued anecdotes of their contacts with the adventurers. In July, 1940, partly as a result of the visit by the English horologist, Frank Hope-Jones, the radio stations of Australia began the broadcasting from the various Observatories of a six dot time signal similar to that used in Britain. In 1940 a committee of representatives of the Maritime and the Royal Australian Navy held a series of meetings at the Observatory under Woods chairmanship to discuss the establishment of a uniformly determined tidal datum level for the ports of New South Wales. A final meeting of this committee was held in 1949, as a result of which Indian spring low water level has been adopted as the datum.

Nangle took ill in the middle of 1940. The condition of his heart deteriorated and he died on 1941, February 22. In any assessment of his work we must remember that he had three successful careers, as an astronomer, an architect, and an educationalist. Indeed the last must be regarded as his life work for he was responsible for the organisation and tremendous growth of technical education in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania and for an extensive scheme for vocational training of soldiers returning from the 1914-1918 War. He was awarded the O.B.E. in 1920. Before he came to the Observatory he had for many years been an active member of the New South Wales Branch of the British Astronomical Association, being President on many occasions, and publishing a number papers, chiefly ondouble stars, in the journal of the Association. He was from 1913 to 1935 a fellow of the Senate of Sydney University and in 1920-21 was President of the Royal Society of New South Wales. His ability as a speaker and, particularly, as a chairman of meetings was a tremendous asset to the organisations for which he worked. Nangles period as Government Astronomer covered difficult years, which included the financial depression, and the beginning of the Second World War. His administrative ability were largely instrumental in keeping the Observatory going on a satisfactory basis.


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