Photographic positive, the stars of the Milky Way, glass / gelatin, photographed by James Short and Henry Chamberlain Russell, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 30 September, 1890, used at Sydney Observatory, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
In 1887 the Government Astronomer, H.C. Russell began work on an international project to map the stars in the southern section of the heavens using photography. Planning for this began in 1887 and started in 1892 after which it continued to play a major role in the activities at Sydney Observatory up until the 1960s.
The success of this project depended upon a special kind of photographic telescope, officially known as an 'astrograph', but which Russell often referred to as the 'Star Camera'. The casing and mounts for the 'Star Camera' were made in New South Wales and were completed by 1890. As the lens, ordered from Sir Howard Grubb, had not arrived Russell experimented with a six-inch (15.2 cm) portrait lens made by J.H. Dallmeyer. Using this camera Russell took a number of scientific photographs of the stars which he felt were "Â?the first of their kind of the Southern Skies."
Negatives taken by Russell,and his camera operator James Short, were printed and bound into a book entitled 'Photographs of the Milky Way and Nubeculae taken at Sydney Observatory 1890'. This positive is described as having 'very perfect definition' after being exposed for one hour though 17.58 to 30.25 degrees. The exposure went from 9.00pm to 10.00 pm when it was stopped due to the clouds beginning to cover the sky. For more information see attached Powerhouse Museum Theme 'Sydney Observatory Star Camera First Photographs 1890'.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September, 2008
Bhathal, R., Australian Astronomer; John Tebbutt, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1993
Haynes, Raymond, Haynes, Roslynn, Malin, David, McGee, Richard, Explorers of the Southern Sky, Cambridge University Press, 1996
Nangle, J., 'The Sydney Observatory; its history and work, Sydney Technical College, 1930
Russell, H.C., Photographs of The Milky-Way & Nubeculae taken at Sydney Observatory, 1890, publisher unknown, 1891-1907
The image was photographed by James Short and Henry Chamberlain Russell on the 30th September 1890 at Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
These astrographic plates were acquired by the Powerhouse Museum as a part of the Sydney Observatory collection in the 1980s. They form part of a larger collection of glass plate negatives taken using the Sydney Observatory astrograph from 1890 onwards. Around 770 plates were in the museums collection in 2008 but thousands more are held by the Macquarie University, Sydney. This particular group of glass plates are among the earliest known to have been taken using the Sydney Astrographic Camera but were not used in the International 'Mapping the Stars Project'.
Geoff Barker, September, 2008