Photographic positive, the stars of the Milky Way showing the area around Eta Argus, glass / gelatin, used at Sydney Observatory, photograph by James Short and H. C. Russell, Sydney, 23 July, 1890
In 1887 the Government Astronomer, H.C. Russell, worked 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 title 'Photographs of the Milky Way and Nubeculae taken at Sydney Observatory 1890'. This positive is described as having been exposed for three hours. 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
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