Photographic negative, composite portrait, frontispiece for publication 'Transit of Venus 1874', glass / gelatin / silver, photographer unknown, used by Sydney Observatory, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1892
In 1872 H. C. Russell was approved 1000 pounds by the New South Wales Government to make observations and photograph the 1874 Transit of Venus. By 1874 the instruments were ready and Russell had selected astronomers and photographers to form four separate observing parties. Observation stations were situated at Woodford in the Blue Mountains, Eden on the south coast, Goulburn on the tablelands south of Sydney and at the Sydney Observatory itself.
The group of observers at these locations were a mixture of government officers, scientists, amateur astronomers, photographers, and builders. Although made later in 1892 this glass plate negative is a composite of portraits of many of those involved in the 1874 expeditions.
At Woodford there was: P. F. Adams the Surveyor-General, George Hirst a well known amateur astronomer, Mr. L. A. Vessey of the New South Wales Trigonomical Survey and Mr. Du Faur of the Survey Department. All of them stayed at the property of Mr. A Fairfax a well known amateur astronomer.
At Eden were: Rev. W. Scott, former New South Wales Government Astronomer, W.J. MacDonnell, J.S. Watkins (incorrectly labelled 'J. L.' in the photograph), and Mr. Sharkey, the Government Photographer.
At Goulburn: Captain Hixson, Professor Liversidge, Captain A. Onslow, a member of the New South Wales Parliament, and the instrument maker A. Tornaghi took up their duties.
Lastly at Sydney Observatory were: H.C. Russell, Government Astronomer, H.A. Lenehan, Assistant, E.G. Savage and Dr. H.G.A. Wright.
At the end of the transit there was every reason for the astronomers to feel optimistic. But once the first photographs had been measured at Greenwich it became clear they were virtually useless for making the fine measurements hoped for. While the photographs proved less than successful the observations themselves played an important part in the official report made by Captain Tupman to the British Government. Of the 61 reliable reports of Venus crossing the Sun which were recorded at points around the British Empire 22 were from Australia.
One other lasting result was the 1892 publication describing the New South Wales expeditions written by H. C. Russell. This is the original negative used to make the frontispiece for that publication.
Geoff barker, Curatorial, September 2008
Lankford, John, 'Photography and the 19th-Century Transits of Venus', in Technology and Culture, Volume 28, Number 3, July 1987. John Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology, stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3104996,
Russell, H., C., Observations of the Transit of Venus, 9 December, 1874; made at Stations in New South Wales, Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892