Photographic negative, Transit of Venus expedition, collodion / glass, photographer unknown, used at Sydney Observatory, Woodford, Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, 1874
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 Sydney Observatory itself. The observers at these locations were made up from a mixture a mixture of government officers, scientists, amateur astronomers, photographers, and builders. At Woodford, 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, were stationed at A. Fairfax's property in Woodford.
It was also at Woodford that the new De la Rue/Janssen photoheliograph (photographic telescope) was installed. This instrument was developed for a number of observatories across the British Empire by George B. Airy, the Astronomer Royal, and an amateur astronomer, Warren De La Rue.
De La Rue convinced the British contingents to use a photographic telescope similar in design to the one he used to photograph the total eclipse of the sun in 1860. Modifications were necessary however and De La Rue was aided in this by another astronomer Pierre-César Jules Janssen. Orders were placed with J. H. Dallmeyer and the resulting instruments, complete with specially designed 6.5 inch circular plate holders which took 60 photographs on each one, were completed by 1874. One of these instruments was purchased by Sydney Observatory and set up at Woodford, in the Blue Mountains, in December 1874.
The photoheliograph, now held by the Powerhouse Museum (H10211), was operated by George Hirst. Another telescope used at Woodford was a 4.5-inch Schroeder telescope owned by Fairfax, but used by Vessey.
This collodion glass plate of the Woodford expedition captures this moment in Australia's scientific history. Taken in December 1874 on Fairfax's property, it shows the astronomers prefabricated buildings, tents and instruments as they were arranged for this historic event. This object is also significant as it is one of a relatively few large format collodion negatives taken in Australia to have survived.
Geoff barker, Curatorial, September 2008
Airy, G. B, Account of the Observation of the Transit of Venus, 1874, December 8, Made under the Authority of the British Government and of the reduction of the Observations, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1881
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