Sydney Observatory Star Camera First Photographs 1890
During his term as Government Astronomer H.C. Russell worked on two internationally significant photographic projects. The first was the organisation of photography for the New South Wales section of the 1874 Transit of Venus. The second was mapping of 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 all the smaller parts and the assembly of the instrument were done by Mr. W. I. Masters, the instrument maker at Sydney Observatory.
However there were still some aspects of instrument making which were beyond the skills of Australian manufacturers. One of these was the making of high quality lenses and in September 1887 Russell ordered a photographic objective from the workshops of Sir Howard Grubb in Ireland. The making of a lens was no simple matter and with other observatories also requesting lenses Sydney Observatory did not receive theirs until late 1890; some time after the casing and fittings for the 'Star Camera' had been completed.
While Russell was waiting for the Grubb lens he placed a six inch portrait lens made by J.H. Dallmeyer on the mounting for the 'Star Camera". Using this camera Russell took a number of scientific photographs of the stars. These he felt were "?the first of their kind of the Southern Skies."
Between April and October 1890 the Observatory took a number of photographs of the Milky-Way, the 'Large' and 'Small' Magellaic clouds, and other interesting celestial objects, which he printed and bound into a book. While there is no indication of a printer or publisher inside the book it was probably made in a very limited run to promote these photographs. The copy now held in the Powerhouse Museum (96/6/1) was presented to the New South Wales Branch of the British Astronomical Association by H. Wright on 25 September 1923. (See attached pdf facsimilie)
These photographic plates are of scientific significance as they are possibly the earliest scientific photographs of the southern stars taken in Australia. They are also of immense significance due to their relationship to Australia's early scientific history, its scientists and the instruments used to create the photographs.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, December, 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
Bhathal, R., Australian Astronomer; John Tebbutt, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1993
De-Clerq, P.R., Nineteenth Century Instruments and their Makers; Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1985
Forwarded to H. M. Secretary of State by Despatch, No. 141, 1847, Federation and Meteorology, http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/fam/1541.html
Haynes, Raymond, Haynes, Roslynn, Malin, David, McGee, Richard, Explorers of the Southern Sky, Cambridge University Press, 1996
Hünsch, Matthias, Hamburg Observatory - Overview: Buildings & Telescope, http://www.hs.uni-hamburg.de/EN/Oef/Stw/aequator/aequator.html
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
Scott, W., Astronomical Observations made at the Sydney Observatory in the Year 1860, Thomas Richard, Government Printer, Sydney, 1861
Todd, David, P., Stars and Telescopes, Sampson Low, Marston, and Co., 1900
Object viewed times
Images on this site are reproduced for the purposes of research and study only. Whilst every effort has been made to trace the Copyright holders, we would be grateful for any information concerning
Copyright of the images and we will withdraw them immediately on Copyright holder's request.