Australian Amateur Astronomers
W J Macdonnell, Mrs Macdonnell, G D Hirst, N J Basnett Gardenol Observatory, Mosman
Charles James Merfield
Merfield was born in 1866 and initially worked as a civil engineer. In the 1890s he became one of Australia's best known amateur astronomers. It was in this period that he focussed his attention on the systematic study of 458 stars the results of which were published in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association.
In 1906 he joined Sydney Observatory and in 1907 was a member of the Observatory Advisory Board, formed by the Government Astronomer, H Lenehan, to look at possible new locations for Sydney Observatory. Two locations which they visited were at Mt Wilson and Mt Canobolas in New South Wales.
After Lenehan's death Merfield transferred to the Melbourne Observatory in 1908 and was later appointed chief assistant there. In 1910 he was a member of the Bruny Island Eclipse Expedition which travelled to Tasmania where it unsuccessfully tried to photograph the suns eclipse.
Sadly Merfield died on January 23 1931, while driving his son to supervise the erection of a sun dial.
William John MacDonnell
MacDonnell gave up his job as a bank manager to focus on astronomy and eventually became one of Australia's best known amateurs. He made many of his observations from the 'Gardenol Observatory' set up in the backyard of his home, in Shadforth Street, Mosman.
Macdonnell had a keen interest in astronomy and, as early as 1874, was one of four amateurs invited by H.C. Russell to take part in the Transit of Venus. Macdonnell was also a member of the Astronomical Section of the Royal Society of New South Wales from its inception in 1876, and a member of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1873, until the 1890s.
Walter Frederick Gale
Gale was born in Sydney and by the age of nineteen had constructed his own 18-inch reflecting telescope. He became Manager and Chief Inspector for the Bank of New South Wales and his income allowed him to indulge in his astronomical hobby.
His special interests were the study of the surface of Mars and watching comets, three of which were named after him. Gale went on at least two eclipse expeditions, the first in 1893 was accompanying the Lick Observatory Party to Mina Bronces, in Chile. The second was as leader of an expedition to Goondiwindi in Queensland to view the 1922 eclipse of the sun.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, October 2008
Chant, C. A., The Astronomical Society of Victoria, Bulletin number 40
Haynes, Raymond, Haynes, Roslynn, Malin, David, McGee, Richard, Explorers of the Southern Sky, Cambridge University Press, 1996
Holland, J., 'Microscopical Discoveries', Macleay Museum Newsletter, Issue 2, 2004, p.5
Orchiston, W., William John Macdonnell and the development of astronomy in New South Wales, Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol.111, no.1, p.13-25
Russell, H., C., Observations of the Transit of Venus, 9 December, 1874; made at Stations in New South Wales, Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892
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