In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
Sydney Observatory, Australia

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
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Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill, Upper Fort Street, Millers Point, Sydney 2000, New South Wales, Australia:


  • first observatory Dawes Point, at the foot of Observatory Hill (1788), erected by William Nicolas Dawes (1762--1836), astronomer and officer of the British Marines,
  • second observatory at Parramatta (1821), O’Connell Street (near George Street), Parramatta Park, Parramatta, 2150, NSW, Australia (Latitude: -33.8125, Longitude: 150.999444)
  • third observatory, Observatory Hill (1858)

 

Location 
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Latitude 33°51’35’’ S, Longitude 151°12’17’’ E, Elevation 47m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
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420

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
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Parramatta Observatory (1821/22)



Paramatta Observatory (1822), footprint and meridiParamatta Observatory (1822), footprint and meridi

Fig. 1a,b. Paramatta Observatory (1822), footprint and meridian circle pillars
(private collection: G. Wolfschmidt)

 



Parramatta Observatory, 19 km west of Sydney, was founded in 1822 as a private observatory by Sir Thomas Makdougall-Brisbane (1773--1860), Governor of NSW. The dimensions of the building  were 8.5mx8.5m and the diameter of the north and south dome was 3.5m. The instrumentation comprises a 5½ft transit instrument and a 2ft mural circle, both by Edward Troughton of London, a 16-inch repeating circle, Reichenbach, and a 46-inch equatorial, a Hardy clock, and a Breguet clock.
Karl Rümker (1788--1862), teacher at the navigation school in Hamburg (1819-1820), appointed as head of Parramatta Observatory -- he was the first government astronomer (1821-1830), together with James Dunlop (1793--1848), telescope maker since 1810 and head of Parramatta Observatory (1831-1847), compiled an extensive star catalogue for the southern sky with over 7000 star positions (published in London in 1829 and in Hamburg in 1832). In 1847, Parramatta Observatory was closed, and demolished in 1876. The position of the observatory’s transit instrument was marked by an obelisk in 1880.

Obelisk, marking the position of Paramatta Observa

Fig. 2. Obelisk, marking the position of Paramatta Observatory (1880)
(private collection: G. Wolfschmidt)

 





Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill (1858)



Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill, Sydney, 1874

Fig. 3. Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill, Sydney, 1874
(NSW Government Printing Office, State Library of NSW, SPF/304, Wikipedia)

 



The Sydney Observatory was erected by the architect William Weaver (plans) supervised by Alexander Dawson in the style of Florentine Renaissance (1858). The Observatory Hill, where the Observatory was located - close to the port, was first used as Windmill Hill (1797), then Fort Phillip (1803) was used as signal station for flags, and finally Flagstaff Hill (1811), where a semaphore was used.

View from Sydney Observatory to the Harbour and Br

Fig. 4. View from Sydney Observatory to the Harbour and Bridge (Wikipedia 2.5, Greg O’Beirne)

 



The observatory was responsible for timekeeping, a time ball was constructed in 1858 for the time signal at 1 pm for the ships in the port and for the city clocks, in addition a cannon was fired on Dawes Point.

Concerning astronomy, the observatory took part in the observations of the transit of Venus (1874) and it is famous for its participation in the International Astrographic Catalogue (Carte du Ciel) project.

Due to growing air and light pollution in the city center, Sydney Observatory was closed in 1982 and converted into the Powerhouse Museum.

 

History 
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Historical Instruments

Sydney Observatory, Photoheliograph and 29-cm-SchrSydney Observatory, Photoheliograph and 29-cm-Schr

Fig. 5a,b. Sydney Observatory, Photoheliograph and 29-cm-Schroeder-Refractor (1874) (Wikipedia 4, Sgerbic)




  • Repeating circle, Reichenbach, Utzschneider & Liebherr of Munich
  • Time Ball with mechanism, made by Maudslay, Sons & Field of London (1855) - Tower in the middle of the main building
  • Photoheliograph for photographing the Sun
  • 29-cm-Refractor, Hugo Schroeder of Hamburg (1874), used for the Venus transit (1874) - southern dome
  • 15-cm-transit circle, Grubb of Dublin (1877) - for timekeeping and surveying
  • 40-cm (16 inch) Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope - northern dome

 

State of preservation 
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Sydney Observatory with the two domes and the time

Fig. 6. Sydney Observatory with the two domes and the time ball tower (Wikipedia 2.5, Greg O’Beirne)

 


The Time Ball is still working with the original mechanism!
The building was renovated in the 1980s.
The Sydney Observatory / Powerhouse Museum is on the State Heritage Register
in New South Wales (Reference no. 1449, December 22, 2000).

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
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Old Perth Observatory has a similarity.
Sydney and Melbourne Observatories are highly significant 19th century observatories
and are heritage sites, public observatories and museums of astronomy.

 

Threats or potential threats 
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no threats

 

Present use 
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Sydney Observatory (Wikipedia 4, Hohohob)

Fig. 7. Sydney Observatory (Wikipedia 4, Hohohob)

 



Powerhouse Museum (museum of astronomy and meteorology) and public observatory (modern telescope in the northern dome).

 

Astronomical relevance today 
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Active in modern astronomy until 1982.

Modern optical telescopes in Australia


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_telescopes_of_Australia

  • Anglo-Australian Telescope (3.9m, 1974-)
  • Automated Patrol Telescope (.5m, 1989-2008)
  • Faulkes Telescope South (2m, 2004-)
  • SkyMapper (1.35m)
  • UTas H127 (1.27m)
  • Siding Spring Telescope (2.3m)
  • Sydney Observatory instruments
  • Penrith Observatory (0.6m)
  • Uppsala Southern Schmidt Telescope (0.5m)

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
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    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt


  • Ajaka, John: Sky the Limit as Historic East Dome Placed at Sydney Observatory. NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability Services (6 November 2014).

  • Bergman, George F.J.: Christian Carl Ludwig Rümker (1788--1862). Australia’s first Government Astronomer. In: Royal Australian Historical Society 46 (1960), part 5.

  • Bergman, George F.J.: Rümker, Christian Carl Ludwig (1788--1862). In: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press [MUP] 1967, p. 403-404.

  • Ellmoos, Laila: Sydney Observatory building. In: Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust 2008.

  • Mander-Jones, Phyllis: Dawes, William (1762--1836). In: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press [MUP] 1966, p. 297-298.

  • Pickett, C. & N. Lomb: Observer & observed: a pictorial history of Sydney Observatory and Observatory 2001.

  • Power, Julie: Historic Time Ball clocks up an impressive record. In: The Sydney Morning Herald (2013).
    https://dictionaryofsydney.org/building/sydney_observatory_building

  • Serle, Percival: Brisbane, Sir Thomas Makdougall. In: Dictionary of Australian Biography, Vol. 1. Sydney: Angus and Robertson 1949.

  • Serle, Percival: Rümker, Karl Ludwig Christian. In: Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson 1949.

  • Wood, Harley: Sydney Observatory 1858-1983. In: Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia 5 (1983), 2, p. 273-281.

 

Links to external sites 
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  • Office of Environment & Heritage: Sydney Observatory
    https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5051545

  • Sir Thomas Brisbane’s Observatory. Monument Australia,
    https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/technology/science/display/22735-sir-thomas-brisbane%60s-observatory


 

 

Links to external on-line pictures 
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no information available

 

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