Storm clouds by H.C. Russell 1895
By the end of the nineteenth century the Sydney Observatory had embarked on several major photographic projects. By this period the advances of astronomy by the aid of photography were numerous: the moon was first photographed in 1840; in 1850 a star; in 1854 a solar eclipse; in 1872 the spectrum of a star, in 1880 a nebula; in 1881 a comet; in 1897 the spectrum of a meteor; and in 1898 a stellar occultation of the moon.
Russell understood the significant role photography was beginning to play in astronomy and one of his first photographic projects was to organise the New South Wales contingent of observers for the 1874 Transit of Venus. Photography was also integral to the second major international project Russell was involved in. This was the mapping of the stars in the southern section of the heavens using photography. Planning for this began in 1887 and started in 1890 after which it continued to play a major role in the activities at Sydney Observatory up until the 1960s.
Starting in the 1890s Russell also began taking detailed photographs of the moon and meteorological events which occurred in Sydney. From around the same period photography began to be used by Russell to document the building, and its instruments.
All of these activities suggest Russell placed a high degree of importance on the use of photography at the observatory. The resulting images remain significant documents of the scientific uses of photography by some of Australia's early scientists. Many are rare records of the instruments used at the observatory and the layout and fabric of the building itself. Others are also significant because they were taken by some of the leading photographers of the day.
This photograph, number 124, was taken three minutes after photograph number 122 (see 95/239/18). It is one of a series taken on 9 July, 1895 which showed roll cloud as it approached the observatory over a 20 minute period. This photograph was taken around 3.18 pm and was a part of a series which also included numbers 120 and 125. These all documented the rapidly changing storm clouds as they approached the observatory at approximately one mile every two minutes. The Thunder and hailstorm fell on the observatory at 3.21 pm. This photograph remains a significant illustration of the importance of Russell's meteorological work in the 1890s.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, Total Asset Management Project, January 2008
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