The Adelaide Observatory!


The effects of our changing climate has bought a focus to the weather like never before, but in the early days of South Australia, it wasn’t the climate that was deemed to be important…it was the stars! Which is why, in 1860, the Adelaide Observatory was commissioned for one of the state’s great visionaries: Sir Charles Todd, our first Government Astronomer. And where was the Observatory? Right here, on at a site that I’m sure you recognise, the corner of West Terrace and Glover Avenue, now home to Adelaide High School.

This one and a half hectare piece of land also has a remarkable link to the collection of our weather data and to South Australia itself! Like most men appointed as Government Astronomers, Sir Charles Todd was also passionate about the weather and because he was living in this home on the site, he kept impeccable records from day one at the Observatory. The Weather Bureau was also here from 1940 until 1977 and collected data until 1988.

And right next to the old observatory and bureau site is Ellis park on West Terrace, Col Light had his survey depot right here because the elevated spot gave him a vista of Glenelg and Port Adelaide and right here on this piece of land the very first weather observations were recorded by Col Light himself.

As Government Astronomer, Todd was primarily occupied with observing the meridian passage of stars for reference and to assist in time keeping. There were two telescopes in the compound to help do that and the position of one of them became the benchmark for fixing the State boundaries.

When Sir Charles Todd retired in 1906, his assistant and the man in this photograph Richard Fletcher Griffith became our chief astronomer and timekeeper. Griffith was already our chief meteorologist. When Griffith left to join the newly created Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne, this man; George Dodwell, took over and became the last to hold the title of Government Astronomer. Under his guidance, the Adelaide Observatory contributed to the first measurement of the circumference of the earth by radiotelegraphy in 1921. The double whammy of a depression then a world war bought the life of the Adelaide Observatory to an end and the building was demolished in the late 1940’s.

All of the astronomical equipment went to the Adelaide University, as did a seismograph that was purchased after a major earthquake in 1902 and when you look at the area today, there’s no sign that any of this activity ever took place…almost.

This big old granite block sits in the car park at the back of the Adelaide High School. Now you might think it’s out of place but historically it’s very significant. This was the platform for the original seismograph and it would have been lost forever if someone hadn’t dug it up during the construction of the high school.

And as for Charles Todd, the Government Astronomer was just one of MANY hats he wore, but we’ll save those stories for another show.

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