Melbourne Observatory Collection




The Melbourne Observatory Collection comprises over 400 objects and images relating to the operation of Melbourne Observatory from 1863 to 1944. It includes large telescopes, other astronomical instruments, clocks, and scientific instruments relating to the Observatory's work in meteorology, geomagnetism, seismology, geodetic surveying and weights and measures administration. There is also a selection of photos relating to the Observatory's work, including photos of buildings, instruments and observational photos.

The Melbourne Observatory was established in 1863 through the merging of Williamstown Observatory, established in 1853 as an astronomical observatory, and the Flagstaff Observatory, established in 1858 to conduct magnetic and meteorological observations. After testing of suitable sites for magnetic and atmospheric disturbances that might effect observations, a site adjacent to the Botanic Gardens was selected. The Great Melbourne Telescope, which is held in Museum Victoria's collection, was assembled at the site in 1869. The observatory covered a wide range of scientific activities, from pure research to practical science that was critical for the colony's operations. It provided standard Observatory time to ships' captains, central city clocks and the railways, and weather maps and weather forecasts to the daily newspapers. In 1890 the Observatory joined an international project to take photographs of the entire sky, and create maps and catalogues from the photographs, some of which are held in the collection.Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944, following 20 years of fruitless discussion between the Victorian and Australian governments about its future. The timekeeping responsibilities were taken over by the Post Master General's Department, the Great Melbourne Telescope and observational records were sent to Mount Stromlo, and the weights and measures function continued at the observatory site. The majority of the Melbourne Observatory Collection was transferred to the Industrial ; Technological Museum (now part of Museum Victoria) following the Observatory's closure. The Museum oversaw the remaining astronomical instruments in the former Observatory site for many years during the 1950s and 1960s, which were retained for public viewing and use by the Astronomical Society of Victoria. Several smaller groups of material were transferred to the Museum during this period. The Weights ; Measures Branch, which continued this function of the Observatory, progressively transferred items as they ceased to be of operational value. The collection now comprises almost 400 items, including telescopes, the Great Melbourne Telescope, astronomical and surveying instruments, meteorological equipment, standard weights and measures and photographs.Archival material relating to the Observatory is primarily held by the Public Record Office of Victoria; some material that was sent to Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1944-45 is now held in the Australian Archives, Canberra. Several small groups of archival material have been acquired by the Museum.The collection provides important documentation and artefacts of one of Australia's leading scientific institutions in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre


1863-1944; Astronomical instruments; Astronomy; Barometers; Clock & Watchmaking; Comets; Eclipses; Expeditions; Galaxies; Geodetic Surveys; Geophysical Apparatus & Instruments; Great Melbourne Telescope; Measurement; Meteorological Instruments; Meteorology; Navigation; Navigation Apparatus & Instruments; Observations; Observatories; Optical Apparatus & Instruments; Quadrants; Regulator Clocks; Scientific equipment; Scientific instruments; Scientists; Solar Eclipses; Standard Weights & Measures; Stars; Surveying; Surveying Apparatus & Instruments; Telescope Accessories; Telescopes; The Moon; The Sun (Stars); Time Standards; Transits of Venus; Weather Charts

Coverage Spatial

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Related Collections


2012-05-30 23:42

2011-03-31 18:32