Star-Gazers on the Move

Ann Hills on changes taking place at the Royal Greenwich Observatory and Herstmonceux Castle.

Two hundred years ago William Dawes, a lieutenant in the Royal Marines, set foot in Australia and began to build the first observatory there at Port Jackson, New South Wales. In April 1788 he wrote to Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich, that he had, 'with the assistance of four marines of my own party and three or four convicts which the Governor has allowed me, cleared a point of tons of trees and am now getting on as fast as possible with an observatory'. His notes and sketches give a clear idea of the stone and wood building he erected, with a 'dome' covered with painted sailcloth.

Today, Sydney dominates the site, and back in England, the Dawes correspondence has particular pertinence as the Australian Bicentenary celebrations begin. It is housed, with other documents relating to exploration of Australia, in the archives of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) at Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex.

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