Russell was an Australian astronomer and meteorologist born in West Maitland and educated at West Maitland Grammar school and the University of Sydney, He worked at the Sydney Observatory under William Scott who resigned in 1862 and then became acting director until 1864 until the new government astronomer, George Smalley, was appointed. On the death of Smalley on 11 July 1870, Russell became government astronomer at a salary of £555 and held the position for 35 years. He immediately began reorganising and refurnishing the building, which he succeeded in getting considerably enlarged during the next seven years. With Robert L. J. Ellery, Russell organised an expedition to observe a total eclipse of the sun to Cape Sidmouth in 1871. He also prepared for the observation of the transit of Venus in 1874 for which four observing stations were equipped.
Russell began to develop the meteorological side of his work, in 1877 and published, Climate of New South Wales: Descriptive, Historical and Tabular. At the beginning of Russell’s appointment there were only 12 observing stations in New South Wales, but before he resigned there were about 1800. There was little money for equipment, but Russell made use of available materials and designed a rain gauge which could be made at a cost of one-sixth of the imported gauges. Russell also invented various self-recording barometers, thermometers, anemometers and rain gauges. This reduced and made possible the work of his observers, almost all of whom gave their services voluntarily. In collaboration with Sir Charles Todd of South Australia, and Robert L. J. Ellery and Pietro Baracchi of Victoria, weather reporting in Australia was co-ordinated until the daily weather forecasts showed a very high percentage of accuracy. The long series of Meteorological Observations made at the Government Observatory, Sydney, published under Russell’s direction contain an enormous mass of information relating to the climate of New South Wales.
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