Robert Lewis Ellery ( 1827 - 1908)

Ellery was an astronomer and public servant, trained as a surgeon but his early interest in astronomy was encouraged by friends at Greenwich Observatory and he was given some access to instruments there. He arrived at Melbourne in 1852 and soon after actively proposed that an observatory be set up at Williamstown to determine accurate time against which shipmasters in the port could adjust their chronometers. Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe acted on the suggestion and the observatory was established within the year. Ellery was its first director, a position he retained for forty-two years. In addition to his astronomical work he had from the outset made systematic meteorological observations. In 1858 he was appointed to conduct the geodetic survey of the colony, an undertaking which absorbed much of his time until 1874 and which had great influence on the astronomical programmes of the observatory. Two volumes of star positions, published in 1874 and 1889, constitute Ellery’s principal scientific achievement although he published many shorter papers on instrumental problems and such transient phenomena as comets. To his role of scientific pioneer Ellery brought great intelligence, humanity and energy. With invaluable instrumental skill he devised and built an early form of chart recorder for continuous automatic records of quantities such as rainfall and temperature; incidental to this machine he anticipated by several years the invention of the fountain pen.

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