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Robert Lewis John Ellery

(1827—1908) astronomer


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(1827–1908), Victorian government astronomer, was born at Cranleigh, England, and came to Victoria in 1851 in search of gold. Although he had trained as a medical practitioner, his real interest was in astronomy, which he learned at Greenwich Observatory. While practising as a surgeon in Williamstown, he noticed navigational difficulties caused by lack of accurate time determination. His lobbying resulted in the establishment of the first Melbourne Observatory at Williamstown in 1853 and his appointment as government astronomer, a post he held until 1895. Under his direction, the observatory flourished. It moved to the Melbourne Domain in 1863 and assumed responsibilities for meteorology and tidal information, and the calibration of surveying and navigational instruments. A brilliant and versatile scientist, Ellery was superintendent of the Geodetic Survey of Victoria from 1858 to 1874; a founder of the Royal Society of Victoria (president 1856–84); a trustee of the Public Library; and chairman of the Alfred Hospital. In 1873 he helped organise the Victorian Torpedo and Signal Corps. Ellery was elected president of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) in 1900. He produced three star catalogues and more than 50 papers on astronomy, astro-photography, climate, meteorology, and chronography. His work, mainly published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria, included ‘The Survey of Victoria’ in, Victoria and Its Metropolis (1888). Mt Ellery in East Gippsland is named after him.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History.


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