Ballarat Observatory

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Image Key: A1. First section of the Observatory built; A2. Brick Observatory Built; A3. John Brittain,manager of the observatory; A4. 26-inch equatorial telescope - focal length 16ft; A5. Newtonian Reflector, presented by John Brittain, Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 604)



Mr James Oddie wrote to the City Council yesterday, offering to hand over to the City the Mount Pleasant Observatory. The matter was referred to the meeting of the finance committee, which takes place next Thursday week, and which Mr Oddie is to be asked to attend. The letter read was as follows: "Gentleman.—l beg to offer to you as a gift the Astronomical Observatory situated at Mount Pleasant, with instruments, buildings, etc. There are three telescopes, two mounted and covered by buildings, and also a transit instrument. The third telescope is a refractor, 9-inch, invoice price .£B5O, from the establishment of Sir Howard Grubb, Dublin, with adjuncts and carriage, etc.; landed here, £l000 cash. The only condition, made is that your council shall run the Observatory as a going concern in perpetuity, in the interest of astronomical science and the citizens. A suitable city site for an observatory would be at the south-west angle of the Botanic Gardens, in a line west from the cottage of the curator, at the south gate. I shall be glad to attend any meet ings, you may hold, with a view to review the offer, and tender such advice and in formation as my experience will enable me to do. Possession can be had at any time. Yours faithfully, James Oddie.”
Mayor Shoppee submitted a supplementary report as under: —“ A Munificent Offer.— I am in receipt of a letter from Mr James Oddie, the first chairman of this municipality, and one of our oldest and most respected citizens. That gentleman offers to present to the citizens a most va-luable adjunct to our city. It is the whole of his astronomical and costly ap pliances, now situated at the Observatory, Mount Pleasant. The conditions are of such a nature that I feel sure the council will gladly accept. I therefore recom mend that his letter be referred to the loan committee meeting this evening.” On this being read, Cr Barker asked whether councillors did not think that the offer might better have been made to the School of Mines. The latter was a scientific institution, and this seemed more in their province than in that of the muni cipality. They would be able to do better work than the council. .Cr Brokenshire moved that the letter be referred to the meeting of the finance com mittee, which Mr Oddie be asked to attend.
MR ODDIE ON THE MATTER, The offer is, as the mayor’described it, truly a munificent one, and Mr Oddie, when seen with reference to the matter, said he had been thinkingover it for some time past. A few particulars regarding the Observatory will doubtless be inter esting. Mr Oddie estimates that he has spent from £5000 to £6000 on it altogether, but being unfortunately unable to keep it now as a going concern, he has decided to hand it-over to the city. If they do not accept the gift under the conditions above stated; Mr Oddie says he will sell the in struments and buildings at once. In 1885 the Government reserved three acres at Mount Pleasant, selected by Mr J. Wall for Observatory purposes, and in March, 1886, the Anglican Bishop of Ballarat, Mr Ellery, Mr James Oddie, Mr Isaac J. Jones, Mr Theophilus Williams, Mr Rosehblum, and Mr Agar Wynne were appointed a committee under the provi sions of the Land Act 1884, for the care, protection, and management of the re serve. Mr Oddie, with a generous zeal for the promotion of astronomical science! supplied the means by which the Obser vatory buildings have been erected and equipped. The first telescope placed in position was a 121-inch Newtonian reflector made by the late Captain H. E. Baker who had charge of the Observatory for some considerable time. That instrument was turned to the heavens for the firsts time on the 13th January, 1886. Amongst the other many instruments which have since been added is the 9-inch reflector, which cost Mr Oddie altogether £l000. It has never been placed in posi tion. On the 11th May; the formal opening took place, when Mr D. M. Davies, M.L.A., occupied the chair, and a request was made through an address by the astronomical class that Mr Oddie would allow the “lighthouse-of the sky” to be named "The Oddie Observatory.” Mr Oddie, on that occasion, in reply, expressed the hope that it would prove a valuable adjunct to the School of Mines. Mr Oddie now considers that the school would not be able to carry it on successfully. He does not even in the event of the council declining the offer, intend to ask that in stitution to accept it. The decision of the finance committee on Thursday week will be awaited with interest.[1]


The Ballarat Observatory is located in Magpie Street, Mt Pleasant. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.[2]

In 1884 the Ballarat School of Mines Council reserved a three acre site on a spur of the White horse Ranges known as Mount Pleasant. The Vice-President of the Ballarat School of Mines, James Oddie undertook at his own expense (said to be 4,000 pounds) to erect and equip the observatory. By 1886 seven rooms, a workshop and a cottage had been erected.[3]

In 1913 the Council of the Ballarat School of Mines handed over the Observatory to the Ballarat East Town Council.[4]

The Site

Image Key: B1. Lecture room and library; B2. Window donated by the Ballarat Courier; B3. Telescopic view of Jupiter, showing shades of satellite in transit.; B4. Cooke equatorial Refracting Telescope, presented by Jelbart Brothers.; B5. and B9. Fire-mist in Pleiades; B6. Orrery; B7. Measuring the rainfall, 100 points representing 1 inch; B8. Stevenson Meteorological Screen for measuring temperatures and humidity; B10. General view of the Observatory, Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 604)

The People

Capt. H. E. Baker was the resident astronomer of the Ballarat School of Mines Observatory in 1887 and maker of the observatory’s first telescope – a 12 ½ inch Newtonian reflector.[5]

John Brittain, Resident astronomer

C. Quihampton, assistant astronomer.

William Wooster

Also See

Ballarat School of Mines

Heritage Listed Industrial Sites

Mount Pleasant


  1. Ballarat Star, 20 January 1903.
  3. Ballarat School of Mines Retrospect, Ballarat School of Mines, 1970.
  4. Ballarat School of Mines Retrospect, Ballarat School of Mines, 1970.
  5. accessed 15 March 2013.

--C.K.Gervasoni 14:21, 7 August 2014 (EST); --Clare K.Gervasoni 16:02, 16 January 2020 (AEDT)

William Wooster at the Ballarat Observatory, Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 7706) - Gift of Don and Joan Ogilvy, 2007
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