Sydney Observatory sits on the hillside to the west of the harbour bridge, commanding 360 degree views of the city, harbour, the north shore and the Parramatta river. It was built between 1857 and 1859. Every day, at 1300 hours, the time ball drops, and at one time this, and the one o’clock gun were the only ways sailors had of knowing the correct time. In keeping with its time-keeping role, the tower and time-ball were given greater prominence than the observatory dome in the design of the building. We enjoyed watching the age-old ritual of the time-ball dropping, even though it wasn’t exactly dynamic!
Front view of the Observatory, built in Italianate style. Back view, with time ball ready to drop.
Looking from Observatory Hill across to North Sydney. Looking out over 19th century houses to Darling Harbour & Anzac Bridge.
Looking across to the north shore.
Today, time is kept by a nuclear clock some distance from the Observatory, but in the 19th century, time was kept by a long-case clock which is still there today. It was responsible for keeping time and providing the time signals for the Sydney timeball, and also, through telegraph wires, the timeball in Newcastle.
Separate dials for hours, minutes, seconds.
Inside the Observatory, several very interesting exhibits reflect the history of the site and of the Observatory as an astronomical observatory, timekeeper, signal station and meteorological centre.
In July 1969, this feedhorn received the first TV signals from the moon.
Early chronometers used to calculate longitude in the late 18th century.
A signal station had been set up on Observatory Hill in 1825 to receive messages from the station on South Head about ships arriving in the harbour. Until the 1920’s, two flagpoles were used to send messages to other signal stations and the port authorities. The signal master’s cottage was built in 1848 and is the oldest building on the site.
The signal master’s cottage.