Astronomical remnants in Parramatta Park

Piers in Parramatta Park, photo by Nick Lomb

Piers in Parramatta Park, photo Nick Lomb

On the way back from Linden Observatory last weekend (see post Monday 20 November) Nick visited the site of Parramatta Observatory in Parramatta Park. This was set up by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane in 1821 to study the then little known southern stars. Brisbane was recalled to Britain four years later, but he sold the instruments to the Government and the observatory carried on as a government observatory until it closed down in 1847.

Obelisk in Parramatta Park, photo by Nick Lomb

Obelisk in Parramatta Park, photo by Nick Lomb

The only original remnants of the observatory in Parramatta Park are the two stone piers (top photo) that once supported the observatory’s transit telescope, a type of telescope designed for accurate determination of the positions of stars. Next to the piers is the stone oblisk shown above that was placed there in 1880 supposedly to indicate the position of the transit telescope. It turned out later that it actually shows the location of the kitchen of the astronomer’s residence that was next to the observatory!

Engraved on the obelisk is the outline of a transit telescope. This instrument from Parramatta Observatory is on display at Sydney Observatory, along with the other remaining instruments from the observatory. These instruments of great historical signicance were given to Sydney Observatory in 1858.

If you are passing Parramatta go into the Park and have a look at the remnants of the old observatory. Then come to Sydney Observatory to see the original instruments on display.

3 responses to “Astronomical remnants in Parramatta Park

  • Thanks for your comments Glen. It would be great if it turns out that Russell was right after all. However, I am not convinced by the J. Service remarks. It seems completely implausible for James Dunlop to have installed the new Jones transit telescope outside the Observatory unprotected from the elements. And the story that the house was better built than the temporary observatory structure and hence its foundations were more obvious in the 1880s makes sense.

    I would be pleased if you could prove your case, but I suspect that it will not be possible to do so without a proper archaeological investigation.


  • “The two piers now standing near the obelisk were those erected for a new telescope which was sent out to Dunlop about the end of his time but never used. They stand outside of what was the old observatory, the foundations of which can now be traced.”

    J. Service, Thir Notandums, Being the Literary Recreations of Laird Canticarl of Mongrynen: To Which is Appended a Biographical Sketch of James Dunlop
    (Edinb, 1890). page 213

    I think the obelisk is in the right place. I don’t agree with The Story of an Absurdity, Vernon W.E. Goodin

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