Old Melbourne Observatory

Old Melbourne Observatory

The Melbourne Observatory in the Royal Botanic Gardens once housed the largest telescope in the world, the Great Melbourne Telescope.

Great Melbourne Telescope

The Great Melbourne Telescope was constructed in 1868 in Ireland by John Hershcell for the Melbourne Observatory. For 20 years, the Great Melbourne Telescope was the largest in the world. The telescope was acquired by Woolley for Mount Stromlo in Canberra and was transferred there in 1955.

During the middle of the 19th century the Government of Victoria voted the sum of £5,000 for the construction of a large equatorial telescope to be erected at the Melbourne Observatory.

1n 1868 the completed telescope arrived in Australia, reaching Melbourne in November of that year; it was ready for work by the end of June 1869, and the observations commenced in August of the same year.

The Great Melbourne Telescope was for many years after 1869 employed in the revision of nebulae and clusters in the hope of recording any changes which may have occurred since the time of Sir John Herschel's observations of the same material at the Cape of Good Hope in the years 1834-38.

For the complete story visit the excellent web site link below...


An online Newsletter for the Botanic Gardens of Australia - No.3 July 2002

‘Shooting the Stars’ and ‘Transits, Tea and Trigonometry’: new interpretive exhibitions in the Old Melbourne Observatory.

New exhibitions will open soon in the Astrograph, South Equatorial and Photoheliograph telescope houses at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

The interpretive exhibitions within these telescope houses are part of the final stage of the restoration of the Old Melbourne Observatory. The restoration of the heritage-listed buildings within the Observatory started back in the early 90s, and to date has included extensive landscaping, the construction of a major new visitor complex, the creation of a gateway to the Royal Botanic Gardens, and relocation and refurbishment of LaTrobe’s Cottage.

In 1863, 17 years after the Royal Botanic Gardens was founded, the Melbourne Observatory opened with the purpose of establishing correct Melbourne time. As the reliability and accuracy of time improved, kept accurate by the stars, the role of the Melbourne Observatory moved to astrophysics and projects, such as mapping the southern sky.

In 1887 the Melbourne Observatory joined an international project to make a photographic record of the whole sky – then an estimated 40 million stars. This was arguably one of the Melbourne Observatory’s and the world’s largest projects to be undertaken by 19th century scientists.

This project has been possible with the generous support of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

Through these exhibitions visitors will have the opportunity to explore the site and discover the history, mystery and objects of the Old Melbourne Observatory, the essential role it played in the development of our city and its contribution to world-wide scientific knowledge. The exhibitions also share with the community the human stories of the Old Melbourne Observatory, both as a workplace and community.


The goal of the Great Melbourne Telescope project is to restore the telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing.

Relocated to Canberra in 1944, it was heavily modified for modern astronomy. The 2003 Canberra bushfires destroyed the modern equipment, but left the original parts relatively unscathed.

The original parts of the telescope have now been returned to Melbourne. About 90 percent of the original telescope has survived.

The project to restore the telescope and reinstate it in its original building at the former Melbourne Observatory site is being coordinated by three project partners: Astronomical Society of Victoria, Museum Victoria and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

The project partners are now testing the technical and financial aspects of the project. This includes assessing the best approaches to restoration of the telescope, assessment of the original building, and development of a business and operational plan for the telescope.

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