Charles Todd (astronomer) bigraphy, stories - South Australian superintendent of telegraphs and government astronomer

Charles Todd (astronomer) : biography

7 July 1826 - 29 January 1910

Sir Charles Todd KCMG, FRS (7 July 1826 – 29 January 1910) worked at the Royal Greenwich Observatory 1841-1847 and the Cambridge University observatory from 1847-1854. He then worked on telegraphy and undersea cables until engaged by the government of South Australia as the colony's superintendent of telegraphs and government astronomer.

Later career

His next great work was a line of about 1000 miles to Eucla, establishing communication between Adelaide and Perth. In 1885 he attended the international telegraphic conference at Berlin. He continued to control his department with ability, and when the colonies were federated in 1901 it was found that, in spite of its large area and sparse population, South Australia was the only one whose post and telegraphic department was carried on at a profit. Todd continued in office as deputy-postmaster-general until 1905.

In 1886 Todd travelled to Great Britain, where he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Meteorological Society and of the Society of Electrical Engineers. Todd continued in his duties to posts and telegraphs in South Australia, until the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia took over all such services on 1 March 1901 and Todd became a federal public servant at the age of 75. He retired in December 1906, having been over 51 years in the service of the South Australian and Commonwealth governments.

Superintendent of telegraphs

Todd, along with his 18 year-old wife Alice Gillam BellThe Singing Line, Alice Thompson, Doubleday 1999, ISBN 978-0-385-49059-7 Written by his wife's Great Great Granddaughter who retraced his route across Australia in the 1990s (after whom Alice Springs is named), arrived in Adelaide on 5 November 1855. They were accompanied by Todd's assistant, 24 year-old Edward Cracknell and his wife. (Cracknell subsequently became superintendent of telegraphs in New South Wales). On his arrival Todd found that his department was a very small one without a single telegraph line. The first line was opened in February 1856, and in June of that year he recommended that a line between Adelaide and Melbourne should be constructed.

He personally rode over much of the country through which the line would have to pass. Todd, and his counterpart in Victoria, proceeded to link the two colonies' telegraph systems near Mount Gambier in July 1858.

Astronomical work

Though so much of his time was taken up by the duties of the postal department, Todd did not neglect his work as government astronomer. Using the Adelaide Observatory, completed in 1860 and which was thoroughly equipped with astronomical and meteorological instruments and he contributed valuable observations to the scientific world on the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1882, the cloudy haze over Jupiter in 1876, the parallax of Mars in 1878, and on other occasions.

He took much interest in meteorology and enlisted his army of postal officials as meteorological observers. He selected the site of the new observatory for Perth in 1895 and advised on the building and instruments to be obtained. He was the author of numerous papers on scientific subjects, many of which were printed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Transcontinental line

In 1859 he conceived the idea of the transcontinental line from Adelaide to Darwin. Most of the country in between except for the explorations of Charles Sturt and others was unknown, and it was many years before Todd could convince the South Australian government of the practicability of the scheme.

In January 1863 Todd addressed the Adelaide Philosophical Society about the possibility of building telegraph routes that would link to an overseas cable. In 1868 the direct line between Adelaide and Sydney was completed and was used to determine the 141st meridian, the boundary line between South Australia and Victoria. Todd's calculations showed it to be 2¼ miles farther east than had previously been determined. This led to the long-drawn-out dispute between the two colonies.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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