Historic Site

Sydney Observatory is a museum and education centre set in gardens overlooking Sydney Harbour. The historic site commands some of the best views in Sydney.

A short history of Sydney Observatory

Built in 1858, Sydney Observatory is one of the most significant sites in the nation’s scientific history. It is recognised as an item of ‘state significance’ by the New South Wales Government and is heritage listed.

Beginning as the centre of scientific research for the colony of New South Wales, the Observatory has a seminal role in the history of timekeeping, meteorology and astronomy in Australia. Now known as Observatory Hill, the site was previously known as Windmill Hill, Citadel Hill, Fort Phillip and Flagstaff Hill. Each name indicates the site’s function over time all of which relied on it being the highest point over Sydney Harbour.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Observatory was essential to shipping, navigation, meteorology and timekeeping as well as to the study of the stars seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Government Astronomers worked and lived in the building until 1982 when Sydney Observatory became part of MAAS.

Today the Observatory is a museum and public observatory with an important role in astronomy education and public telescope viewing. It contains an 1874 29cm lens telescope, a 42cm computer-controlled telescope and a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, able to be viewed through by visitors during booked sessions among many other activities.

NSW Government Astronomers

These men and their families lived and worked at Sydney Observatory. They were:

  • William Scott 1858–1862
  • George Robarts Smalley 1864–1870
  • Henry Chamberlain Russell 1870–1905
  • Henry Alfred Lenehan 1907–1908
  • W E Raymond (Officer-in-charge) 1908–1912
  • William Ernest Cooke 1912–1926
  • James Nangle 1926–1941
  • Harley Weston Wood 1943–1974
  • William Humphrey Robertson 1975–1982

Heritage buildings and gardens

The Observatory buildings, built from stone with distinctive copper telescope domes, were built between 1857 and 1859 in the Italianate style. They combined the practical needs of an observatory with those of an astronomer’s residence. The Observatory grounds recreate the original layout and vegetation of formal gardens cultivated in the 1880s.