Inside the Collection

Science Underground – Angelo Tornaghi: instrument maker and entrepreneur

Portrait of Angelo Tornaghi, 1889
Angelo Tornaghi, Australian Men of Mark, 1889

Angelo Tornaghi arrived in Sydney in 1855 and for the next fifty years played a highly visible role in Sydney’s scientific community. By May 1864, he was running a highly respected business importing and making scientific instruments from his shop at 312 George Street. Just two months later his instruments were praised by the Royal Society of New South Wales as being equal to those of European manufacture. His standing as an instrument maker was also enhanced by a number of new designs, including an accurate and light circumferentor for quick surveying in the field.

Things should have gone smoothly, but it appears that the highly competitive and speculative nature of post gold-rush Sydney encouraged Tornaghi to take risks. By August 1866 his business had been crippled by a massive debt of around 5000 pounds and as a result he was forced to sell all his stock. This included clocks, watches, jewellery, electroplated ware, regulators, counters, glass cases and astronomical, mathematical, optical and surveying instruments.

To overcome his immediate difficulties, it seems Tornaghi decided to focus on doing contract work alongside a new business making paving tiles. It was from this period on that his name becomes associated with the installing and maintenance of some of New South Wales’ more important clocks.

In November 1867 he completed the installation of the Morpeth Town Clock in the local court house and in 1874 the new Sydney GPO opened with three large wall clocks whose components were all made in Tornaghi’s workshop.

In 1878 he was elected as alderman for Hunters Hill and in the following year he was elected Mayor. By the time Tornaghi died in 1906, he was not only a well-respected figure in Sydney, but had been acknowledged by his country of birth, who awarded him the Cross of Italy in recognition of his services to the Italian community in Sydney.

One response to “Science Underground – Angelo Tornaghi: instrument maker and entrepreneur

  • Geoff,

    Tornaghi’s other public career was as a designer of public sculpture. During the 1880s he worked with the Italian sculptor Tommaso Sani to produce two allegorical bronzes for the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Building on the corner of Pitt and King Streets. The building is still there but the sculpture (and clock tower too, I think) are long gone.

    We have a model of the building with sculpture intact in the collection.

    Tornaghi also worked with Sani to promote a grand ‘National Monument’ for the 1888 centenary of European settlement. There is a photo of the maquette for this on p.73 of our book Visions of a Republic: The work of Lucien Henry.

    Unfortunately Tornaghi and Sani fell out over payment for work by Sani executing Tornaghi’s designs. Sani won a damages case and pay out from Tornaghi in the NSW Supreme Court.

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