Letter by H C Russell, 13 November 1871

Letter by H C Russell, 13 November 1871
Letter by H C Russell, 13 November 1871

‘Public clocks’ written in red pencil at top left of page


Government Observatory
13th November 1871


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter P1-5554?? ?? re ‘Public Clocks’ and to inform you that I have to-day learned from Mr Tornaghi the contractor the complete design which he has agreed to supply. I have to point out two most important defects affecting the Public Utility of the new clock. In the first place: no provision has been made for the control of the clocks by galvanic signal from the observatory. This is most essential if the clocks are required to keep accurate time.

As no clock will of itself keep time, it must be connected from the Observatory and the usual course is the proper ?? to have the clocks controlled by that principal Observatory clock.

In the second place the contract does not provide a clock shewing?? seconds for the public use with which no one rating chronometer or even good pocket watches can make any use of the clocks. I would therefore suggest that wire?? be carried from the Observatory to the new Post Office and the design of the clocks so altered as to admit of their being controlled by regular signals for the Observatory, and that at least one of the clocks, and by preference one not more than 8 or 10 feet from the ground should beat accurate seconds. Mr Tornaghi informs me that he can make these alterations if required to do so.

I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant
H C Russell
Govt Astronomer

The Principal Under Secretary

3 responses to “Letter by H C Russell, 13 November 1871

  • Sydney’s most important public works project of the 1870’s was the Contruction of the General Post Office (G.P.O.)

    I believe that this letter refers to the clock of the G.P.O., which stood atop of the building facing Barrack Street. The tower of the G.P.O. had not yet been constructed.

    Here is a view of the building:


    – although it does not show the clock made by Signor Angelo Tornaghi. Tornaghi’s clock was in the same position with the clock face flush with the building, not protruding out over the George Street footpath as you see in that Tyrrell Collection photograph.

    Most of the tenders for the building were let in 1866.

    Tornaghi’s clock was installed by the time the building opened on 14 March 1874, but was removed in 1878 to be replaced by the present clock, known as ‘Little Brother’. (Although I’m sure nobody knows it as this now.)

    Also, the clock referred to here, made by Signor Angelo Tornaghi did not protrude over the George Street footpath as ‘Little Brother’ does.

    Tornaghi’s work on the clock and bells for the main clock tower that we know today:


    was plagued with controversy and contract disputes. Tornaghi came up with an idea for tubular bells to save weight, but when they were installed in 1891 they were deemed to have an unsatisfactory tone.

    The contract tender was let three times, Tornaghi won the tender twice, but the final and third time the tender was won by Henry Daly, who is responsible for the main tower clock as we know it today.

    My reference for most of this information is a book,

    “The history of the Sydney G.P.O. the City’s Centrepiece”

    which can be found in the Powerhouse Museum’s research library at call number 383.499441 CIT.

    It is also available at 58 other libraries in Australia.

    (ref. http://nla.gov.au/anbd.bib-an5771437)

    Notably, there are any instruments made by Tornaghi in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, and some of them may be found here:


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