Science and scientific associations in Eastern Australia, 1820-1890




Hoare, Michael E.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This investigation is concerned with the establishment of science and scientific associations in the four eastern colonies of Australia, commencing with the Philosophical Society of Australasia (1821) and ending with the movement surrounding the formation of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science and other intercolonial organisations for science in the 1880's. With the death of Banks in 1820 there ended the first era of scientific investigation in Australia. In the 1820's the first efforts to institutionalise science were guided by Sir Thomas Brisbane and his scientific circle. These first experiments are considered against the background of reforming science in Britain, whose institutions were to profoundly affect the course and pattern of science in Australia. Science in Australia must be seen as part of the spread of 'western science' into 'colonial' territories. The first attempts to establish a local-based science in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land were ephemeral, affected very much by colonial politics, faction, individualism, lack of facilities and by the seeds of deep-seated and longstanding divisions among the principal proponents of science with differing aspirations and backgrounds. In Van Diemen's Land in the 1820's and 30's, actively encouraged by men of science in Europe eager for data, a scientific circle ~merged in Hobart and Launceston which was to provide a basis upon which Sir John Franklin could build in the 1840's. Franklin's Tasmanian Society produced Australia's first regular scientific journal the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, capitalising upon the marked growth in scientific investigation and exploration in the Antipodes at this period and achieving for the first time in the Australian colonies a forum for the exchange and dissemination of scientific knowledge. It pointed the way to active intercolonial co-operation in science. JhNew South Wales after 1830, during twenty-five years of trial and error attempts to form viable scientific associations, the cause of science depended heavily upon the 'individual enterprise' of the colony's men of science who remained divided among themselves even within the Australian Museum committees. Science was bereft of effective vice-regal patronage but there persisted a productive commitment to scientific research and debate. In 1856 Sir William Denison, with successful scientific reforms in Tasmania to his credit, revitalised institutional science in the parent colony and the bases were laid in his new associations, institutions and in the University for more professionalism in science and ultimately ror the essential close co-operation between men of science in the BanksianMacleay gentlemen-amateur tradition and the growing semi-professional and professional groups in colonial science. During the 1850's, despite Denison's reforms, the lead in colonial science passed to Victoria whose scientific institutions were speedily and more or less competently founded on the wealth and expertise generated and attracted by the discovery of gold and the development of its associated industries. The initiative remained with Victoria during the 1860's. In Queensland, one of the first Australian territories successfully examined and exploited by colonial-based scientific enterprise, a settled scientific community emerged slowly and its efforts were, in the main, correspondingly limited to those disciplines best suited to its frontier status viz. geology and natural history. In both Victoria and Queensland where relatively rapid urban growth followed separation men of science were much concerned with utilitarian scientific questions such as water-supply, sewerage and transport. It is argued that Denison's reforms led New South Wales once more to assume the leadership in the movement 'towards a federated science' from the late 1870's. Henceforth co-operation, formal and informal, was strengthened in many fields including astronomy, geology, meteorology and sanitation and other specialist disciplines as well as in the more popular naturalists' societies and movements for exploration in the interior, Antarctica and New Guinea. By the 1880's and 90's science and its associations in Australia were firmly set in the matrix of the mood and movements for closer intercolonial, federal co-operation in Australia. Throughout science is considered in the context of Australian problems, in the emergence from convict-dependent to self-governing colonies, where scientific efforts were very much affected by the changing dynamics of colonial society. Science moved throughout the period from the control of European-based scientists and vice-regal patrons into the hands of colonial amateurs and professionals and eventually under the surveillance of colonial legislatures. Science is also considered, where appropriate, against the development of scientific knowledge in Europe. The period ends at the commencement of a third era of colonial scientific development in the nineties when a new and brilliant generation of university leaders in science commenced to explore new lines of research and organisation in Australian science aided by the boom of the base-metal industries, agricultural research and improved facilities and heralding the move towards federal-political initiatives in science in the following century.






Thesis (PhD)

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights



Restricted until