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This On Her Majesty’s Service long cover with a lilac 2d stamp of Victoria was postmarked MELBOURNE/ 21.3.00/14 which partially obscured the CHIEF SECRETARY Frank Stamp of Victoria. The envelope is addressed to Professor Mark W. Harrington, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington U.S.A. and it was sent from the Melbourne Observatory on 21. 3. 1900. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).


A column in the ‘MONTHLY WEATHER REVIEW ‘ notes by the editor in July 1898 starts off as follows: “The observers and friends of the Weather Bureau will not soon forget that before Professor Harrington was appointed Chief of the Weather Bureau he had devoted his energies and fortune to the maintenance of the American Meteorological Journal and to the awakening of general interest in meteorology as a course of instruction in colleges and universities”.

The following was derived from the University of Michigan Observatory website: Mark Walrod Harrington was born in Sycamore, Illinois on August 18, 1848. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1868, and received a Master's degree in 1871. After experiences such as being assistant curator of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural Science; astronomer's assistant for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in Alaska; and professor of astronomy in Peking, China, Harrington served as the director of the Detroit Observatory for 12 years. While director, Harrington concentrated on meteorology, and his assistants J. Martin Schaeberle, and later W. W. Campbell, directed the astronomical research.

In 1884, Harrington founded The American Meteorological Journal and was its managing editor until 1892. He obtained new meteorological equipment for the Observatory, began collecting regular data, and issued daily meteorological reports. Harrington left the University of Michigan in 1891 to be the first civilian chief of the newly reorganized United States Weather Bureau, but he was removed in 1895 over concerns with his management of the Bureau.

For a short time he served as the President of the University of Washington in Seattle, and he held other positions in the Weather Bureau until he retired in 1899 due to failing physical and mental health. Soon after, he departed from home to attend a dinner and was not seen again for nearly a decade. In 1907, he was placed in a mental institution under the name of "'John Doe," where he was discovered by his wife and son a year later. His mental condition improved, though never enough for him to be released from the institution, where he died in 1926.

I felt that I had identified Prof. Mark W. Harrington correctly as the recipient of the above letter, but the chronology of events was somewhat ‘out of kilter’ with what appeared in the following newspaper clipping, even though the description of events were so similar, that one man ‘filled the bill’.

‘The New York Times’ July 1, 1891 had a column about ‘THE NEW WEATHER BUREAU: Prof. Mark W. Harrington to Take Charge To-Day’. Washington, June 30. - The formal transfer of the Weather Bureau from the War Department to the Agricultural Department, under an act of the last Congress, will take place to-morrow. Gen. Greely will then relinquish the duties of the Chief of the Bureau, and Secretary Rusk will assume them on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. It then goes on to detail Harrington’s graduation in 1868 at the University of Michigan, his position as Professor of Astronomy in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, his survey work in Alaska, and his work as Professor of astronomy in Peking, China. A picture of Prof. Mark Walrod Harrington taken as a staff member of the University of Michigan is shown in Figure 2.


The Melbourne Observatory was founded in 1862 to serve as a scientific research institution for the rapidly growing Melbourne. It was tasked by the Victorian Government with maintaining an accurate time reference for the colony through observation of the stars, using a transit telescope as well as general astronomical research. The site chosen was a gentle hill adjacent to the Royal Botanical Gardens. In 1874the Observatory took part in the world-wide effort to observe the transit of Venus in order to determine the distance of Earth to the Sun.

Towards the end of the 1880s the observatory took part in the international “Carte du Soleil” project to map the heavens using photography. With the coming of Federation in 1901 the Commonwealth Government was assigned the keeping and control of the observatory. At the same time “light pollution” made astronomical observations difficult within the growing city, and the observatory was finally closed in 1945. A picture of the Observatory is seen in Figure 3.



Addendum (June 2010):  A family member has written to me almost 2 years after I wrote this paper on Professor Mark Harrington.  I will quote from his email:  "Mark Walrod Harrington was my great grandfather's first cousin.  There is no doubt that you identified the recipient of the letter correctly.  Mark Walrod's life after 1900 is shrouded in Mystery.  Whilst he was supposedly missing he travelled and may have gotten as far as China.  It appeared that he tried to visit all the places he had been to earlier in life."

"As for his death in 1926, I have a copy of his son, Mark Raymond Harrington's passport application in 1919.  Mark Raymond states that his father is deceased "in about 1916" and Mark Raymond's mother, Rose Smith Harrington, indicates on the same passport application that she is a widow.....However, ['moreover' - my intepretation] I can find no obituary or newspaper article after 1916. "

I am still trying to document the later date of 1926 for Professor Mark Harrington's death.  I greatly appreciate Gene Sofie's additional information.

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