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A.A.A.C. PRESIDENT GREGORY’s LETTER to PROFESSOR WILLIAM HARKNESS

It is not frequent to find on the front of a cover, the proof of documentation of two men, one from Australia and the other from the USA, both of whom made highly significant contributions to their own country, in so many ways. This cover was sent from the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (A.A.A.C.) by its President, A.C. Gregory to Professor Harkness, The Observatory, Washington D.C., U.S. of America. The stampless cover has been cancelled with an unframed duplex BRISBANE/ 28/ MR 8/ 94/ QUEENSLAND with the obliterator Q. L. (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The reverse has three cancellations, an incomplete SAN FRANCISCO/ APR 13/ 1894 transit, with two Washington D.C. receivers, a small cancel on April 18 at 3 30 PM and a large cancel the same day at 7 PM (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Sir Augustus Charles Gregory (1819-1905) has already been written up at this website under the heading ‘Gregory Brothers’, in the category of ‘Explorers’. He was a multi-talented individual who was regarded as the premier Australian explorer. Both he and one of his brothers, Francis Thomas Gregory have separate entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. For the purpose of this paper, only a thumbnail of his biography will be given, as follows:
Commissioner of Crown Lands; Explorer of multiple Australian Colonies; Local government councillor; Local government head; Member of the Upper House (M.L.C.); Pamphleteer; Public servant; Public service/Statuary authority head; and, Surveyor/Surveyor-General. The proof that he was the President of the Australasian Association of the Advancement of Sciences in the time period of this cover is that the A.D.B. states that he was elected President of the A.A.A.M.C. in 1895 (sic), for a period as yet undetermined. A photo of Sir Augustus Charles Gregory K.C.M.G.is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

The recipient of this letter William Harkness was born in Ecclefechan, Scotland on December 17, 1837, the son of James Harkness. He came to the United States in 1839, and studied at Lafayette College from 1854 to 1856, and at the University of Rochester, New York from 1856 to 1858, from which he graduated. He then studied at the New York Homeopathic Medical College, and served as a volunteer surgeon in the Union armies during the American Civil War at the battle of Bull Run and again during the attack on Washington during 1864. On August 1, 1862 he was appointed as an aide to the United States Observatory, and Professor of mathematics there in 1863. From 1865 to1866 he served aboard the S.S. Monadnock . On the cruise from Philadelphia to San Francisco he investigated the variations in the compass readings, and his findings were published in 1871 by the Smithsonian Institution. He was then attached to the United States Hydrographic Office.

During a total eclipse of the sun in 1869 he discovered the coronal line K 1474, and he published his findings. In 1871 he was appointed as one of the members of the Transit of Venus commission, and he was in charge of the transit of Venus investigators based in Tasmania. in 1874, and also in Washington D.C. in 1882. He was astronomical director of the Naval Observatory from 1894 to1899. In 1893, he was president of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and this may have prompted Augustus Gregory’s letter in 1894, presumably conveying congratulations . His inventions of better photographic equipment and methods made possible new accuracy in the measurement of distances to Venus, and to the sun and their relative positions. He retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral, and died in February 28, 1903 at Jersey City, New Jersey at the age of 66. A picture of William Harkness is seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4

During the siting of Venus in Hobart, William Harkness set up an observation station in the grounds of the military barracks at Davey Street, next to the War Memorial, December 1874. The Tasmanian Government enclosed as much of the ground as needed and furnished a policeman (front left) to protect the site, and the man speaking to the policeman may be Harkness. The War Memorial (to fallen British soldiers died fighting the Maoris in New Zealand, 1845) is seen rear-centre (Figure 5).

Figure 5

A photo of Venus, the black object at the top of the sun is seen in Figure 6.

Figure 6

The information about Augustus Gregory is taken from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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