A series of covers on Ebay addressed to two of the three above- named persons, all of whom were interrelated, opened up an interesting story about all three persons as well as two long-standing important Sydney institutions. The first cover to Mr. Barff, 48 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney with the blue N.S.W. 2d QV stamp postmarked with the Type D4 duplex (in use1894-1901) COWRA/ JU 20/ 6 15 PM/ 00/ N.S.W with numeral ‘12′ obliterating the stamp, hardly inspires any confidence that it might be an entry point into a group of interesting stories (Figure 1).
However, this cover was followed by a series of four related covers which involve Jane Foss Russell, both prior to marriage, after her marriage to Henry Ebenezer Barff, and indirectly to her father, Henry Chamberlain Russell. The first in 1894, is addressed to The Hon Sec. of Lady’s Committee of the Womens College Fund, The Observatory, Sydney postmarked Casino N.S.W. with the rays ‘92′ cancelling the blue N.S.W. 2d ‘Emu’ stamp (Figure 2).
The next cover in 1896 is addressed to Miss J.F. Russell, The Observatory, Sydney and it is indistinctly postmarked Tomago with the rays ‘354′ cancelling the pair of the lilac N.S.W.1d ‘View of Sydney’ stamp (Figure 3).
The next cover in 1898 is addressed to Jane Russell, the Observatory Sydney and is postmarked DARLINGTON/ OC 6/ 1898/ N.S.W with the red 1d N.S.W. ‘Shield’ stamp cancelled with the ‘1137′ obliterator (Figure 4).
The next cover in 1900 is a mourning cover addressed to Mrs H.E. Barff, Caloola, Victoria St. North, Darlinghurst and is postmarked with the HORNSBY JUNCTION/ MR 01/ 1900/ N.S.W [date slugs all inverted]/ N.S.W. with the N.S.W. red 1d ‘Shield ‘ stamp cancelled with the ‘1384′ obliterator (Figure 5).
Henry Ebenezer Barff was born on 9 July 1857, at Tahaa Island, Society Islands (part of the Tahiti chain of islands), the youngest son of Rev. John Barff of the London Missionary Society, and his wife Amelia. The family migrated to Sydney in 1865 and Henry graduated from Sydney University with a B.A. in 1876 and M.A. in 1882, graduating with the University Medal in Mathematics. His working life was spent at the University as Master of Studies, and then as Assistant Examiner and Acting Lecturer in Mathematics in 1879, then Acting Registrar in 1880 and was confirmed as Registrar in 1882. In addition he was Titular Librarian in 1893-1914. For over 40 years Henry Barff was the Chief Administrator of Sydney University and in 1914 the position of Warden was added to his Registrar responsibilities.
By 1924 when Barff retired the University population was composed of ten faculties and over 3000 undergraduates (compared with his student days in 1880 of one teaching faculty, four professors and a handful of students). He was popular with staff and students and he kept a firm control of the entire administrative process. When he left office it was found necessary to create the position of Vice-Chancellor; he was appointed C.M.G. in 1923 and served briefly on the Senate in 1924-25. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of a stroke on 2 May 1925 and was buried in Waverley Cemetery.
Jane Foss Russell was born on 24 October 1863 at the Sydney Observatory, daughter of Henry Chamberlain Russell, astronomer and his wife Emily Jane née Foss. She joined the second group of women to enroll at the University of Sydney, graduating B.A. in 1886 and M.A. in 1889, with first class honours in classics and second class in mathematics. Her M.A. degree was the first in Sydney for a woman. She spent time at Cambridge and on return to Sydney she taught mathematics at 2 Sydney Ladies Colleges. She promoted the cause of female students and was involved in early fund-raising for the University’s Women’s College, and served continuously on the University Council until 1937. She was appointed Tutor to the women students in 1892, and was a co-founder and second President of the University’s Women’s College in 1893. She resigned to marry Henry Ebenezer Barff on 6 September 1899 at Holy Trinity Church, Sydney and they had two children.
After husband’s death in 1925, Mrs Barff continued her public activities mostly in relation to organizations relating to women’s needs. She died at her Rose Bay home on 10 June 1937 and was buried in Waverley cemetery, survived by her daughter. Her Women’s College friends instituted a prize in her memory. The reason for Jane receiving a mourning envelope in 1900 is uncertain, unless one child died soon after her marriage in 1899.
Since 1858 there have been eight Government astronomers in charge of the Sydney Observatory. Among them Henry Chamberlain Russell stands out because the Observatory was at its most active during his long term of office. Born in Maitland N.S.W. in 1836, he joined the Observatory as an assistant to the first Government astronomer in January 1859. In 1870 he took over as the Government astronomer and he continued in that role until his retirement because of ill health 35 years later. He and his wife had a son and four daughters (including Jane). And when he died at the Observatory on 22 February 1907, he also was buried at the Waverley cemetery. A picture of Henry with the Sydney Observatory’s transit circle is seen in Figure 6.
Russell was successful in re-equipping the Observatory with new instruments, the most important of which, the transit circle and the large telescope in the south dome, are still in their original locations. He increased the staff of the Observatory and arranged for the addition of an extra wing to the building to house the extra staff and he also added a new dome. Among the many activities that he was involved in was studying the weather. In 1877 he published Australia’s first weather map in the Sydney Morning Herald.Under Henry Chamberlain Russell, in the 1880s Sydney Observatory gained international recognition. Russell who lived on the premises for a time (when his daughter Jane was born there in 1863) took some of the first astronomical photographs in the world, and involved Sydney in one of the greatest international astronomy projects ever undertaken, The Astrographic Catalogue. The catalogue was the first completed atlas of the sky. The Sydney section alone took 80 years and 53 volumes to complete. A picture of the Sydney Observatory ca. 1860 with its time ball is seen in Figure 7.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography provided most information on the three principals.
Addendum (November 2007): Three additional covers became available, the first addressed toThe Hon. Sec. of Ladies Committee of the Womens College Fund, The Observatory, Sydney sent from Casino N.S.W. in 1894 (this was a position occupied by Miss Jane Russell), shown in Figure 8.
The next two were both sent to Miss J.F. Russell M.A., The University, Sydney sent from William Street (Sydney) in 1897 and 1898 (Figures 9 & 10).
Yet another scan of a GB wrapper sent yo Jane Russell at The Observatory, Sydney in 1898 (Figure 11).
Jane Russell Barf, Henry Russell and Henry Barff, each have a separate entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, with more details than the above paper.