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Celebration planned for the Dominion Observatory

23 November 2007

Centenary celebration planned for the Dominion Observatory

Dominion Observary Centenary Celebrations
Botanic Gardens, Wellington
10am to 2pm
Saturday 8 December


A geocache “treasure hunt” and guided tour celebrating a century of time keeping are among activities on offer at a public event to mark the centenary of Wellington’s Dominion Observatory on Saturday 8 December.

Located at the top of Wellington’s Botanic Gardens near the Carter Observatory, the Dominion Observatory at one time housed New Zealand’s time and seismological services. Today the building is managed by the Poneke Area Office of the Department of Conservation (DOC).

DOC’s historic technical support officer Richard Nester said the observatory was built in 1907 to house New Zealand’s time service. The correct time was relayed to the rest of the country from the Dominion Observatory for most of the 20th century – via telegraph and later via the time pips on the radio.

“The observatory is not usually open to the public, so 8 December will be a good opportunity for people to learn more about this interesting part of New Zealand’s history.”

The event runs from 10am to 2pm. Activities include a walking tour with New Zealand's official timekeeper, tours of the Dominion Observatory and the Thomas King Observatory, guided geocache ‘treasure hunting’ using GPS to navigate to sites that relate to the history of time, the chance to see and use equipment that was used 100 years ago, and a number of children’s activities. At 11.30 am the Department of Conservation will unveil new interpretive panels for the Dominion Observatory. The unveiling ceremony will be followed by live period music, along with refreshments for those who attend.

A highlight of the day will be a guided walk with New Zealand’s current timekeeper Tim Armstrong from Industrial Research Limited. The walk will begin at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea. Tim will then lead participants to the cable car for a ride up to the Botanic Gardens. From the top of gardens Tim will take people to the Dominion Observatory and other significant “time” places in the area. Participants for the walk must pre-register.

As Tim notes, “New Zealand was possibly the first country in the world to adopt standard time and Wellington has a rich history in the telling of time. The purpose of the walk will be to tell some of the stories behind timekeeping and timekeepers in New Zealand.”

The Dominion Observatory celebration is being organised by the Department of Conservation, New Zealand Geographic, Geographx, Carter Observatory, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Museum of Wellington City & Sea.


Dominion Observatory facts:


Built in 1907, the Dominion Observatory building played an important role in New Zealand’s early timekeeping efforts and seismic research. For many years it housed the nation’s Time Service and Seismological Service.

The building was designed by government architect John Campbell in the Edwardian Baroque style. The architectural style was used in the design of many public buildings built in the British Empire during the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910).

The Dominion Observatory building was actually the nation’s second timekeeping observatory. New Zealand’s first timekeeping observatory was known as the Colonial Observatory and sat on a piece of land adjacent to the Bolton Street Cemetery. With the death of Prime Minister Richard John Seddon in 1906 the Colonial Observatory was torn down to make way for Seddon’s memorial and the Seddon family tomb.

The Dominion Observatory was built at the top of Wellington’s Botanic Gardens in part so the lights of the growing city wouldn’t detract from the work of the astronomers who at that time depended on sun and planet sightings to make their time observations.

Beyond time-reckoning, the Time Service was also responsible for sending a signal each morning to Wellington’s telegraph office before from where the signal was then relayed to post offices and railway stations around the country. Until 1920 when time pips were introduced on the radio, public clocks or indicators such as bells, whistles and gunfire were some of the only ways that the official time could be conveyed.

There are still a number of measuring instruments found near the Dominion Observatory. The site continues to serve as an important location for baseline seismological measurements in New Zealand.

Re-opened in 2003, the Dominion Observatory building is maintained by the Department of Conservation. It houses several private companies including the digital mapping company Geographx. The private offices currently located in the Observatory are not open to the public.

Ends

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