The Young Astronomer

Todd’s life as an astronomer started when he was 15 and was employed by Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal at the Greenwich Observatory, as a supernumerary astronomical computer (someone doing the calculations from the observations made by the astronomers). Anxious for new challenges, in 1847 became an assistant astronomer to Professor Challis at the University Observatory in Cambridge where he learned his craft as an astronomer with an attention to detail. He returned to Greenwich in 1854 as superintendent of the galvanic apparatus for the transmission of time signals via telegraph plus supervising the time ball dropping equipment. Having solved a difficult problem with the time ball at Deal (Todd found a fault with the telegraph signal), Airy recommended the young Todd for the South Australian post of Astronomical and Meteorological Observer and Superintendent of the Electric Telegraph.

The Government Astronomer

On arrival, Todd soon commissioned the building of the Adelaide Observatory on West Terrace where Adelaide High School now stands.  Completed in 1860, it became a science hub for the colony.  Seven years later, systematic astronomical observations were started using the Simms Transit telescope. Further observational capacity was added a year later with the installation of an equatorial mounted telescope and a building to house it.  Some of Todd’s contributions to 19th Century astronomy include his part in a global network of astronomers who observed the transit of Venus (twice), a step in the process of measuring the size of the solar system. He also noted the presence of a Venutian atmosphere, reported on comet 1881B, observed the Parallax of Mars, and published a long series of notes on the phenomena of Jupiter's satellites in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. One journal entry suggests that Todd saw the aurora on Jupiter as he mentions; “Polar caps” that included “curious dark shadings”.  He also mentions colours like whites, red, pink, blues and black – we only dream of seeing those through our telescopes.  These have only recently been confirmed using the Hubble. The detailed nature of Todd’s observations were remarkable. Todd’s work in astronomy was quoted as one of the reasons for his conferral of an honorary M.A. of the University of Cambridge in 1886. Professor J. C. Adams, co-discoverer of the planet Neptune, was his sponsor.  Three years later  he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1889 - Rob says 1864??).  In 1893 he supported the establishment of the Astronomical Society of South Australia and served as its President for 15 years until his death in 1910.

National Significance

Todd was Australia’s the longest serving colonial Government Astronomer (50 years). The primary purpose of Government Astronomers was to establish temporal and spatial reference points in their chosen colonies. Todd fulfilled these functions by providing master timekeeping services to citizens and marine navigators, and supporting surveyors as they mapped out the infrastructure of the Colony. Todd observed astronomical features including solar transits, comets, the planets and their satellites many of which were published journal articles. He held advanced views on the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. His astronomical work contributed to his being conferred with an Honorary MA from the University of Cambridge.stralia.

Astronomical Discourse

Through a lifetime of observational work and study in astronomy, Sir Charles was active in astronomical discussion, weighing into the debate on the location of our solar system in the cosmos.  One view was that the sun at the centre of a cluster of stars at or near the centre of the universe and the earth is the only planet adapted for life.  The centre of the universe is important as it is the logical place for intelligent life.  Sir Charles suggested that any central location was transitory and with our current speed we were most likely just passing through.  He also thought it very rash and presumptive to say no to other life forms in the universe. He also agreed with Herschel and others who “thought it at least probable that some of the star clusters, which were so abundant in and near the Milky Way, were distant universes, altogether outside our sphere.” The idea of the Milky Way being only one of the galaxies in the universe was very far sighted at the time.  Todd published these views in a public pamphlet from ASSA At heart Todd was an astronomer. It was his first and last professional endeavour.  In his reports to Royal Astronomical Society he made the plea “Please remember, when thinking how little I do, that I am also [from 1870] Postmaster General and Superintendent of Telegraphs”.  This busy man was too short of time to devote to his passion for astronomy. NOTE: Todd’s duties as timekeeper for the Colony are covered separately under Horology