Monday, March 15, 2010

A Question of Time

On Saturday afternoon Deb and I went for a drive.
Unusually we didn’t head away from the city, rather we went through Melbourne to one of the old Melbourne ports Williamstown.
I have been there a couple of times before when I went down to have a look at the old RAN minesweeper HMAS Castlemaine.

This time we went down to the point that juts out into Port Phillip Bay. It was here that I took some shots of this tower.

I posted quickly on Saturday asking if anyone could guess the purpose of the tower. There have been some great guesses, but no on has been quite on the money.

If you zoomed in on the piccie you may have noticed this unusual piece of equipment on the roof.
It consists of a large ball that can be moved up and down on a mast.
This odd contraption is known as a “Timeball”.

What is a timeball you might ask?
Well before the days of GPS and radio beacons ships navigated using celestial navigation.

Dava Sobel outlined in her book Longitude how the difficulties of calculating longitude were solved using navigation based on accurate chronometers. The chronometers needed to be checked periodically to ensure precise navigation. This tower was part of that system.

The Timeball was designed so it could be easily seen by ships well out in the harbour. Every day at exactly 1:00 pm the ball was dropped. The ship’s officers responsible for navigation observing from a distance could set their chronometers.

Originally the time the ball was dropped was calculated by an attached observatory. Later, once the electric telegraph connected Victoria to England, the ball was dropped based on signals sent out from the Greenwich Observatory in England.

The time service here was finally discontinued in 1926, by then most ships set their clocks using a radio link.

So there you go mystery solved. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on timeballs.

From the tower we strolled the short distance to the foreshore where I took this piccie of the CBD peeking around some fuel oil tanks.

Out on the bay plenty of boats were taking advantage of the glorious weather.
We strolled along the shore, most of the way along here there seem to be almost as many shells as there is sand.

I stopped again to capture this shot of the city complete with a casual fisherman.

One of the most colourful boats came close to the point.

Deb insisted on borrowing the camera and took this shot of me.

Another shot of the city silhouetted against the sky beyond.

Finally, we wandered down the main street of Williamstown, where the shops are still all in Nineteenth Century buildings.
We stopped for a treat, ice-cream!


Kristen M. said...

Beautiful pics! I'm so glad we're on our way to summer up here in the North.

And I've never heard of the timeball -- very interesting!

heidenkind said...

I'd never heard of a timeball, either. Fun fact!

Ann said...

Beautiful photos. The sky is so blue! I haven't heard of a timeball before either. This blogsphere is very educational.

Jenners said...

That is one cool and imposing looking tower. And what if you only saw it 2 minutes AFTER they dropped the ball? Then what?

Al said...

Hi Kristen,
We are having a great autumn. I'm not looking forward to winter (although it probably isn't massively colder than your summer, it gets wet and dreary).

Hi Tasha,
Timeballs aren't exactly common any more although they were in a lot of ports until early last century.

Hi Ann,
We have great skies here in Oz. The light we have is one of the things I have always missed overseas.

Hi Jenners,
You had to wait until the next day! And the officer responsible would have copped a bollocking from the ship,s master.
According to Wikipedia whey were raised half way about 5 minutes earlier to alert the ships, then with 2–3 minutes to go they were raised the whole way. There would have been junior officers who's job it would have been to "watch the clock".

Sprollie Mad said...

Wow thanks for that bit of information on the Timeball Al - really interesting (I love little facts and learning about obscure things that people don't generally know).

And your photos are great.

Lisa said...

That tower is cool; I've never heard of a Timeball before. So many things to learn in the world!

C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Awwww... Al-- smile! I had to come back. I couldn't resist your pictures for long!

Al said...

Hi Jax,
Hey it was just another chance to show off :)
Thanks for the compliment.

Hi Lisa,
It is cool. A whole wide world of stuff!

Hi Christy,
Welcome back! Great to see you!
Hope all is well.