October, 2022

202206Oct6:00 PM7:30 PMEnvironmental Exchanges Seminar: Katrin Kleeman6:00 PM - 7:30 PM AEDT Organizer: ANU Centre for Environmental History Region:OnlineTopic:Environment,History,TechnologyCost:No CostConfidence:High


A seminar exploring the development of oceanic science, knowledge, and institutions in Germany and Australia

About this event

Ocean History between Germany and Australia: Georg Neumayer, the Flagstaff Observatory in Melbourne and the German Maritime Observatory in Hamburg

Join us for this seminar presentation by Dr Katrin Kleeman (German Maritime Museum – Leibniz Institute for Maritime History). Dr Kleeman’s presentation, ‘Ocean History between Germany and Australia’, is part of Environmental Exchanges, a seminar series organised by the ANU Centre for Environmental History to showcase innovative new research that engages with key themes in global environmental history. Throughout 2022, the Centre will be hosting seminars that engage with this year’s theme of Oceans in original and compelling ways.


This seminar will take place online via Zoom at 6pm AEDT (9am CEST) on Thursday 6 October.



The Flagstaff Observatory for Geophysics, Magnetism and Nautical Science existed on Flagstaff Hill, in what is today Flagstaff Gardens, in Melbourne from 1857 to 1863. In 1862, it was moved to the Kings Domain and became part of the newly established Melbourne Observatory. The German Maritime Observatory existed from 1875 to 1945. Its purpose was to study maritime meteorology and oceanography in order to make international sea travel quicker and safer. So what do these two observatories have in common? The answer is that both were founded by the same man, the German geophysicist and polar researcher Georg (von) Neumayer.


After his university studies in Munich in geophysics and hydrography, Neumayer sought to gain practical experience as a seafarer, which brought him to Australia in the early 1850s. Upon his arrival, he was stranded in Victoria as most of the crew deserted upon learning of the recent discovery of gold. Thereafter, Neumayer studied magnetism, meteorology, and nautical science in Victoria. On a trip back to Europe, he raised the seed capital for the Flagstaff Observatory, which became operational in 1858. With help from a small team of assistants, he regularly recorded the data gleaned from his instruments and copied and analyzed incoming ships’ log books to recommend better routes between Australia and Europe.


In 1864, Neumayer returned to Europe with the idea of establishing a similar institution at home. The political landscape, however, proved too great a hurdle for this idea as Prussia was at war with Denmark, Austria, and France. This changed when the German Empire was founded in 1871. In 1875, the state-funded German Maritime Observatory became operational. It existed until 1945, when it was destroyed in an air raid. The observatory operated weather stations at home and abroad, mainly in the German colonies, including the South Pacific, and supplemented its findings with observations from navy and marine merchant ships.


This paper will compare these two observatories and analyze what knowledge existed about the ocean, navigation, and maritime meteorology.


About the Speaker:

Dr Katrin Kleeman is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the German Maritime Museum – Leibniz Institute for Maritime History, Bremerhaven, Germany. She is an historian working on environmental history, maritime history, the history of science, and geology, mostly concentrating on the early modern and modern periods. Her first book, A Mist Connection. An Environmental History of the Laki Eruption of 1783 and Its Legacy, will appear with De Gruyter’s Historical Catastrophe Studies series in November 2022.


Thursday, October 6 - 6:00pm 2022 - Thursday, October 6 - 7:30pm 2022


ANU Centre for Environmental History

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