I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Telling the Time

One of the best bluestone sites at Williamstown is the Lighthouse and Timeball Tower. Like many bluestone buildings it's been remodelled a number of times. A lighthouse was first erected in 1840, made of timber on a bluestonebase, and then rebuilt as a bluestone tower in 1948. This picture is from 1853.

But in 1853 a timeball was added: a large copper sphere that would drop at 1.00 pm. I think the time was calculated locally, but it would be interesting to know at what point it was linked to Greenwich mean time, as part of a global navigational network.

As this place was the first permanent settlement is Victoria all survey are measure from the tide gauge at Gellibrand's Point. In 1853, a Mr R. L. J. Ellery, the first Government Astronomer, commenced determining accurate local mean time, and established a time ball so that shipmasters to correct their chronometers "at the fall of the ball" at exactly one o'clock each day.

The timeball operated until 1926, and by 1934, when a 30 foot brick extension, painted with alumium paint, was added. What a monstrosity!  What a strange attempt to double the height, keep the rectangular windows, change the right angles to curves, to modernise from bluestone to brick, and presumably to mimic the lighthouse function without a light, with the alumnium paint. Also looks as if they have built crenellations at the top to mimic the original crenellated balcony.

The brick addition was removed between 1987 and 1989, and a replica timeball was added, which apparently now drops at 1.00, run by a computer mechanism. I will have to time my next visit more carefully.

The tower is really quite imposing. When we were asking directions, we were told, "you can't miss it" and indeed it is very striking. Its slightly tapered shape is unusual, I think. I was very struck by the 1855 stone inset at the base, which demonstrates why bluestone isn't often used for figurative or detailed scupting: it's already chipping away. 

The temporal ironies abound here. The timeball that drops at scientifically produced time each day, while the building rises and falls around it, so subject to fashions and styles in building, time-keeping and heritage construction. 

Can I just say, by the way, how much I am loving this project!!


winkieg said...

Nice zoomable image of a "whitewashed" tower here: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemLarge.aspx?itemID=63731

winkieg said...

The old mortuary at Williamstown is worth a look at too.

Stephanie Trigg said...

That's a great image, Geoff. Making me wonder how many "blue" bluestone sites would have been perceived as white. Thanks so much for this.

And yes, the morgue. I visited last month, but will try and get back and do a tour...