Thursday, 6 December 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 15: Clement Wragge - weatherman extraordinaire

Among many much grander volumes there exists in the Rare Book Collection a small book of unremarkable title and appearance. Nonetheless publishers Sapsford and Co  proudly announced  the first issue of Wragge’s Australasian Weather Guide and Almanac, produced “regardless of pains [and] careless of expense.”

In fact, the book’s homely appearance belies the remarkable life and eccentric character of its compiler, Clement Wragge.  English-born, he abandoned a legal career at home and, arriving in Australia, began studying meteorology. He had already built some of Australia’s first weather stations when, in 1887, he became Queensland’s chief weather forecaster, constructing a weather observatory on Wickham Terrace.

Author Hector Holthouse claimed that Wragge’s nickname of “Inclement Wragge” arose from the torrential rain which fell on Brisbane shortly after his arrival. Others suggest it referred to his tempestuous nature. Wragge pioneered tropical cyclone research, unsuccessfully urging the need for a specialised research centre, and was the first to bestow exotic feminine names on cyclones. Less diplomatic was his practice of naming southerly storms after politicians he disliked! The failure of his drought-breaking attempts damaged Wragge’s reputation but two of the vortex guns used in his experiment remain on display in Charleville.

The 1898 Almanac, intended as an annual publication, contains a wealth of knowledge extending beyond the meteorological. Details of tides and ocean currents jostle with articles on agriculture, industry and mining, postal information, bushcraft  and medical advice.  One article is devoted to the luxuriant garden Wragge created at his Taringa home.  This handy compendium must have found a valued place in both city and bush and his publishers were right to be proud of it. Wragge resigned his government position in 1902 although the almanac continued for a while without him. We should feel privileged to hold a copy of the very first issue of this deceptively ordinary book, compiled by such an extraordinary character.

Last July ABC-TV’s weather woman, Jenny Woodward, introduced a feature on Clement Wragge on 7.30 Queensland.  Go to State Library of Qld's blog to read more about the man.

Story by Miniata

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