Historical information

The Ferranti Sirius is an electronic second-generation transistor computer and is one of three remaining examples of this machine left in the world. It was an important addition to the computing facilities at Monash University in the early 1960s and provided access for computer programming and research for many early computer professionals, academics and teachers. The Ferranti Sirius computer was built in a period of rapid growth in computing technology. The first stored program computers appeared in the late 1940s and used individual designs with valve technology. By the mid-1950s valve technology was replaced by transistors and the first mass produced commercial computers became available. The Ferranti Sirius was announced in 1959 and offered a “small” academic computer. It was designed and built by the English company Ferranti Ltd and sold through a local office of the company in Melbourne. The Sirius was manufactured at the Ferranti Ltd.’s West Gorton, England factory from 1959 to 1963 and, in all, the company produced probably 22 installations although only 16 were actually recorded as sold; this included one at Ferranti’s Bureau in London and one at Ferranti’s Melbourne Bureau. Only 7 were exported and 4 of these 7 were located in Melbourne, Australia. All four were associated with computing at Monash University – the Sirius in the MMoCH collection was purchased by Monash University in 1962, a smaller Ferranti Sirius was used on the Caulfield campus (prior to amalgamation with Monash University) from 1963, the Ferranti company had its own Ferranti Sirius initially temporarily installed at Clayton campus in 1962 and then placed in their office in Queens Road, Melbourne. A fourth computer was purchased by ICIANZ (now Orica) in 1962 and was transferred to Clayton campus in 1967. Only two of these Melbourne examples have survived; one in the MMoCH collection and one at Museums Victoria. There is an example of the Ferranti Sirius in the Science Museum Group collection in the UK as well. The Ferranti Sirius in the MMoCH collection was the first computer purchased by Monash University and it was shipped to Australia to be installed by November 1962. The University had a similar model computer on loan from Ferranti Ltd during the first part of the year and it was returned to the office of the company in Queens Road, Melbourne once the University’s own machine was installed. The computer was placed on site at Clayton campus, Monash University. The computer operated from 1962 until 1972 when it was officially decommissioned. The Ferranti Sirius was sold to Mr Paul Stewart in late 1974 and removed from Monash University. Mr Stewart later donated the computer back to the University in 1988 and it was transferred to the collection of the Monash Museum of Computing History after 2001.

Significance

The Ferranti Sirius is an electronic second-generation transistor computer and is one of three remaining examples of this machine left in the world. It was an important addition to the computing facilities at Monash University in the early 1960s and provided access for computer programming and research for many early computer professionals, academics and teachers. The Ferranti Sirius is of scientific (technological) significance as one of the early transistor digital computers that transitioned computing from first-generation valve computers to second generation commercial installations. This example of the Sirius is of historical significance in its role as a part of the Computer Centre, Clayton campus, Monash University which provided computing facilities in Melbourne in the early 1960s when there were few installations available for academic, administrative and commercial users. Staff and students were able to undertake investigative research and learn programming techniques. The Computer Centre encouraged the use of the computer across all disciplines and this provided the base to establish computer science as a subject offering and, later, a new department in the University. This growth in computer education eventually culminated in the establishment of the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University.

Physical description

The Ferranti Sirius in the collection at Monash Museum of Computing History has a main unit with a CPU and memory combined with input/output equipment and one extra cabinet of memory. The Central Processing Unit is a floor-standing unit which contains the computer circuits, power supplies and has a decimal digit display panel and a normal clock. A moveable control panel is placed in front of the Unit (Currently set on a recreated desk/filing cabinet support in the display). The Sirius base unit uses acoustic delay line memory with 1000 word store. An additional 3000 word memory cabinet is set adjacent to the CPU and can be connected to increase the memory. The computer is supported by a range of input/output devices. There is a Ferranti Paper tape reader, located on desk in front of CPU. Red label on front “Ferranti tape reader. Type TR 5. Serial No. 477”. Adjacent to the CPU is a set of Simplified tape editing equipment in three pieces which includes a (1) Table unit with switches on front face. Metal tag on reverse reads “Creed & Co. Model No. S4060. Serial No. 1457. Original Customers Marking GRP7 V706”. The table has a numbered internal tag “Table Serial No. 198579. (2)Creed teletype set on table unit. Metal tag on reverse “Creed & Co. Model No. 75RPR K4M4. Serial No. 5897 Made in England”. (3)Creed paper tape reader set on table unit. This set of equipment could read paper tape and print it, or copy paper tape while allowing it to be edited, or allow a programmer or data preparation person to type and punch a new program or data. It has no electrical connection to the computer. Paper tapes were usually torn off and carried across to the computer. There is also another table unit with switches on front face and changeable setting switch on front right side which holds a Ferranti Westrex paper tape punch set. Label on reverse “Teletype Code BRPE11” This was the Computer’s only output device. BRPE-11 is a teletype model number.