Historical information

Stick mercury barometer, named after Admiral Robert Fitzroy of the Royal Navy (1805 - 1865) for his detailed instructions on interpreting the weather that are included with the instrument. Fitzroy was the captain of the Beagle, a weather forecaster to Charles Darwin and the second Governor of New Zealand. He developed many different types of barometers and was the first person to introduce the science of weather forecasting to the British Isles.

A local manufacturer of scientific instruments, Thomas Gaunt, produced the barometer and it was adapted for the southern hemisphere by Robert Ellery, the State Astronomer based at the Melbourne Observatory. Described as "Gaunt's Fitzroy Barometers" in the original sale catalogue, it was priced from 25/- to ₤9.9s. [See Miller, M., Gaunt’s Time, 2014].

Thomas Gaunt's business was originally located at 14 Bourke Street East from 1858. In 1869-1870 he moved to new premises in the Royal Arcade, Collins Street. Gaunt's business became an institution in Victorian Melbourne and Gaunt its leading clock maker.

According to official minutes the barometer was purchased by the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1874. In particular, at the March meeting of the General Committee the House Subcommittee was instructed to "obtain a Fitzroy or other reliable barometer" to be "fixed in the Reading Room". The 1874 Annual Report records the purchase at ₤3.10.0.


The barometer is historically significant as an example of the work of Melbourne’s leading scientific instrument maker, Thomas Gaunt. The barometer has social significance as an example of the type of accoutrements provided by the committee of the Melbourne Athenaeum for the comfort of its members. Further social significance lies in the fact that Robert Ellery, the Government Astronomer, who designed the local version of the barometer, has a direct connection with the Athenaeum being a subscription member and committee member of the Athenaeum during the 1870s. There are also records of a T Gaunt as a subscription member of the Athenaeum during the 1870s and 1880s which may be Thomas Gaunt, however, this is yet to be verified.

Physical description

Stick mercury barometer known as the Admiral Fitzroy Barometer. It comprises an oblong wooden case with glass front panel, ornate pediment, barometer with bulb cistern (empty of fluid),printed instructions for interpreting information given by the gauge affixed to left and right face of instrument. Includes a thermometer. The barometer appears to be intact except for the turning knobs which are missing and the mercury in the tube which is not present. Whether the instrument could be restored to working order is unknown.

Inscriptions & markings

Front right panel, metal plaque: "Thos Gaunt, Barometer Maker, Royal Arcade, Melbourne"