Pennant Hills Observatory

In 1887 at the Congress of International Astronomers in Paris a decision was made to draw a map of all the stars and Sydney Observatory was given a critical role in mapping the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. The Chief Astronomer at Sydney (H C Russell) ordered especially equipment from Dublin to undertake this work. The equipment arrived in1890 and it then took another 8 years to transport it to Red Hill (also known as Pennant Hills).


Crown land, now Observatory Park, was set aside in 1886 on the junction of what is now Beecroft and Pennant Hills Roads for the purposes of an observatory ie prior to the Paris Convention of 1887.  On this land was built a small circular structure on a concrete base that formed the observatory with a small timber cottage nearby to house the observer, James Short, and his family. 

Short proceeded to undertake his work without interruption until 1917. There was a Public Service Board inquiry into the Red Hill Observatory at that time which criticised the equipment, the location and the difficulty found in working with Short. The Government Astronomer W E Cooke was highly critical of Short. This debate continued until 1926 when Cooke resigned and Short continued his work until his retirement in 1930. The star mapping work of Short was published over time but the last and major work not published until the 1960s (Great Astrographic Catalague of the Heavens from 52 degrees to 63 degrees South) by which time it was one of the last publications to fulfil the ambition of the Paris Congress of 1887.

The observatory was dismantled in 1930 and Short retired to a home in Bellamy Street Pennant Hills until his death in 1943.

Short took occasional interest in local affairs. He gave lectures in the School of Arts in 1905 and 1919. In 1910 he had a letter published in the local paper on a comet. In 1909 he hosted, what was one of a regular number, of night time tours of pupils from Beecroft Public School.

Pennant hills observatory 2
pennant hills observatory