Daily Archives: March 3, 2011

Weather and prophecy

After a long drought in the last months of 1821 and the beginning of 1822, the Sydney Gazette was able to report on 15 February 1822 that, ‘Rain has come at last.’ (See the entry ‘Droughts and flooding rains’ of 1/3/2011.)

A week later the newspaper reported:

The long-looked for and much desired weather, which is showery and also pleasant, still continues. Prophets (those of the calculating and predicting cast} are not to be found in every generation, and were never eminently notorious for numerical strength, yet it would seem that Australia may boast of some such antiquated mortal, by occasionally prying into the arcana of the Colonial Kalendar.

The somewhat cryptic reference to prophecy appears to be a qualified commendation of weather information found in the almanac which had been published annually in Sydney for quite a few years.

George Howe (1769-1821), publisher and printer of the Sydney Gazette, had produced the New South Wales Pocket Almanack and Colonial Remembrancer for the year 1806, the first almanac published in Australia. This effort was not repeated for 1807 because of lack of paper, but he reinvigorated the concept in 1808 under the title New South Wales Pocket Almanack, a publication which continued to appear annually for fourteen years, until the year of Howe’s death, 1821. His son Robert Howe (1795-1829), who had grown up with the Sydney Gazette, took over the newspaper and the almanac, and issued the Australasian Pocket Almanack for five years from 1822 to 1826, and the Australasian Almanack for 1827.

These almanacs contained a wide range of materials for reference, including weather information and other advice useful for farmers and gardeners. On the question of prophecy, an article on ‘Australasian Almanacks’ in volume 4 of The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, published in London, observed that the Australasian Pocket Almanacks of 1822 and 1823, in contrast with English almanacks, have ‘no prophetic warnings about war or weather; but in each month “the usual state of the weather” is given, which to us, appears a much more rational method’ (pp. 406-408, at p. 406).

It was perhaps at least partly on the basis of information in the almanacs of George and Robert Howe that the Sydney Gazette was able to counsel patience among its readers when the weather was difficult for protracted periods.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 15/2/1822, p. 2; ibid. 22 February 1822, p. 2. The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 49 vols., London, J. Limbird and others, 1822-1849 (there is a list with links to Google reproductions on the University of Pennsylvania website); vol. 4 was published in 1824. J.V. Byrnes, ‘Howe, George (1769-1821)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 557-559, and online (includes a section on the life of George’s son Robert Howe, who was born in 1795 and drowned in 1829).