Historical Weather Data Sets: A Plan for Action

‘Journal of the Weather’ 1846-1847, 1848.

Historical Weather Data Sets: A Plan for Action


For several years, a small team of climatologists and historians have been working together to process and analysis Historical Weather Data (HWD) sets in eastern Australia. This project was developed out of the Auchmuty Library Cultural Collections at the University of Newcastle, and the Heritage Centre at the University of New England. The data period of interest is the 1800s and early 1900s. The Historical Weather Data were recorded daily by rural property owners (graziers, farmers, vignerons etc.) as part of everyday life, and because of interest in the weather. These data records are not included of the Bureau of Meteorology records.

Five of these Historical Weather Data records have been donated to the University of Newcastle. The records are handwritten, and include a range of weather parameters, such as maximum and minimum temperature, rainfall, wind, cloud cover and comments on weather conditions. An example is shown in the figure below. A key factor is that these are daily records, providing much more detail than monthly or annual averages.

Handwritten weather data from Eversleigh, outside of Armidale (Photo Credit: William Oates)

The data books have been scanned and are available for viewing on the Hunter Living Histories web site (https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2018/01/10/hv-climate-data/. Volunteers have entered the data onto spreadsheets. This has allowed analysis of weather conditions during the years of measurement. We have published two journal papers and presented several conference papers from one of the data sets, Eversleigh outside of Armidale on the New England Plateau.

These data sets include:

Eversleigh, outside of Armidale on the New England Plateau, 1877 to 1922

Maryland, on the border between NSW and Queensland, 1868 – 1897

Boydell Vineyard in East Gresford, NSW, 1843-1848 – in process see: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2018/01/10/hv-climate-data/

Wollong, near Cessnock NSW, 1891-1907 – in process see: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2018/01/10/hv-climate-data/

Lochinvar, near Cessnock NSW, 1864-1870 – in process see: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2018/01/10/hv-climate-data/


The Action Plan

Aside from further analysis and possible publications from the existing Historical Weather Data, we intend to expand the project to include other available data. There are several potential benefits.

1. There is a major increase in interest in Historical Weather Data across Australia, linked to the understanding of recent human impacts on climate change. We intend to use the current data to build a core of information that eventually will be available for scientific research and analysis. The approach will be similar to that taken by a research team for South Australia and Western Australia records (https://climatehistory.com.au).

2. Combined with already existing Bureau data and publications, these Historical Weather Data Sets will provide a more complete understanding of past rural weather and climate. A more extensive analysis of periods a severe flood and drought (such as the Federation Drought between 1896 and 1902) becomes possible.

3. More complete studies of weather impacts in a range of locations can then be obtained from dairies, newspaper articles and government reports.

4. If there are enough data sets, evaluation of geographical variations of weather extremes are possible. For example, our five Historical Weather data sets are all located on approximately the same longitude. With the addition of available Bureau historical rainfall and temperature, an evaluation of drought and flood periods across NSW from north to south, for example, might be possible.


What Do We Need?

We are asking for access to rural Historical Weather Data sets from the 1800s and early 1900s that may exist in storage on rural properties, or in regional and local history museums. As a minimum, these records should include daily rainfall and temperature (most often recorded at 0900) and ideally extend over several years. These records would be most likely available for properties owned by several generations of one family

The records would first be scanned into computer folders at the University of Newcastle. The owners of the original data books may then choose to donate the records to the University of Newcastle, or they can be returned to the owners. The scanned data would then be transferred into spreadsheets to allow further assessment, becoming available for research analysis from a web location similar to Hunter Living Histories. The data will become part of an overall permanent record of historical weather for Australia, and could also be used in international comparisons.  For example, the Eversleigh data set is now included in an international computer model of past climate: https://psl.noaa.gov/data/20thC_Rean/

Persons or families that have Historical Weather Data available should contact Howard Bridgman, Project Coordinator, at howard.bridgman@newcastle.edu.au.  Please provide return contact details and a telephone number, plus a brief description of the records, including coverage years.




Conjoint Associate Professor Howard Bridgman
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
University of Newcastle, NSW 2308

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