Baracchi, Pietro Paolo Giovanni Ernesto 1851 - 1926

(1851–1926), Astronomer

Pietro Paolo Giovanni Ernesto Baracchi was born on 25 February 1851 in Florence, Italy. He was educated by private tutor and later at a school in Florence where he studied mathematics and astronomy. After taking a degree in civil engineering, he served briefly in the Italian Army as an engineer.

Early in 1876 Baracchi and his friends Carlo Catani and Ettore Checchi sailed from Hamburg in the Fritz Reuter for Australia, reaching Melbourne in September. Baracchi began work as an assistant at the Melbourne Observatory on 1 November but by March 1877 had joined Catani and Checchi in the Department of Lands and Survey as a draftsman; In October 1882 he was transferred back to the observatory when R. L. J. Ellery, the government astronomer, selected him to go to Port Darwin to take part in a project to determine Australian longitudes. In August, 1883 he became the third assistant, in charge of the Great Melbourne Telescope. In 1892 Baracchi was promoted to first assistant and when Ellery retired on 30 June 1895 he became acting government astronomer.

Baracchi was best known to the general public as official weather-forecaster for the colony. However to him, 'popular meteorology' was 'of little practical value except as an amusement, and of doubtful credit to science'. In 1902 he supported the opinion that meteorological work carried out by astronomical observatories should be placed under Commonwealth control. In 1906 the Meteorology Act gave control of weather services to the Commonwealth and by the end of 1907 the Melbourne Observatory was freed of its meteorological function—and never regained its former status.

In February 1910 the Commonwealth government invited Baracchi and a party of four to select a suitable site for an astronomical observatory. With a 9-inch (23 cm) refractor, Baracchi established a small observatory on Mount Stromlo in May 1911. He led expeditions to observe solar eclipses to Bruny Island, Tasmania, in 1910 and to the Tongan archipelago in 1911. In 1914 he wrote a chapter, 'Astronomy and geodesy in Australia' for the Federal Handbook of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1884, and in 1897 the Italian monarch appointed him a commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy. A member of the Royal Society of Victoria from 1887, he was president in 1908-09 and a trustee in 1914-22. He retired in 1915 and died on 23 July 1926.