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Hunt, Henry Ambrose (1866–1946)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Henry Ambrose Hunt (1866-1946), meteorologist, was born on 7 February 1866 in London, son of Edwin Jackson Hunt, marine engineer, and his wife Annie, née Padley. After three years with his family in St Petersburg, where his father managed the Baltic Ironworks and designed engines for battleships, he returned to England and was educated at Dartford Grammar School, Kent, where he won a scholarship in mathematics.

Accompanying his father to Sydney in March 1884, he came under the influence of H. C. Russell, the government astronomer, and became a temporary clerk at the observatory. Rejected for the Sudan Contingent in 1885, he was appointed meteorological assistant in January 1886 at a salary of £145; in his spare time he trained as a mechanical draughtsman and studied applied mechanics. In 1890 he was promoted second meteorological assistant responsible for preparing the daily weather map and began valuable work for Russell's notable paper on the movement of anti-cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1894 he won the Ralph Abercromby prize for An Essay on Southerly Bursters (Sydney, 1894) and next year again attracted favourable attention with Types of Australian Weather (Sydney, 1895), a study of twenty different weather types undertaken at Abercromby's request. In January 1904 he was appointed acting meteorologist.

In November 1906 Hunt, a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, London, was appointed first Commonwealth meteorologist and head of the new Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau in Melbourne. He took up his position on 1 January 1907 and on 20-23 May presided over a conference in Melbourne designed to secure uniformity in meteorological methods throughout Australia. In 1910 he reported favourably on the climatic suitability of the Yass-Canberra site for the seat of government. Initially Hunt was mainly concerned with synoptic meteorology but upper air explorations were begun in 1913 when with Griffith Taylor and E. T. Quayle he published The Climate and Weather of Australia (Melbourne, 1913), the first Australian textbook on the subject. In September 1919 Hunt attended a conference of representatives of the meteorological services of the British Dominions in London. In his annual report for 1921-22 he detailed 'the direct monetary value derived from the activities of the Weather Bureau' and stressed the urgent need for more money and better facilities. In 1926 he contributed the article on meteorology and climate to the Australian Encyclopaedia.

In October 1929 Hunt published 'A basis for seasonal forecasting in Australia'; his proposed four-year weather cycle was novel in that it considered the non-meteorological element—vegetation—in a relationship with temperature and rainfall. The 'heat pool' theory, Hunt's suggested mechanism for his cycle, postulated that droughts in central Australia induced the moisture-laden monsoons to swing further south and when the natural vegetation returned, the monsoon retreated setting the stage for another period of drought. Hunt retired in February 1931. His greatest achievement was to found and with limited money build up Australia's best-known scientific service to the stage where it could meet the increased demands of civil and military aviation and move into the new age of frontal analysis.

Somewhat reserved and mild-mannered, Hunt had few social recreations apart from chess. An expert handyman, he spent much of his spare time on carpentry and metal-work; he invented a 'rotating rain clock' and several mechanical devices including a pressure-cube anemometer which recorded simultaneously, at the bureau, wind pressure, velocity and direction.

Hunt died of myocarditis at his Elwood home on 7 February 1946 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. He had married on 11 December 1899 at St Paul's Church of England, Redfern, Sydney, Wilhelmina Eve Linden, who predeceased him. Two of their three daughters survived him.

A cartoon of Hunt by Will Dyson appeared in Table Talk, 27 May 1926.

Select Bibliography

  • T. G. Taylor, Australian Meteorology (Oxford, 1920)
  • Queensland Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 55 (1929), no 232
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1907-08, 2, p 879, 1203
  • Punch (Melbourne), 3 Aug 1911
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 May, 2 June 1916, 17 Sept, 3 Oct 1919, 16 Jan 1920, 19 Apr 1929
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 Oct 1923
  • Sun (Melbourne), 6 Feb 1931
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Jan, 6 Feb 1931, 8 Feb 1946.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Hunt, Henry Ambrose (1866–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunt-henry-ambrose-6767/text11701, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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