Wragge, Clement Lindley (1852–1922)

by Paul D. Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Clement Wragge, by Harold Nicholas, c.1901

Clement Wragge, by Harold Nicholas, c.1901

State Library of Queensland, 161210

Clement Lindley Wragge (1852-1922), meteorologist, was born on 18 September 1852 at Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England, only child of Clement Ingleby Wragge, solicitor, and his wife Anna Maria, née Downing. Orphaned in early childhood, Clement was educated at Uttoxeter Grammar School, Staffordshire, and articled to a London solicitor. He went to sea, visited Sydney and in 1876 joined the South Australian surveyor-general's department. Wragge studied meteorology and in 1878 returned to Britain where he established weather observation stations, including one on Ben Nevis, Scotland, for which he received the gold medal of the Scottish Meteorological Society. Back in South Australia he set up similar stations at Walkerville and Mount Lofty in 1884, and founded the Meteorological Society of Australasia in 1886.

After reporting on Queensland's weather service, in January 1887 he was appointed meteorological observer in that colony's post and telegraph department. Wragge expanded the observation network, issued forecasts, pioneered research into tropical revolving storms in the south-west Pacific, lectured extensively and built an observatory at his Taringa home. He attended the world meteorology conference at Munich, Germany, in 1891 and was impressed by Brückner's ideas of planetary effects on climate; he also adopted current theory on the effects of sunspots on the weather and experimented with explosives to bring rain. When the Noumea-Queensland cable was completed in 1893, he brought New Caledonia into his network. By 1898 he had established weather stations in Tasmania (Mount Wellington and Hobart) and in New South Wales (Mount Kosciusko and Merimbula). He became involved in disputes with the New South Wales government over the cost of his projects, antagonized his colonial counterparts by issuing forecasts from the 'Chief Weather Bureau, Brisbane', and quarrelled with the premier (Sir) Robert Philp. Wragge resigned and his bureau closed in June 1903.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical and Royal Meteorological societies, Wragge published an Australian Weather Guide and Almanac (1898), a short-lived serial called Wragge: A Meteorological, Geographical and Popular Scientific Gazette of the Southern Hemisphere (1902), and Romance of the South Seas (1906). He was a fitness enthusiast and co-founder of the Brisbane Canoe Club; he turned to theosophy early and took up yoga and the occult in later life; he loved animals and was an ardent conservationist. His collection of ethnography, geology and natural history was donated to the city of Stafford, England.

Tall and thin, Wragge had an iron constitution and a 'mop of flaming red hair and explosive temper to match': his staff and opponents well knew that he posssessed the 'adjectival luxuriance of a bullocky'. In the professional field he was his own worst enemy, but he did encourage followers like Inigo Jones. Credited with originating the use of classical, biblical and personal names for weather systems, he was nicknamed 'Inclement Wragge' for his rainfall forecasts.

Having advocated the creation of a national weather bureau, he was bitterly disappointed in 1907 when H. A. Hunt became head of the Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau. Wragge went to Auckland, New Zealand, where he built an observatory. He revisited Queensland in 1913, but failed to win support for his proposed tropical cyclone research centre. Suffering a stroke, he died at his Birkenhead home, New Zealand, on 10 December 1922 and was buried nearby in the cemetery of the Church of Our Father. His wife and son survived him. Wragge exercised a significant influence on the foundations of Australian meteorology, even if his tempestuous career followed the growth, turbulence and eventual decay characteristic of the Coral Sea tropical revolving storms which so fascinated him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. Gibbs, The Origins of Australian Meteorology (Canb, 1975)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1887, p 1958, 1892, p 624
  • Queensland Geographical Journal, 54, 1949-52, p 43
  • Canberra Historical Journal, no 20, Sept 1987
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 1 July 1903
  • Wragge clippings (Royal Historical Society of Queensland Library, Brisbane).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Paul D. Wilson, 'Wragge, Clement Lindley (1852–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wragge-clement-lindley-9193/text16237, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 1 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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