Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Mason Baldwin (1878–1945)

by Philipp Simon

This article was published:

Joseph Mason Baldwin (1878-1945), astronomer, was born on 9 September 1878 at Carlton, Victoria, third son of Joseph Baldwin (d.1887) and his wife Emma Maria, née Graham. His father, Yorkshire-born, had migrated to Victoria in 1870 and in 1885 became senior inspector of schools. His maternal grandfather Andrew Graham (1815-1908) was a distinguished British astronomer who took great interest in his grandson's development and training.

Baldwin was educated at South Melbourne College and University High School, matriculating in 1897, and for six months worked at the Melbourne Observatory where the director P. Baracchi became his tutor. He was then a scholar for four years at Queen's College, University of Melbourne, and a fellow for another year. Specializing in physics and mathematics, he graduated B.A. (1900), B.Sc. (1901), M.A. (1902) and D.Sc. (1913). He tutored at Trinity College and taught at Wesley College. After a period of lecturing at the Ballarat School of Mines he returned to the university where he conducted research for eighteen months with Professor (Sir) Thomas Lyle. In 1906 he was awarded an 1851 Exhibition scholarship which enabled him to continue his research in astrophysics abroad. He spent six months at the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope and then visited the Potsdam, Paris, and English and American observatories. At Cambridge, England, on 8 March 1907 he married Jessie Redmond of St Kilda, Victoria.

While overseas Baldwin accepted Baracchi's invitation to become his chief assistant from June 1908; he took up duties on his return to Melbourne in November. After Baracchi's retirement in 1915 Baldwin became acting director, and in 1920 government astronomer. The observatory's main activity at the time was observation of the Melbourne zone for the International Astrographic Catalogue; its reduction was achieved under Baldwin's direction. The first three volumes were presented between 1926 and 1929 but, although Baldwin had prepared the remaining material for printing, subsequent volumes were published posthumously. His other activities included establishment of the Geophysical Observatory at Toolangi in 1919, study of the earth's magnetic elements, and work for recording exact time for the time-signal service; variable star-work was also undertaken, the results of which were published in America. He led a party to Goondiwindi, Queensland, for the observation of the total solar eclipse in 1922. In 1943 the Victorian government decided to close the observatory. Baldwin continued briefly as officer-in-charge of the time service for the Commonwealth Solar Observatory, Mount Stromlo, before retiring in March 1944.

Baldwin was a council-member of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1920-45 and president in 1925-26, publishing several papers in the society's Proceedings. In 1930-31 he was president of Section A, Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science; he was a fellow of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Astronomical Society, London, publishing in the latter's monthly notices. He kept up his connexion with the university as a non-teaching member of the faculty of science from 1916, as a member of the standing committee of convocation from its establishment in 1923, and as president of the University Association in 1930-31.

Baldwin was remembered as large, loosely built, kindly and courteously soft-spoken, a competent worker, deeply immersed in his studies and always helpful to his staff, but perhaps not sufficiently tough and practically versed in the art of dealing with politicians. His first wife had died in 1935; on 6 January 1938 in Sydney he married Florette Jessie Bostock. He died of pneumonia on 6 July 1945 while on holiday at Southport, Queensland, survived by his second wife and by two sons and a daughter of the first marriage. He was cremated at Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Observatory, Astrographic Catalogue, 1926-63
  • Australian Journal of Science, Dec 1945
  • Royal Society of Victoria, Proceedings, 58 (1946)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 26 June 1913, 19 May 1921
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Philipp Simon, 'Baldwin, Joseph Mason (1878–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 September, 1878
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


6 July, 1945 (aged 66)
Southport, Queensland, Australia

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