Historical Records of Australian Science Historical Records of Australian Science Society
The history of science, pure and applied, in Australia and the southwest Pacific

Just Accepted

This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.

The Proctor–Parkes incident: Politics, protestants and popular astronomy in Australia in 1880

Martin Bush


In September 1880, New South Wales Colonial Secretary Henry Parkes intervened to stop the famous British popularizer Richard Proctor from delivering a lecture in Sydney on a Sunday. This was a win by the resurgent Sabbatarian movement and a long-remembered controversy in Australian public life. Despite its notoriety at the time and in the decades immediately following, the Proctor–Parkes incident has received little scholarly attention. This paper details the Australian tour of Richard Proctor and the intervention by Henry Parkes. An analysis of the techniques used by Proctor in his lecturing identifies a number of long-standing cultural associations that he and other astronomical popularizers drew upon. In particular, the connection between astronomy and religion was important to both sides of the Proctor–Parkes incident. Richard Proctor’s lecturing included many religious implications that provoked conservative protestants. Other popularizers, like ‘Professor’ Pepper, also used astronomy as a subject for Sunday lectures, although with a lower profile he received less attention from the Sabbatarian movement. It is an interesting question as to how and why astronomy continued to be associated so closely with religion. I use the term cultural schemata to denote the long-standing cultural associations that are able to infuse the knowledge practices of specialist researchers with the lived experiences of non-specialist publics. This framework helps to explain the action of popularization in culture, and why astronomy was so significant in the debate over Sunday lecturing.

HR17001  Accepted 17 March 2017

© Australian Academy of Science 2017