Very Local History: Make it Rain

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Very Local History: Make it Rain

To select the subject of this Very Local History show, we threw a dart at a map and it landed in the mystical city of Charleville in Queensland, Australia.

The life of eccentric meteorologist Clement Lindley Wragge led him around the world. But it’s in Australia where he attempted an experimental method to make it rain during a severe drought where he gains his fame.

Show Summary

Intro

  • We threw darts at a map and picked the best location

Locations We Passed On

  • The North Pacific Ocean: It was a miss!
  • Reindeer Station, Northwest Territories, Canada: The story of Arctic Moses and his 5-year reindeer charge was a solid runner up
  • The North Sea: A lot to pick from, going back to 800 A.D. Viking activity to present day oil production
  • In Amenas, Algeria: There was a hostage crisis in 2013, but would be too dark for a whole episode
  • Xishuangbanna, China: An enclave of biodiversity in southern China

Charleville, Australia

  • Originally Kunja tribal land, European colonization begins in 1847
  • They get a hotel in 1865, a courthouse in 1875, and a hospital in 1885
  • Then, in 1902, they get a mad scientist with a weather machine

The Early Life of Clement Lindley Wragge

  • Born in 1852 in Stourbridge, Worcestershire in England
  • Both of his parents die when he is very young
  • He is raised by his naturalist grandmother, until she dies in 1865
  • His uncles move him in with his Aunt Fanny and encourage him to continue in his father’s footsteps and study law
  • At 21 he goes on a gap year which will become semi-permanent
  • He travels to Egypt and the Levant
  • Instead of returning as planned he travels to Salt Lake City
  • He goes to America by way of India then Australia
  • Wragge is interested in spiritualism and Theosophy
  • In Salt Lake City he meets Brigham Young
  • He returns to England by way of Toronto
  • He has a falling out with an uncle and quits studying law
  • Wragge decides to move to Australia and gets a job as a sailor to do so

Clement Lindley Wragge: Freelance Weatherman

  • Wragge gets a job with the Surveyor-General’s Department in South Australia
  • He marries Leonora Edith Florence d’Eresby Thornton in 1877
  • He returns to England in 1878
  • He becomes a meteorologist and fellow of the Royal Geography Society
  • We works at the Ben Nevis weather station and wins the Scottish Meteorological Society’s Gold Medal
  • He is unable to secure a full time position so makes the voyage back to Australia
  • He has a “famous” dog named Renzo and a less famous mischievous cat

Wragge of Australia

  • Wragge arrives in Adelaide, South Australia
  • He helps found the Royal Meteorological Society of Australia
  • Queensland calls upon him to help mitigate shipping losses from cyclone activity
  • In 1887 he is appointed Government Meteorologist for Queensland
  • He ruffles the feathers of fellow Australian weathermen
  • Wragge pioneers the concept of naming cyclones after people, naming destructive storms after politicians he doesn’t like
  • Callback to our “Hurricane Prep Party” episode
  • He helps establish an extensive weather station network throughout Queensland
  • In 1898 he begins publishing Wragge’s Australian Weather Guide and Almanac

The Federation Drought vs. Steiger Vortex Guns

  • In 1902 a severe drought strikes Australia
  • Half the sheep population and two-fifths of the cattle population dies
  • The New South Wales government holds a day of prayer
  • Wragge approaches Queensland with a plan to use Steiger Vortex guns to make it rain
  • He has observed them used in Europe by vineyards to combat hail storms
  • Wragge picks Charleville as his test location and takes donations to have six guns constructed
  • The cannons were 18-feet long, conical and packed with gunpowder
  • He has a falling out with town government and they fire the cannons in his absence
  • After one volley light rain is observed, two guns explode on the second volley
  • He also tries similar experiments in Roma and Harrisville
  • The experiments are failures

Wragge’s Final Years

  • As Australia is federalized, Wragge resigns in 1903 over budget issues
  • He visits the Cook Islands in 1904
  • Wragge is turned down for the job of head meteorologist of Australia in 1908
  • Wragge relocates to New Zealand
  • He opens a museum named after himself, which burns down
  • On a tour of India he meets self-proclaimed Mahdi, Mirza Ghukam Ahmad
  • Later in New Zealand Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seeks him out as a “spiritual consultant” before authoring The Wandering of a Spiritualist
  • He dies of a stroke in Auckland in 1922
  • Later the city of Charleville will restore two of the cannons for display

Images

Clement Lindley Wragge

Clement Lindley Wragge

Political cartoon

A political cartoon depicting Wragge pining for the position of top meteorologist of Australia

Steiger Vortex Cannons

They even named the Vortex guns

Artist's rendering of the guns

An illustration featuring the production of Steiger Vortex rain-making guns

Links

Queensland Historical Atlas shows us what a Steiger Vortex rain-making gun looks like.

What Wikipedia has to say about Charleville, Queensland, Australia.

Clement Lindley Wragge’s entry on Wikipedia.

An archived article from Queensland State on Wragge and his guns.

Another article via the State Library of Queensland.

A article from 1902 in The Brisbane Courier giving an account of the experiment.

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