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OUR TIME

HOW WE GOT IT

NEW ZEALAND'S METHOD

A LEAD TO THE WORLD

A recent inquiry from a correspondent asked from what place New Zealand derived her time, meaning, one presumed, what is the official source from which all the Dominion's clocks are rogulated? The answer to that question is Wellington, it being one of the functions of the Dominion Observatory at Kelburn to ascertain the correct time, and to transmit time signals to distant parts of tho country. The advent of Summer Time and the controversy which has ra^ id' around 't has revealed the fact that many people have a very hazy notion as to how the time in use throughout the Dominion is arrived at, talks about the interference with Nature and similar nonsense being freely indulged in. Time, as a matter of fact, is a purely human concept, and New Zealand, when fixing in 1868 her present system of time-reckoning, although adopting a now obvious system, set ah example to the rest of the world, her system being subsequently adopted by other countries as the most convenient one for reckoning time. . SOLAK TIME. When the sun was at its highest point in the heavens our forefathers chose: to call it' twelve o'clock, and that suited them very well. Beckoning time in this manner is called utilising solar time, but obviously such time ■ will.vary according to whether places are further east or west. In the Dominion's early days solar time was good, enough for general purposes, no special need being felt for any general system of .time observance. Bach district seems'to have kept the approximate local mean solar time of its principal town without reference to tho . times adhered to in other districts. There were thus a number of different times in use throughout the colony the variation between some of them being as much as nearly half an hour. This in early days caused no inconvenience, however, for communication between different parts of the country was slow: there were no trains and, communication by sea being i by means'of sailing vessels, exact time- i tables were not necessary. i But with the increase of telegraphic and railway facilities, and with the introduction of steam navigation, tho ease becamealtered, and by the middle 'sixties it was realised that some uniform system of time-reckoning : was essential. There was much fruitless 1 and pointless discussion, just as there is in these days when any time reform is suggested, before in 1868 the Government of.the Day finally asked Dr Hector (as he was then/ to formulate proposals for- a standard time which would be suitable for use throughout the colony. ■■'■'...■' NEW ZEALAND'S LEAD. Dr. Hector, in selecting the country's mean longitude (172 degrees 30 minutes east) as a basis for calculating a standard time, adopted what may now seem a very obvious course. But the fact remains that he gave a lead to the world, for no other country until something like fifteen years later adopted the same method for the calculation of its standard time. This * meridian passes through, or very close toj Christchurch, therefore that city's true solar time, corresponds approximately with the country's standard time. But in Napier, for instance, solar time is 17J minutes in advance of standard time, whilst Bluff's solar time is 16* minutes slow on standard time.'.;.: However, in these days no one worries about solar time (unless using.a sun dial), standard time being in universal use except in the case of astronomers and a few others who use a time- all of their own (sidereal time). Very few 'places, therefore K in the Dominion.: only, those exactly on longitude 172^,. whether "daylight saving" or not, 1 use what some people call "Nature's time" or solar time, the standard time in use (like all other times in reality) ; being purely artificial and a convenient human arrangement. . ■ ; A CONVENIENT SUGGESTION. ' .Dr. Hector's suggestion was approved as being convenient for all civil purposes and suitable for nauticai...purposes. It made New Zealand's standard time 11 hours 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, a comparatively easy number to work with, although the full 12 hours would be easier, and its adoption has enabled New Zealand to take her place in the official' list of countries obeying the standard time agreement, although that agreement had not been thought of when our Legislature first took action. The building of an observatory was' put in hand at once after Dr. Hector's suggestion was adopted, and it ' was completed in June, 186S, the. instruments being in position by October the same year. The, necessary adjustments delayed matters somewhat, but by the beginning of 1870 the work of thi- time service was begun,, having been, carried on continuously ever since by. the Dominion (formerly, the Hector) observatory- • '

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OUR TIME Evening Post, Volume CVII, Issue 80, 8 April 1929

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