Ten Shots At Rain

Early in the 20th century, Queensland was experiencing a terrible drought and the government’s meteorologist, Clement Wragge, believed he had a solution.

By Queensland State Archives

Clement Wragge Cartoon (1958-01-01/1989-01-01) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Meteorologist Clement Wragge had researched the use throughout Europe of the Steiger Vortex gun to break up hail in clouds, preventing damage to crops.

He surmised that the same technique could be employed to make rain fall on drought-stricken Queensland.    

Example of Steiger Vortex Gun (1901-01-01/1914-12-31) by Agriculture DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Six cannons were commissioned, and Wragge oversaw their installation at Charleville in mid-1902. A cloudy day was necessary to test the guns, so Wragge left the operating instructions with the Mayor, to be carried out when the conditions were right. 

Mediterranean Sea, Sète-no. 18 (1857) by Jean Baptiste Gustave Le GrayThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The morning of 26 September 1902 proved sufficiently overcast to test the Steiger Vortex guns. They were fired at midday: ten quick shots from each of the six guns, directly into the clouds. 

An example of a Steiger Vortex Gun (1901-01-01/1914-12-31) by Agriculture DepartmentQueensland State Archives

A small shower of rain fell, suggesting that the guns had had some effect.    

That afternoon a second firing was tried, with no resultant rain, and two of the guns exploded. After this failure no further tests were conducted.    

Clement Wragge Director of the Chief Weather Bureau (1958-01-01/1989-01-01) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Wragge was interviewed a few days later by The Brisbane Courier. He blamed the failure of the experiment and the explosion on the townsfolk, arguing that the guns had been overcharged and his instructions had not been followed. ‘The people of Charleville did not carry out the experiment properly,’ Wragge explained. ‘They only fired ten shots, whereas they should have continued firing for ten minutes, at the rate of two shots a minute from each gun.’ 

Today, remnants of the Steiger Vortex guns can still be found in Queensland, including one in Charleville, a reminder of the question: If the experiment had been carried out following Wragge’s instructions, would it have worked?

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