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Williamstown, Australia

Timeball Tower

An obsolete form of timekeeping still marks the hour in this adapted 19th century lighthouse. 

The timeball tower is a still-operating form of obsolete timekeeping, where a ball would be dropped at a precise hour each day so that the ships in the harbor could set their clocks.

The way it would work is that in the 19th century a metal or wood ball would be lifted on a mast for navigators to see five minutes before 1 pm. At the hour, it would be dropped, and clocks would be synchronized. The Williamstown Lighthouse at Gellibrand Point outside of Melbourne was replaced only a decade after its construction in 1852. It was then adopted by the Williamstown Observatory astronomers who turned it into a timeball tower. A telegraph was used to control the ascension and plummet of the ball, and later they also used the old light to mark the 8 pm hour.

Most timeballs were destroyed after new timekeeping systems became more efficient. However, the Williamstown tower continues to drop each day at 1 pm as a historic monument.