A folding arm 360 degree protractor in a storage case

Made by E Esdaile & Sons in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1917-1941.

Simple protractors, graduated from 0 to 180 degrees, have been used to measure angles and circles since the 13th century. Folding arm protractors, a more accurate drawing protractor used by surveyors and mechanical engineers, started being manufactured from 1800 onwards.

This folding arm protractor was used at Sydney Observatory between 1919 and 1970 to assist astronomers in their research, and would have played an important part of their everyday work.

This protractor remains of national sig...


Object No.


Physical Description

Surveying instrument, folding arm protractor in case, brass / glass / wood / textile, made by Edward Esdaile, Sydney, New South Wales, 1919-1941, used at Sydney Observatory, Australia, 1919-1958

A 360 degree brass protractor with folding arms on either side of the circle and a magnifying lens in the centre. There is a vernier scale engraved around the circumference of the circle marked in half degree intervals, and a clamp with screw gauges below the folding arms on the edge of the circle. The protractor is stored in a polished wooden case with a hinged lid. The interior is lined in a blue material.

Observatory stock number 146.



45 mm


200 mm


185 mm



The protractor was made by Edward Esdaile in Hunter Street Sydney, New South Wales, Australia between 1917 and 1941.

The firm was founded by William Edward Esdaile (1858/9-1947), who arrived in Sydney with his wife in 1883. At this time, Edward's occupation was listed as Mathematical Surveyor and Telegraphic Instrument Maker. By the time of his arrival in Australia, Edward, who was trained by, and worked for, his father had received a sound knowledge of the instrument making business.

Edward's first job upon arrival in Australia was in the workshops of the Post Master's General, and shortly thereafter he managed the instrument shop for the firm Favelle/Flavelle and Roberts, Sydney. Esdaile left this firm to start his own instrument manufacturing business in 1891. He advertised himself as E. Esdaile, Optician. At this time, Edward was established at 11 Hunter Street, Sydney, in a building known as Parkes House, which was formerly occupied by Sir Henry Parkes.

In 1894, the family took up residence in the city, and rented the residence on the top floor of 54 Hunter Street, which eventually became the firm's first (major) industrial premises. Business expanded rapidly, so the family returned the administrative section to Arncliffe, while the top floors at 54 Hunter Street were converted into instrument-making workshops, and remained there until 1919. One interesting characteristic of the firm's identification was that at this time the 'Sirius' trademark (named after the flag ship of the First Fleet) was adopted and placed on a range of instruments.

The business then moved to 42 Hunter Street in 1919. Esdaile House, as the building was known, was an early reinforced concrete building to be erected in Sydney. The building was erected in 1920 and opened for business. Edward Esdaile was joined in Business by his five sons and in 1924, the firm had changed name to E. Esdaile and Sons.

The Second World War kept the firm busy with orders for surveying equipment, ship's compasses, and gun sights. To keep production abreast of demand, the firm was sufficiently capitalised to employ 60 staff at this time.

When Edward Esdaile died in 1947, an application was made to make Esdailes a public company and was renamed E Esdaile and Sons Pty Ltd. There was another name change in 1953 to Esdaile (Holdings) Limited. E Esdaile and Sons Pty Ltd and Esadaile (Holdings) advertised surveying, drafting, scientific and industrial instruments as their core business. The traditional 'Sirius' trademark was retained by the firm.

About 1960, E Esdailes and Sons (Esdaile Holdings) opened new facilities at 53 Flinders Street, Adelaide. There were three main sections, namely, surveying, scientific and industrial, and drawing office. Surveying included steel tapes, aneroid barometers, abney levels, levelling staves, optical squares, and stereoscopes. Scientific and industrial included anemometers, barographs, thermographs, industrial thermometers, binoculars, and stopwatches, while the drawing office section specialised in drawing instruments, scale rules, set-squares, protractors, T-squares, and drawing boards.

In 1962, Esdaile House was sold to an insurance company and the firm moved to premises at 31 Bay Street, Glebe.

Esdailes were commissioned to undertake important instrument work for a number of science and engineering projects. Edward (Jnr.) was a member of the Sydney Branch of the British Astronomical Association, through which he made contact with Father Edward Francis Pigot (1858-1929), founder and director of Riverview College Observatory, Sydney. Edward's first job for the College was to set up a small telescope at the Observatory, and later he fitted a large astrograph for photographing the stars to the seven-inch refractor telescope that was installed at the Riverview Observatory.

Edward also worked with William Cooke and James Nangle, Government Astronomers for New South Wales, especially in regard to the fitting of the automatic clockwork drive for the large refracting (11 1/2" or the astrograph?) telescope at Sydndey Observatory. In 1952, Edward presented a sun clock to the Observatory, which he made from Cooke's design. This item has been retained for the Museum's collection (H10258).

The firm were engaged for other major engineering projects. Esdailes were commissioned to supply the surveying instruments when the original survey contour maps for Canberra were being prepared. The firm also supplied specialist theodolites for the survey and construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and instruments for measuring the tension in wire (saddle) cables, which held the arch in place during its construction. Finally, the Snowy Mountains Scheme presented many challenges to engineers and surveyors. Esdailes supplied many of the survey instruments for the Scheme. Their instruments were used in ordinary survey work, and in more specialised aspects of surveying including magnetic, and photogrametric surveys. The firm also made instruments for gravimetric analysis.

More generally, Esdailes supplied and repaired surveying instruments to the New South Wales Lands Department, Sydney, established the 'world globe' that once adorned the rooftop on the Ashfield Council Chambers, and manufactured the turnstiles and counter registers for the Sydney Showground and Cricket Ground.

Oral history taken from descendants of Edward Esdaile.


E Esdaile & Sons 1917-1941



This protractor was used at Sydney Observatory between 1919 and 1958 to assist astronomers in their research, and would have played an important part of their everyday work.


Sydney Observatory 1919-1958


Credit Line

Source unknown

Acquisition Date

14 November 1983

Cite this Object


A folding arm 360 degree protractor in a storage case 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 September 2018, <https://ma.as/230595>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/230595 |title=A folding arm 360 degree protractor in a storage case |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=24 September 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Store 4 at the Museums Discovery Centre.


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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