In the 1920s, Eric Newham Waterworth started his own one-man business in Hobart, designing and making scientific equipment. His main source of work was Professor McAulay at the University of Tasmania. Several years later, Eric's brother, Phillip, completed his optometrist training in London and returned to Tasmania to become a partner in his brother's firm.
In July 1940, Hartnett asked McAulay if he knew of any firm in Tasmania that could possibly produce precision optics. Waterworths was the only firm that could undertake this work and they were asked to commence work immediately. The production of about 7,000 roof prisms (containing an exact right angle, and used in binoculars and other optical instruments) for the Frankford Arsenal in the USA was one of Waterworth's first tasks.
McAulay proved to be brilliantly quick at solving the fundamental problems of optical design. It was then passed on to Cruickshank for further refinement. Meanwhile, the two Waterworths designed and made the necessary machinery.(1)
The four men initially employed at Waterworths required further assistance to meet production demands, and so many physics students and previously untrained women workers were recruited to work on optical munitions as well. By May 1942, Waterworths had outgrown their accommodation and a new building was constructed adjacent to the Physics Building at the University of Tasmania; and another floor was added within a year! This building became known as the 'Waterworth Hobart Annexe' and Eric Waterworth was the manager.
The staff of the annexe grew from 6 to 200 within a year ... In its four years of operation the annexe turned out some 14,000 prisms, valued at about £250,000.(2)
In 1942 the Annexe began to make aircraft camera lenses for the RAAF. McAulay and Cruickshank did the design work, and the Waterworth brothers manufactured the lenses. By 1945 the group in Hobart was working on fourteen Ministry orders, as well as reconditioning binoculars!
In December 1944, the Optical Munitions Panel met in Hobart. At this meeting McAulay asked the Panel to think about the future of the Hobart Annexe, as the end of the war was in sight. The Panel agreed in principle that optical glass production should continue in Australia, but made no definite decisions concerning the Hobart Annexe.
The Hobart Annexe showed perhaps the best combination of industry and science achieved through the Optical Munitions Panel; as the Waterworth firm worked alongside the Department of Physics, advised by McAulay and Cruickshank. Waterworths and the Hobart Annexe is remembered fondly by people who worked there at the time:
It's interesting that we [have] had three reunions of the people who worked at the Annexe, and the thing that impressed me very much was how obviously everyone was excited by the activities at the time, and looked back with really great pleasure at the associations they made there and the work they were doing and the excitement of it all. It's this feeling that you are doing something that's worthwhile - Eric Waterworth(3)
After the war, Waterworths continued to develop many different optical products, ranging from slide projectors and eyepieces, to stereoscopes and lenses and prisms. The Waterworth brothers also diversified, designing medical equipment, such as the Infant Respirator, in 1950. They continued to design equipment for various people at the University of Tasmania, and in 1962 their price list showed ninety-four different items.
In 1988 Eric Waterworth was awarded an Honorary Master of Science degree by the University of Tasmania in recognition of his incredible scientific achievements and innovative designs.
Jill Cassidy (1990), Eric Waterworth: an inventive Tasmanian, Exhibition Catalogue, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery,
Launceston, p. 8.
(2) D.P. Mellor (1958), 'Optical Munitions', Australia in the War of 1939-1945: The Role of Science and Industry, ch. 12, series 4: civil, vol. 5, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p. 277.
(3) Interview by Jill Cassidy (1990), Eric Waterworth: an inventive Tasmanian, Exhibition Catalogue, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, p. 14.