The post of Computer

Computers were employed at Greenwich from 1836 until 1937 when the post was abolished. During most of this period, they made up the largest part of the total workforce. Originally all the computers were supernumeraries, but from 1896, some were also established. Their job was to turn observational data into something more useful by reducing it to a standard form. This necessarily involved long and tedious calculations which before the age of mechanical calculators and electronic computers, all had to be done by hand. From 1842 onwards, some were also deployed as observers. Turnover of the supernumeraries was much greater than with the established computers and assistants.

The names of the supernumeraries are less systematically recorded and reported in the observatory’s archives and publications than those of the established staff. Because of this, it is difficult to compile what can be regarded as a comprehensive list. For the moment, lists of different categories of computer have been compiled with a view to merging them at a later date. They can be found towards the bottom of this page.


The first Computers

Until Nevil Maskelyne’s arrival as Astronomer Royal in the 1760s, the majority of calculations were carried out by either the Astronomer Royal or his assistant. However, the production of the Nautical Almanac (first published in 1766) required so many calculations to be done and independently checked, that a team of Computers and Comparers were employed specifically for the task. These particular individuals were funded by the Board of Longitude and until 1818 were supervised by the Astronomer Royal. The basic requirements for the post of Computer were: considerable literacy and numeracy, the ability to use mathematical and astronomical tables, attention to detail, and neatness. Any knowledge of astronomy was not regarded as essential. The number of Computers working on the Almanac at any one time during Maskelyne’s period in office varied between four and nine. They worked from home and although many lived in the vicinity of London, others came from far flung corners of England. One such was Mary Edwards from Ludlow in Shropshire who was employed from 1795 to 1811. She has the distinction of being the first and only woman to be employed in a professional capacity by an Astronomer Royal until four more were taken on by William Christie in 1890.

Click here to read more about Maskelyne’s computers in an article by Mary Croarken (pdf).


The Planetary and Lunar reductions, Groombridge, the Cape and Franklin-Adams

The first team of Computers to work at the Observatory itself were not its own employees and were kept segregated from the Observatory’s own staff. Their task was to reduce the Greenwich Planetary and Lunar Observations made between 1750 and 1830 – a project that had originally been proposed by George Airy in 1833 while Director of the Cambridge Observatory. Funding for the Planetary reductions was obtained on 3 August that year, with work commencing under Airy’s supervision at Cambridge on 27 February 1834. Airy was also responsible for supervising a new reduction of Groombridge’s observations, this particular project being completed by early January 1837.

The reductions were worked on initially by just one computer, John Glaisher, the brother of Airy’s then assistant James Glaisher. Exactly when the work was transferred to Greenwich is not clear. Airy was appointed Astronomer Royal with effect from 1 October 1835, but continued to base himself in Cambridge until the end of the year while alterations were made to the dwelling house at Greenwich. It is possible that John Glaisher moved to Greenwich at the time of Airy’s appointment, but it seems more likely that he remained in Cambridge. In February 1836 James Glaisher moved to Greenwich and John was appointed in his place as assistant at Cambridge. At this point, work on the reductions appears to have ground to a halt, being recommenced in mid 1836 at Greenwich by a specially established small team of computers under the superintendance initially of John William Thomas and after his death in 1840 by Hugh Breen senior. The financial go-ahead for the Lunar reductions was obtained on 31 May 1838 and work started soon after with an expanded team of computers. The Planetary reductions were completed in 1841 and the Lunar reductions by 1846. During the 1840s, computing time was also committed to the preparation for printing of both the reduced results of Fallow's observations together with various papers on Maclear’s measurement of La Caille’s Arc of Meridian at the Cape of Good Hope, as well as the calculations concerning the North American Boundary.

Richard Dunkin and his brother Edwin (who later went on to become Chief Assistant) were both taken on by Airy in August 1838. Their place of work, like that of the other computers, was in the Octagon Room in Flamsteed House. At that time, Edwin was just 17 years of age. In his autobiography A far off vision, he states that when he began, the hours were from eight in the morning until eight at night with an hour off for lunch and states that the long working hours were in part down to a decision made by those computers who had been taken on earlier in the year, who had reasoned that as they were hourly paid (from sixpence to tenpence an hour) the more hours they worked the more they would be paid. This worked out reasonably well in the summer months, but in the winter, once it had got dark, the artificial lighting was inadequate to facilitate efficient working. He goes on to state that Airy had also noticed the energy of the computers diminishing towards the evening and with their consent switched to a fixed monthly payment, for an eight hour day without a lunch break. Recent research suggests that although the working hours were reduced, the reason why they were so long to start with and the reason why Airy shortened them, is rather more compicated that Dunkin implies.

In 1841, the number of Computers employed on the reductions was 12. The following year it was 14. It then increased to 16 before gradually being diminished.

Later, in 1855, work began on reducing the Lunar Observations made between 1831 and1851. This work was published in 1859 and carried out under the supervision of John Lucas, who like Thomas and Breen before him was paid at a significantly higher rate than those under his charge.

Between 1911 and 1914, one or two computers were employed to determine the number of stars of different magnitudes in a series of photographs of the whole sky taken by John Franklin-Adams (See the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors (1911-15) for more information). The project was initially funded by Franklin-Adams, then jointly by him and the Royal Society.


Computers for more general work

Meanwhile, back in 1842, Airy had sought permission to employ an additional assistant. Before this could be granted, he amended the request and asked instead to be authorised to employ ‘occasional computers’ to the same pecuniary value. The request was granted, and so began the regular employment of computers on a temporary and short term basis under such regulations as Airy might think fit. To start with, Airy seems to have simply redeployed some of the computers from the Lunar Reductions team on a somewhat ad hoc basis. As well as their computing work, some of the computers were also trained as stand in observers. In 1845, Airy had £120 to spend on their salaries. He was given a one off extra £120 in 1846 and the higher amount of £180 in 1847. Temporary or Supernumerary Computers continued to be employed on more or less the same basis for the best part of the next hundred years until 1936. The actual numbers varied from year to year. From 1848 to1859 they fluctuated between three and eight. They then increased slightly to between seven and twelve until Airy’s retirement in 1881. Meanwhile, by 1853, the working day had been shortened to eight hours including a lunch break 8.00 to12.00 and 13.00 to 16.00. These hours were later changed by Christie.

An employment pattern soon emerged with the posts of Computer being filled by competitive examination amongst 13 and 14 year olds from the local schools. Although there was no upper age limit to those who might be employed, the poor wages, temporary nature of the posts and a general lack of vacant posts at the assistant level, meant that most moved on relatively quickly.  Examination for promotion to and within the Assistant Grade (for trial of competency) began for the first time after the fourth assistant Breen handed in his resignation in November 1858.

The splitting of the Assistants grade into first and second class assistant in 1872 coincided with the introduction of open competitive examinations administered by the Civil Service Commissioners and these were used to fill vacant posts at the lower grade. Entry to the examination was restricted to people of age 18 to 25 (CSC6/1/69). Therefore if a computer hadn’t obtained promotion by the age of 26, he would have no prospect of ever being taken on as a permanent member of staff at the Observatory. With vacancies at the Junior Assistant grade being rare and normally only arising when an assistant died or retired, some computers would have had virtually no chance of ever gaining promotion, no matter how good they were.

When the established post of second class assistant was replaced by that of established computer in 1896, the same age limits applied to those supernumerary assistants who might wish to apply, the only difference being that by then, the examinations were no longer fully open, but restricted to those already employed (or recently employed) at the observatory on a temporary basis. The same conditions applied for entry to the Junior Assistant grade when it replaced that of established computer in 1912. (RGO8/31)

The subjects of examination for the post of Junior Assistant were: 1) English composition, handwriting and spelling (composition being tested by an essay on an astronomical subject). 2) Elementary Mathematics (Plane Geometry, Algebra, Plane Trigonometry and Spherical Trigonometry). 3) Numerical multiplication, division, involution, evolution, solution of right-angled triangles (plane and spherical) by the use of Bruhn’s tables of logarithms. 4) Professional examination in the work of the branch of the Observatory in which the candidate had been employed. 5) (Optional), French and German translation from an astronomical periodical. To be considered, a candidate had to pass in the first four subjects to the satisfaction of the Civil Service Commissioners. (RGO 8/31)


Christie’s ‘Lady Computers’

By 1888, Christie had been Astronomer Royal for seven years and overseen a considerable expansion in the number of telescopes both deployed and planned. But the number of staff both permanent and temporary had remained essentially unchanged. Unable to secure funding for additional assistants, Christie did manage to secure an increase in the budget for temporary computers.

Extra computers were all very well, but what Christie really wanted was more assistants. To this end, he therefore made the decision to experiment with employing ‘Lady Computers’. Only women who had graduated at a University Ladies’ College were considered. Four such assistants were taken on in 1890: a Miss Clemes, together with Miss Rix and Miss Furniss from Newnham College Cambridge and Miss Everett from Girton College Cambridge. All four began work on 14 April (RGO7/29). Clemes appears to have left very quickly and Furniss who resigned in 1891 was replaced by Annie Russell (RGO7/29), a contemporary of Everett’s at Girton. Although older and considerably better educated than the Boy Computers, their pay and conditions were the same. But unlike the boys who were generally still living with their parents, the Lady computers had to find and pay for their own accommodation. Rix resigned in 1892 on health grounds, Everett secured a position at the Observatory in Potsdam in 1895. Russell resigned a few weeks later on 31 October and married her colleague E Walter Maunder at the end of the year.

Many modern commentators speak of Christie’s social innovation. But in truth, the employment of the Lady Computers was exploitative and little more than a stop-gap measure. By the time Russell resigned, the problem of insufficient numbers of established staff was about to be resolved and no more ladies were appointed. Indeed, those making enquiries were told ‘ladies are no longer employed at the Royal Observatory’. The next time women were employed at the Observatory was again as Computers and again out of necessity. But this time it was because of the staffing shortages caused by the First World War.

The next time women were employed at the Observatory was again as Computers and again out of necessity. But this time it was because of the staffing shortages caused by the First World War. Women continued to be employed as Computers until 1936 when the post was abolished, at which point, two of their number had been on the staff for over fifteen years.

See also:

Christie’s ‘Lady Computers’ – the Astrographic pioneers of Greenwich


Christie’s boys

Of the 40 boys recruited as Computers in the ten years from 1889 to 1899, 28 came from the Royal Hospital School (26 were Boreman Boys whose education was paid for by the Boreman Foundation), 10 from the Roan School, and 2 from elsewhere.

They were paid £3 per month, with an annual increment of 5 shillings per month. As in previous times, they were encouraged to qualify for observing certificates entitling them to participate in observing ‘duties’ at the telescopes. A certificate for a photographic instrument earned its holder an additional 5 shillings per month and a certificate for the Airy Transit Circle or Altazimuth 10 shillings per month. For a scheduled observing duty, a computer received nine pence ‘clear or cloudy’. If observations were actually made, the payment was a shilling for the first hour with an extra six pence for each additional hour, for the photographic telescopes. In the case of the Airy Transit Circle, the extra six pence was only awarded if 50 or more stars had been observed in RA and ZD. An observation of the occultation of a star by the Moon earned a shilling.

The computing staff in 1902. Photograph by C Pilkington. From The Graphic (30 August 1902)

Recruitment after WW1 was made more difficult by the fact that the Masters at the schools from which boys were normally recruited would not recommend them to take up temporary posts, (the computers having to move on by the age of 26).


Established Computers

In 1891, Christie was authorised to take on an additional assistant. But he remained unsatisfied. The increasing reliance on the Temporary Computers to do work that in the past would have been done by assistants was stating to compromise the continuity of the Greenwich series of observations. By the time they had gained enough experience to become really useful, they hit the age bar and were required to leave. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that since 1873, all new second class assistants had been appointed by the civil service commissioners through open competition – a system that failed to ensure that candidates were qualified as observers.

Eventually in late 1895/1896, after two years of waiting on a decision from the government, a reform of sorts took place. Christie was granted a second Chief Assistant and the grade of Second Class Assistant (of which three of the five posts were vacant) was replaced by the two grades of Established Computer (6 posts) and Higher Grade Established Computer (2 posts). This increased his established staff from 11 to 15. In 1912, two new Assistant grades were created by renaming the posts of Higher Grade Established Computer and Established Computer as Junior Assistant (Higher Grade) and Junior Assistant. The pay scales remained the same except for a raising of the upper limit. From 1891, the vacancies on the permanent staff were filled by competitive examination from the Temporary Computers – a process that continued until 1936 when the post of temporary computer was abolished following the removal or the Royal Hospital School from Greenwich to Holbrook.


A staff of contrasts

One consequence of Christie’s methods of recruitment was that between 1927 and 1936 all the Heads of Department were ex-computers. This was in complete contrast to the period 1904 to 1917, when all the Heads of Department had had no experience of being a computer, having been originally appointed directly to the post of Second Class Assistant (mainly as graduates) after competing in the Civil Service exams between 1872 and 1896. It was also in complete contrast to the First/Chief Assistants, who until the 1950s (with the exception of Dunkin) were exceptional maths graduates and tended to be recruited into post more or less straight from university. All except Atkinson (who graduated from Oxford), were wranglers i.e. had first class degrees in mathematics from Cambridge. Main was sixth wrangler (sixth in his class), Stone was fifth wrangler, Christie was fourth wrangler, Turner and Dyson were both second wranglers and their successors Cowell and Eddington both senior wranglers (top of their class). In 1910, rankings ceased to be made public, so the rankings of the remainder are unknown. This manner of selecting Chief Assistants was criticised by David Gill, Her Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope (1879–1907), who in 1897 wrote: ‘They enter into chief positions where they have to superintend men who know much more about practical work than they do, and they have to pick up what they can of a hard and fast hide-bound system – which they are taught to regard as unquestionably superior to all others’.

In 1901, a third of all the temporary computers left in a period of just five months putting great stress on the Observatory’s regimes. By contrast, amongst the established staff, the only member to leave between 1896 and 1908 was Dyson, who resigned to take up the post of Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

Dyson came back to Greenwich as Astronomer Royal in 1910. When he left office in 1933, as well as his two chief assistants, he had nine other senior members of staff. Of these, eight (Bowyer, Cullen, Davidson, Edney, Furner, Melotte, Stevens and Witchell) were already established members of staff when he arrived as Astronomer Royal in 1910. And of those eight, four (Bowyer, Davidson, Edney and Furner) were already working at the Observatory as Boy Computers when he first arrived as Chief Assistant in 1894, with two, (Melotte and Witchell) being taken on soon after.


The Spencer Jones reforms of the 1930s

In 1936, two key reforms took place – assistants began to be recruited from outside, and the post of Temporary Computer began to be phased out (the process being completed in 1937). The temporary computers (of which there were 16 in 1935/6) were replaced by permanent posts: One Junior Assistant (Higher Grade), bringing the total up to five, five Junior Assistant posts (bringing the total to fifteen), twelve Clerical Assistants (originally called Writing Assistants) and a typist. In terms of pay, the grades of Junior Assistant and Clerical Assistant were indistinguishable. The distinction was that Junior Assistants had observing duties (for which they were paid an extra allowance) and Clerical Assistants did not. For a variety of reasons, Spencer Jones was of the view that it was ‘not desirable that female staff should be expected to share the observing.’ (RGO8/31). Because of this, although six of the sixteen temporary computers in 1936 were women, all the Junior Assistant posts (at both levels) were filled by men, and all the Clerical Assistant posts by women.

By comparison, when the Nautical Almanac Office was placed under the direction of the Astronomer Royal in early 1937, a woman (Marion Rodgers) already occupied one of its three Junior Assistant posts. The following year, the Office recruited a woman at Assistant Level and promoted two more to be Junior Assistants at the lower grade. Change did eventually take place in the wider Observatory, but not until 1939/40 when the Time Department needed to be enlarged as a result of the war time evacuation. On this ocassion, Miss CM Lark was appointed as a lower grade Junior Assistant, (seemingly an outside appointment). This was followed in 1942/3, by two of the women Clerical Assistants (one of whom was originally based in the Nautical Almanac Office) being ‘promoted’ (the term used by the Astronomer Royal) to the lower grade of Junior Assistant.





Computers involved in the Planetary and Lunar Reductions 1834–1848

Information extracted from the account books (RGO6/531–543). This section, should be read in conjunction with the notes above,

1834 Feb 27 – 1836 Feb 06        John Glaisher
1836 Apr 14 – 1840 Feb 29        John William Thomas
1836 Jul 16  – 1838 Jun 30         John Hartnup
1838 Jun 16 – 1848 Mar 31         Hugh Breen (Snr), died 1 Apr 1848
1838 Jul 25  – 1839 Dec 31         Foley (FJ?)
1838 Oct 15 – 1839 Jun 30         John Putt
1838 Aug 06 – 1844 Feb 29        George Witherby (breaks in service?)
1838 Aug 21 – 1840 Oct 31         Edwin Dunkin, promoted to Magnetic Assistant
1838 Aug 21 – 1847 Aug 7          Richard Dunkin
1838 Dec 10 – 1844 Aug 10        Hugh Breen (Jnr), promoted to Magnetic Assistant
1839 Jan 14 – 1839 Nov 18         Bowman
1840 Aug 28 – 1846 Aug 31        James Breen
1840 Dec 01 – 1845 Oct 31        Thomas Sturgis Downs* (breaks in service?),
1841 Dec 06 – 1847 Jan 31        Charles Todd (breaks in service?)
1841 Aug 01 – 1843 Jan 31        James Mackay
1841 Aug 01 – 1843 Nov 21        Richard Harris
1841 Aug 01 – 1848 Mar 31        Edward Hanson (Snr)
1841 Aug 01 – 1844 Feb 29        Charles H Martin
1841 Aug 01 – 1843 Dec 29        George Fryer
1841 Aug 01 – 1845 Nov 30        Thomas Eastmure
1841 Aug 01 – 1848 May 31       William Ellis (RGO6/75/185 gives start date as Aug 2)
1842 Jan 17  – 1844 Nov 30        Edward Hanson (Jnr)
1842 Jan 17 – 1842 May 31        James (M?) Butcher
1843 Mar 01 – 1844 Nov 11         John H(?) Morgan
1843 Feb 01 – 1847 Jan 31         BG Carter
1846 Apr 13 – 1846 Sep 30         J Harner(?) Hamer (?)
1846 Apr 21 – 1847 Jan 31          R Burchett
1846 Apr 22 – 1846 Oct 31          F Waters
1847 Apr 20 – 1848 May 31         R Burchett
1847 Sep 24 – 1848 May 31        TC Lawrence
1847 Nov 05 – 1848 May 31         Charles S Arney (?)
1847 Nov 10 – 1848 May 31         Daniel McCarthy

* RGO6/75/185  gives starting date at Observatory as 15 Oct 1840

For more information on the Breens, see A Family of Astronomers - The Breens of Armagh by Bruck, M. T. & Grew, S


Names of Computers who were also observers (1842–1914)

This list has been compiled from the introduction to the annual volumes of Greenwich Observations. Each introduction lists only the Computers who observed in that particular year. As such, the list below omits not only those Computers who were unqualified to observe, but also those who were qualified, but not assigned to any observing duties in that particular year.

1842–1843        Richard Harris
1842–1844        Hugh Breen (Jun)
1845                 Edward Hanson
1845–1852        William Ellis (excluding 1848)
1846                 James Breen
1846                 Mr Todd
1849–1852        John W Breen
1852–1854        James S Yair (excluding 1853)
1852–1854        George Strickland Criswick
1853–1854        Frank Taylor
1854–1856        Alexis Albert de Lajugie
1854–1855        William Thynne Lynn
1855–1857        Arthur Bowden
1855–1857        Henry Taylor
1855–1856        Henry Todd
1856–1858        James Carpenter
1857–1860        William Piper Wakelin
1858–1859        Wyvill James Christy
1859–1863        Mondeford Reginald Dolman
1859–1860        Charles George Talmage
1859                 Henry Charles Criswick
1860–1868        Ernest Augustus John Kerschner
1860–1861        Arthur Sladen Davis
1860                 Henry Storks Eaton
1860–1861        William George Newcomb
1860–1864        Edward Roberts
1861–1865        Thomas Henry Chapell
1862–1863        William Carpenter Nash
1864–865          John Plummer
1864–1869        Thomas Wight
1865–1868        William Plummer
1865–1874        Henry James Carpenter
1867–1870        Gabriel Keating
1869–1873        Joseph Pyle Potts
1869                 Jesse Emerson Sanderson
1870–1875        Charles Augustus Jenkins
1871–1874        Gabriel Goldney
1872–1875        William James Harding
1874–1879        Walter Wickham
1874–1879        Edward Graham
1875–1877        William Pritchard Pulley
1875–1877        Walter David Laird
1876                 Robert Thomas Pett
1876–1883        Harry Pead (JWH Pead)
1876–1878        William Baker
1876–1879        Benjamin Dennison
1876–1878        James William Fenner Bromley
1876–1877        Frank Disney
1877–1891        John Power
1877–1879        William Henry Robinson
1878–1880        George William Pearce
1878–1882        Henry Thomas James
1879–1881        Thomas Michael Plucknett
1880–1890        Joe Alfred John Pead
1881–1885        Bertram Bennett
1881–1883        WH Cox
1883–1890        S Dolman
1884–1885        F Wilkins
1885–1890        R Woodgate
1885–1889        FC Robinson
1885–1886        HF Willoughby
1886–1889        TF Fisher
1887–1888        FC Barrow
1887–1889        AE Pilkington
1888–1889        HA Wise
1889–1891        W Russell
1889–1890        A Cochrane
1889–1896        HH Furner
1889–1893        AP Miskin
1890                 S Temple
1890–1895        C Martin
1890–1897        H Appleyard
1891–1895        Miss A Everett
1891–1892        Miss EM Rix
1891–1895        C Davidson
1891–1900        Charles Craven Lacey
1891–1894        J Gillingham
1891–1895        Miss A Russell
1892–1900        R Cheeseman
1892–1895        D Edney
1893–1895        W Bowyer
1893–1897        GF Johns
1893–1894        OT Tuck
1895                 RF Rendell
1895–1897        EH Banks
1895–1900        F Turner
1895–1902        FG Showell
1895–1900        AJ Wilkin
1895–1901        WM Witchell
1896–1902        W Stevens
1896–1897        JA West
1897–1901        J Storey
1898–1902        P Melotte
1898–1902        G Bischlanger
1899–1901        WA Gummer
1901–1902        W Stiles
1901–1903        TG Staples
1901                 AL Wood
1902–1906        HW Moore
1902–1907        R Fowler
1902–1904        JW Hicks
1903–1906        RT Cullen
1903–1910        S Daniels
1903–1906        EV Vagg
1904–1907        AW James
1904                 G Giraud
1905–1911        J Shepperd
1905–1912        BD Evans
1906–1914        H Acton
1906–1910        Witney
1906–1910        G Cody
1907–1909        HE Green
1908–1914        F Jeffries
1909–1910        A Rotherham
1910–1914        WG Davies
1911–1914        G Bartle
1911–1914        A Smith
1912–1914        WG Percival
1912–1914        EA Chamberlain
1913–1914        PJ White
1913                 WT Lord
1914                 HW Newton


Names of Computers employed on 1 Jan 1860 (from RGO6/75)

John Lucas, age 45                                   since Dec 1855
Henry Charles Criswick, age 22                  since 1 March 1854
Edward Hanson, age 63                             since June 1854, but previosuly employed on  2 Aug 1841
William Carpenter Nash, age 19                  since Feb 1856
Edward Beresford Hanson, age 33               since 25 Feb 1856, but previously employed on 17 Jan 1842
John Richard Lucas, age 17                        since 25 Feb 1856
Charles George Talmage, age 19                 since 17 Mar 1856
Mondeford Reginald Dolman, age 17            since 17 Mar 1856
Malcolm Jason Brown, age 18                     since 19 April 1856
John Howe, age 16,                                    since 23 Sep 1858
Ernest Augustus John Kerschner, age 19     since 19 Oct 1859


Computers of the Magnetical & Meteorological Department, 1881–1937

The names of the computers in this list have been extracted from the published volumes of the Results of the Magnetical and Meteorological Observations made at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which from 1881 onwards listed the names of the computers who worked in the department. With the exception of Thomas Downs*, who the 1852 volume tells us was employed as a computer between 1849 and 1852  none of the pre 1881 computers within the department are listed by name. The years referred to are calendar years.

In 1880, there were normally 3 or 4 computers (names unknown) in the department. It is likely that they included the first two or three persons named in the list.

1881–1884      Greengrass, John A
1881–1885      Hugo, William
1881–1892      McClellan, Ernest E
1881–1881      Stafford, George W
1881–1881      Jeffrey, Edwin
1881–1882      Sanders, William J
1882–1883      Finch, Frank
1883–1885      Robinson, Fredrick C
1884–1891      Finch, Edward
1885–1885      Willoughby, Herbert F
1885–1885      Hope, Frank (?typo for Hope, Francis HW? See 1885)
1885–1885      Letchford, Frank H (?typo for Letchford Francis H? See 1885)
1886–1890      Hope, Francis HW
1886–1888      Letchford, Francis H
1889–1892      Tweed, Richard R
1889–1893      Allworth, George A
1890–1895      Claxton, Thomas F
1891–1895      MacManus, Henry James
1892–1897      Walter, Albert
1892–1899      Beadle, Percival D
1893–1894      Wenborn, Ernest William
1894–1899      Marchant, Thomas Percy
1895–1896      Edney, David JR (promoted to Established Computer in the Department)
1895–1899      Davies, Cedric AF
1897–1900      Jeffries, Charles William
1899–1901      Clarke, Thomas Henry
1898–1901      Ralph, Charles William
1898–1906      Showell, Albert Edward
1901–1908      Parkinson, Wilfred C
1901–1902      Perry, William James
1901–1903      Burkett, William Wood
1902–1907      Barrett, Henry George Scott
1903–1903      Staples, Thomas G
1904–1907      Dauncey, Arnold F
1906–1911      Kirby, Edward
1907–1907      Quarterman, Henry JS
1907–1914      Timbury, William H
1907–1910      Loomes, Arthur E
1908–1911      Richardson, Ernest L
1910–1914      Divers, Sydney T
1911–1913      Brown, Frederick
1911–1914      Showell, Harold George
1913–1914      Mitchell, Harry Joseph
1914–1915      Walden, Ralph
1914–1915      Hills, Alfred W
1914–1915      Leary, Edward
1915–1916      Wright, HR
1915–1916      Van Dingenen, T (Belgian refugee)
1915–1916      Dagonnier, R (Belgian refugee)
1915–1916      Brenez, G (Belgian refugee)
1916–1918      Palmer, SW
1916–1923      Wells, GF (promoted)
1916–1923      Tibbitts, EH (went to Cape, retired Nov 1961 (1962 Report p.21)
1916–1917      Lang, Miss ED
1917–1937      Clack, Miss EW
1923–1926      Burridge, LC
1923–1930      Oliver, D
1926–1927      Melotte, LD
1928–1932      Reece, FW
1930–1933      Harrild, N
1933–1937      Dennis, WJH
1933–1937      Deeks, FE

* Originally taken on on 15 October 1840 to work as a computer on the Planetary & Lunar reductions, Downs was appointed as an Assistant in the Magnetical & Meteorological Department in late October 1845. When the work was scaled back in 1849, he was retained as a computer, being promoted back to the role of assistant in the Department in 1852.


Names of Christie’s lady computers

1890–?           Miss Clemes
1890–1891      Harriet Maud Furniss (resigned Jan 1891 to teach)
1890–1892      Edith Mary Rix (resigned March 1892 for health reasons)
1890–1895      Alice Everett (went to Potsdam Observatory)
1891–1895      Annie Russell* (resigned 31 Oct 1895 to marry E Walter Maunder

*Resigned due to restrictions on married women working in public service. Returned during the war as a volunteer in Jan 1916, continuing it this role until re-employed as a computer in 1919/20.


Names of lady computers appointed by Dyson and Spencer Jones

This list has been compiled from the listings in the introductions to the Greenwich Magnetical and Meteorological Observations together with the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors. Each report normally listed only those individuals who were employed at the Observatory at the end of the reporting period on the date (10 May for 1909–1931 and 30 April for 1932–1936). The reports for 1917 and 1918 state that one lady computer was employed, but do not give a name. When the post of Supernumerary Computer was abolished in 1936, of the six women computers: one resigned, four were ultimately regraded as Clerical Assistants and one was regraded Established Typist.

1916–1917      Miss ED Lang (mag & met)
1917–1937      Miss EW Clack (mag & met), resigned Feb 1937
1920–1924      Miss Faulkner (Thompson Equatorial)
1920–1920      Miss Furner (Thompson Equatorial)
1920–1920      Mrs Maunder (Photoheliograph)
1921–1936      Miss Jeffries (Thompson Equatorial), became Clerical Assistant
1921–1924      Miss Crommelin (Photoheliograph)
1925–1929      Miss Jackson (Photoheliograph)
1930–1936      Miss French (Thompson Equatorial), became Clerical Assistant)
1930–1933      Miss Bonnett (Astrographic Equatorial)
1930–1936      Miss Cumberledge (Astrographic Equatorial), became Clerical Assistant
1933–1936      Miss Brickman (Secretariat & Library), became Established Typist
1934–1936      Miss Moore (Astrographic Equatorial), became Clerical Assistant
1934–1934      Miss Fine (Photoheliograph & Spectrohelioscope)
1935–1935      Miss Powell (Transit Circle & Zenith Telescope)


Names of Supernumerary Computers (1909–1936)

The first list has been compiled from the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors. 1909 was the first year the names of the Supernumerary Computers were included in the annual reports, so many of the individuals at the start of the list would have arrived at the Observatory at an earlier date. The post of Supernumerary Computer began to be phased out in 1936, being finally abolished in 1937. Each report normally listed only those individuals who were employed at the Observatory at the end of the reporting period on the date (10 May for 1909–1931 and 30 April for 1932–1936). Some individuals may have started work in the year before that which is shown or left their position in the year after. Any individual who was appointed and subsequently resigned or gained promotion in the same reporting period would not have been included. For the years 1915, 1917 and 1918, only the names of those away on miltary service were reported, with no information being listed at all in 1916. The number of Computers actually working at the Observatory was reported as eleven in 1915, ten in 1917 (of whom just one (RJ Barrett?) had been at the Observatory in August 1914), and six in 1918. These numbers probabally did not include Robert Jonckheere, a Belgian refugee and Director of the Lille Observatory, who worked as an assistant, but was paid as a computer. The report for 1916 states that during that reporting year, six Belgium refugees had been employed of whom two, who were wounded soldiers, remained (Jonkckheere was probabally omitted from this list too). As a result of the method of reporting, any individual who was on the staff on the reporting date, but only worked between 1915 and 1918, will not have had their name published and will not appear in the first of the three lists below. Those who come in this category, but also worked in the Magnetical and Meteorological Department had their names published with the Observations and are listed separately in the second of the three lists. The third of the lists has been extracted from RGO8/73 and contains the names of those who were recorded as being on the payroll during 1916.

     1909–1909      T Wheate
     1909–1910      Kemp
     1909–1910      Rotherham
     1909–1910      Daniels
     1909–1911      Acton
     1909–1909      Cody
     1909–1912      Jeffries
     1909–1909      Witney           
     1909–1912      Green
     1909–1911      Shepperd
     1909–1909      Higgitt
     1909–1909      Oake
     1909–1911      Peirce
     1909–1912      Passfield
     1909–1910      Richards
     1909–1910      A Wheate
     1909–1911      Lait
     1909–1911      Saville
     1909–1911      Kirby
     1909–1913      Timbury                      
     1909–1910      Loomes
     1909–1910      Richardson
     1909–1910      Lyne
     1910–1919      Percival (War Service 1914/5–1918)
     1910–1918      Davies (War Service 1914/5–1918)
     1910–1912      Newton
     1910–1911      Leary
     1910–1913      Lord
     1911–1919      Chamberlain (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1911–1918      Davis (War Service 1914/5–1918)
     1911–1918      White (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1911–1920      Barton (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1911–1919      Divers (War Service 1914/15–1919)
     1911–1913      Brown
     1911–1916      Kilby (War Service 1914/15–1916 (Killed in action))
     1911–1914(+?)Entwistle (Franklin-Adams 1911–12)
     1911–1920      Lambert (Franklin-Adams 1911–12, War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1912–1913      Maddock
     1912–1919      Sims (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1912–1919      Martin (War Service 1916/7–1918)
     1912–1918      Berry (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1912–1914(+?)HG Showell
     1913–1913      Flint
     1913–1919      Whitaker
     1913–1919      Vaizey (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1913–1919      Symms
     1913–1918      Perry (Franklin-Adams 1913–14, War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1914–1919      Baldwin (War Service 1914/15–1918)
     1914–1914(+?)WF Showell
     1916–1923      GF Wells (b. 7 Apr 1901, started 11 Jul 1916 (RGO8/31))
     1916–1923      EH Tibbetts (b. 15 Nov 1901, started 4 Dec 1916 (RGO8/31))
     1917–1936      Miss EW Clack (started 6 Mar 1917 (RGO8/31)     
By 1917–1918      Cogswell (1917–1918 War Service)
By 1918–1918      Howick (1918 War Service)  
By 1918–1919      Sharpe (1918 & 1919 War Service)
     1918–1922      GW Rickett (b. 16 Jun 1903, started 18 Mar 1918 (RGO8/31))           
By 1919–1920      Barrett (War Service in 1919)
By 1919–1920      Palmer (War Service in 1919)
     1919–1924      Miss D Faulkner (started 2 Dec 1919 (RGO8/31))
     1920–1920      Miss Furner
     1920–1920      Mrs Maunder
     1920–1929      RH Smith (b. 12 Sep 1902, started 1 Jan 1920 (RGO8/31))
     1920–1924      EC Longley (b. 6 Nov 1904, started 16 Feb 1920 (RGO8/31))
     1920–1924      FL Kinnear (b. 13 Dec 1904, started 16 Feb 1920 (RGO8/31))
     1920–1936      Miss F Jeffries (started 1 Sep 1920 (RGO8/31))
     1921–1921      Woolford
     1921–1924      Miss A Crommelin (started 17 Jan 1921 (RGO8/31))
     1921–1928      L Fellows (b. 1 Sep 1905, started 2 May 1921 (RGO8/31))
     1921–1925      W Scott (b. 17 Jan 1905, started 2 May 1921 (RGO8/31))
     1921–1927      HH Cox (b. 14 Aug 1905, started 16 May 1921 (RGO8/31))
     1922–1923      HF Finch (b. 29 May 1904, started 1 Dec 1921 (RGO8/31))
     1922–1928      CL Davies (b. 31 Oct 1905, started 16 Jan 1922 (RGO8/31))
     1923–1926      Alcock
     1923–1929      Oliver
     1924–1926      Stephens
     1924–1928      Rood
     1924–1929      Ware
     1924–1925      Collings
     1924–1926      Burridge
     1925–1929      Bennett
     1925–1927      Sizer
     1925–1928      Rickerby
     1925–1929      Miss Jackson
     1926–1936      Slator
     1926–1929      McKenzie
     1927–1934      Blackwell
     1927–1928      Brown
     1927–1929      Judd
     1927–1927      LS Melotte
     1928–1930      Whybrow
     1928–1936      Harris
     1928–1932      Reece
     1928–1928      Daily
     1929–1934      Malyon
     1929–1935      Diston
     1929–1934      Larkin
     1929–1936      Shortland
     1929–1936      Dennis
     1930–1936      Grimwood
     1930–1936      Stockwell
     1930–1934      Deeks (omitted from 1935 report)
     1930–1936      Rudd, John Leslie
     1930–1936      Miss French
     1930–1933      Miss Bonnett
     1930–1936      Miss Cumberledge
     1930–1934      Howes
     1930–1932      Harrild
     1931–1933      Carter
     1933–1936      Miss Brickman
     1934–1936      Miss Moore
     1934–1934      Miss Fine
     1935–1935      Miss Powell
     1935–1936      Laurie
     1935–1935      Grimwood
     1936–1936      FL Rudd

Additional names for those who worked in the Mag & Met department and started work between 1914–1918, (extracted from the introductions to the Magnetical and Meterological Observations). Names of those starting in other departments during this period are not available. Unlike the list immediately above, the dates refer to calendar years rather than reporting years. Names marked with a star (*) also have a less full entry in the list above.

     1914–1915      Ralph Walden*
     1914–1915      Alfred W Hills
     1914–1915      Edward Leary
     1915–1916      HR Wright
     1915–1916      T Van Dingenen (Belgian Refugee)
     1915–1916      R Dagonnier (Belgian Refugee)
     1915–1916      G Brenez (Belgian Refugee)
     1916–1918      SW Palmer
     1916–1923      GF Wells* (promoted to Junior Assistant 17 May 1923)
     1916–1923      EH Tibetts* (resigned 23 May 1923)
     1916–1917      Miss ED Lang
     1917–1937      Miss EW Clack* (resigned Feb 1937)


List of Computers employed in 1916, compiled from RGO8/73. Names marked with a star (*) also can also be found in the first of the two lists above.

     Martin EG*           started 4 Sep 1911 age 14 (Thompson certificate)
     Barrett RJ*           started 27 Jul 1914 age 15
     Cogswell CF*       started 14 Sep 1914 age 15
     Howick AA*          started 8 Feb 1915 age 14
     Sharpe EJ*           started 3 May 1915 age 15
     Metters FEM        started 1 Jan 1916 age 16
     Jonckheere R        Director of the Lille Observatory, Belgian refugee, started 16 Oct 1914
     Hanchire A           Belgian refugee, started 29 June 1915 (resigned 13 May 1916)
     Verhaygen H         Belgian refugee, started 18 Oct 1915
     Lyne, Harold VW   started 27 June 1916 age 15 (photoheliograph certificate)
     Brotchie, William   started 4 Dec 1916 age 15 (ZD certificate)


Names of Computers entered into the Register of Computers begun in 1872

With a small number of exceptions (some of the Lady Computers employed by Chrisite), all the Computers taken on from 1872 onwards were entered in a specially printed and bound book titled Register of Computers (RGO7/266). Columns were headed as follows: Name, Date of Birth, School, Date of Entry, Department, Observing Certificates, Date of Leaving, Reason for leaving and Remarks.

At the end of the volume there is a list of 92 Computers taken on between 1836 and 1872 which it states were ‘copied from list in M11 Miscellaneous’. It is reproduced below. For reasons unknown, the list is not definitive as certain of the names listed above have been omitted; for example, Foley and Hugh Breen Jnr. It does however contain the names of several individuals whose names are not included in any of the lists above.

Thomas JW
Hartnup J
Dunkin R
Putt HH
Withersby G
Bowman H
Putt J
Downes T
Breen H
Dunkin E
Mackay J
Martin CH
Hanson E senr
Eastmure T
Fryer G
Breen J
Harris R
Ellis W
Todd C
Hanson E Junr
Britcher W
Morgan JH
Carter BG
Burchett R
Anney [Arney?] CS
Breen JW
Lawrence TE
McCarthy A
Stoneham A
Saunders CF
Escott G
Bullen R
Yair JS
Criswick GS
Taylor F
Rogerson W
Montgomery JS
Welsh EJ
De la Jugie A
Criswick HX
Lynn WJ
Carpenter J
Taylor H
Bowden A
Keel SH
Todd H
Hallam EJ
Nash WC
Wakelin WP
Christy WJ
Talmage CG
Dolman M
Howe J
Eaton HS
Kerschner E
Davis AS
Roberts E
Chapelle JH
Newcomb WG
Adcock W
Jones CW
Escott FA
Harding A
Trapand CP
Plummer J
Wright J
Carpenter HJ
Trapand F
Wright J
Jones EG
Plummer W
Keating G
Stevenson G
Farncomb GW
Sanderson JE
Schultz GL
Taylor F
Brown MD
Laing H
Lucas JR
Carpenter E
Cotter VE
Jenkins CA
Marriott W
Barber J
Goldney S
Harding W
Cross Rob
Schultz WA
Bishop W
Schults G
Potts J


A list of the names entered from 1872 onwards is currently in preparation.


Names of the Established Computers

The grades of Established Computer and Established Computer (higher grade) existed only between 1896 and 1912. The lists below are complete and have been compiled from the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors.

Assimilated in 1896 as Established Computers (higher grade) from the Second Class Assistant grade:


Appointed as Established Computer (higher grade) and year of appointment:

1904     Davidson


Established Computers and year of appointment:

1896     Bowyer
1896     Davidson
1896     Rendell
1897     Edney
1897     Furner
1902     Storey (resigned end of May 1908, having been appointed assistant at Edinburgh)
1902     Witchell
1903     Melotte
1903     Bischlanger
1903     Stevens
1904     Burkett
1904     J Evans
1906     Vagg (died before taking up appointment)
1907     Cullen
1909     B Evans

Thomas JW
Hartnup J
Dunkin R
Putt HH
Withersby G
Bowman H
Putt J
Downes T
Breen H
Dunkin E
Mackay J
Martin CH
Hanson E senr
Eastmure T
Fryer G
Breen J
Harris R
Ellis W
Todd C
Hanson E Junr
Britcher W
Morgan JH
Carter BG
Burchett R
Anney [Arney?] CS
Breen JW
Lawrence TE
McCarthy A
Stoneham A
Saunders CF
Escott G
Bullen R
Yair JS
Criswick GS
Taylor F
Rogerson W
Montgomery JS
Welsh EJ
De la Jugie A
Criswick HX
Lynn WJ
Carpenter J
Taylor H
Bowden A
Keel SH
Todd H
Hallam EJ
Nash WC
Wakelin WP
Christy WJ
Talmage CG
Dolman M
Howe J
Eaton HS
Kerschner E
Davis AS
Roberts E
Chapelle JH
Newcomb WG
Adcock W
Jones CW
Escott FA

Harding A
Trapand CP
Plummer J
Wright J
Carpenter HJ
Trapand F
Wright J
Jones EG
Plummer W
Keating G
Stevenson G
Farncomb GW
Sanderson JE
Schultz GL
Taylor F
Brown MD
Laing H
Lucas JR
Carpenter E
Cotter VE
Jenkins CA
Marriott W
Barber J
Goldney S
Harding W
Cross Rob
Schultz WA
Bishop W
Schults G
Potts J