People: Frederick Walter Simms

Name Simms, Frederick Walter
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
1830 – 21 Oct 1835

Posts 1830

Extra Assistant

Born 1803, Dec 24


Died 1865, Feb 27


Family connections Brother of William Simms (1793–1860) who made instruments for the Observatory with his partner Edward Troughton

Frederick Walter Simms by Maull & Polyblank. Albumen print, arched top, 1855. Simms is the only one of Pondís assistants of whom there is a known portrait. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence (see below)

Prior to coming to work at Greenwich, Simms had been articled as a surveyor and worked on the Trigonometrical Survey of Ireland. He joined the Observatory in 1830 following the departure of Thomas Glanville Taylor to take up the Directorship of the Madras Observatory in India. In 1835, John Pond listed his responsibilities as: observing with the Zenith Tube with John Henry Belville, observing occasionally with the other instruments, jointly correcting the proofs of the printed observations with Henry and superintending the publication of the fifth section of the annual volumes of Greenwich Observations. He was described by Pond as being ‘very able and diligent’ but also as having ‘committed a great irregularity regarding the rates of chronometers’ as a result of which he was expected to retire (RGO6/72/226). Like Thomas Ellis and William Rogerson who had been appointed in 1825, Simms was paid a salary of £100 a year plus an allowance of £20 a year for coal and candles. Finding this to be inadequate, he supplemented his income by giving lessons in navigation to officers in the merchant service, and by surveying iron steam-ships for the adjustment of their compasses. In 1834, he also published his first book: A treatise on the principal mathematical instruments employed in surveying, levelling and astronomy.

At the start of October 1835, Airy arrived as the new Astronomer Royal. A condition of him accepting the post was that the First Assistant Thomas Taylor should be removed from office. According to Airy, (writing in his autobiography), Simms ‘apparently had hoped for the office of First Assistant, for which he was quite incompetent’. Simms resigned soon after on 21 October. He was replaced by James Glaisher, Airy’s former Assistant at the Cambridge University Observatory, who interestingly had also been previously employed on the Trigonometrical Survey of Ireland. Following his departure, Simms developed a new career as a railway surveyor and engineer and published more books on surveying and tunnelling. He also produced the 1838 Map of The Parish of Greenwich in the County of Kent, for the Tithe Commissioners.



Institute of Civil Engineers, Minutes of the Proceedings, Volume 25, Issue 1866, 01 January 1866, pages 519–522


Image licensing information

The following image is © National Portrait Gallery, London and is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence.

Frederick Walter Simms by Maull & Polyblank. Albumen print, arched top, 1855. National Portrait Gallery Object ID: NPG P120(8)