People: Thomas Taylor

Name Taylor, Thomas
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
1 Jul 1807 – Sep 1835

Posts 1807



First Assistant (by default)

Born 1772


Died ?


Family connections Father of Thomas Glanville Taylor, Assistant (1822–1830)

Known addresses 1807–1835
Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Following the resignation in 1807 of Thomas Ferminger as his Assistant, the fifth Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, appointed Thomas Taylor, to replace him. Prior to his appointment, Taylor had spent 11½ years as a schoolmaster in the Navy.

Until Pond’s arrival as Astronomer Royal in 1811, only one assistant was normally employed at the Observatory. By 1825, Pond had six assistants at his command. As the longest serving, Taylor became by default, the First or Chief Assistant. In a note written for his successor Airy in 1835, Pond described him as having been a most trusted servant, but went on to say ‘He may now be considered as quite superannuated; his sight is imperfect; he has grown petulant and has latterly taken to drinking’. His duties were described as observing with the Transit, superintending all the computations and corresponding with the captains of ships respecting chronometers. Like the other assistants, he also spent time rating the chronometers and operating the Time Ball, which at that time, was dropped by hand (RGO6/72/223&226).

Pond’s last years were marred by ill-health and prolonged absences from Greenwich. While he was away, the Observatory was left in the control of Taylor, whose drinking did little to secure its good management. As a condition of his appointment, Airy had wanted rid of both Taylor and Richardson. The Admiralty agreed to the former, but not to the latter. As a result, Taylor was pensioned off with Pond at the end of September 1835.

While at the Observatory, Taylor invented an astronomical alarm clock designed to sound when particular stars were due to transit the meridian. It was more convenient to use that a conventional alarm clock which had to be reset after each star transit (of which there may have been as many as 20 to be observed each night). Taylor was awarded 15 guineas for his invention by the Society of Arts in 1819. The National Maritime Museum in London has two examples in its collections. (Object ID: ZAA0525;  Object ID: ZAA0526)