People: Malachy Hitchins

Name Hitchins, Malachy
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
Apr – Aug 1769

Posts Assistant (covering for William Bayly)

Born 1741

bap. 18 May

Died 1809, Mar 28


Family connections Third son, William Malachay Hitchins, Maskelyne’s Assistant during part of 1787

Rev. Malachy Hitchins (1741-1809). Oil painting by John Opie, 18th century. Image courtesy of Andrew Maden

Born in Cornwall, Malachy Hitchins (sometimes spelt Hitchens) is said first to have been a miner and then to have assisted Benjamin Donn in creating a map of Devon (published 1765). In 1761 he matriculated (started) at Exeter College Oxford, where he met his wife, Joanna Hawkin, whom he married in 1764.

In 1767, Hitchins was recommended to Maskelyne by Thomas Hornsby (who was responsible for publishing the Bradley volumes of Greenwich Observations) as a possible computer for the Nautical Almanac. He was taken on in 1768, becoming the comparer in 1769, a post he retained, working in Cornwall until his death in 1809. When Maskelyne sent his Assistant, William Bayly, to Norway to Observe the Transit of Venus which was due to occur on 3 June 1769, Hitchins stood in for him at Greenwich. While there, he was able to successfully observe the Transit for himself  with the Observatory’s 6-foot reflector (Click here to view the published observations). The manuscript observations indicate that Hitchins made his first observation as Assistant on 24 April and his last on 10 August (which was at least a week after Bayly had returned).

The records show that although Hitchins started at Exeter College in 1761, he did not graduate until 20 years later in 1781. In 1785, he was incorporated at St John’s College Cambridge where he graduated MA in the same year. During his brief spell at Greenwich, he entered holy orders. He was vicar of Hennock in Cornwall from 1772–5 and then of St Hillary. In 1785, he also became vicar of Gwinwear, retaining both livings until his death. His third son William Malachy Hitchins served briefly as Maskelyne’s Assistant in 1787.


Further reading

Hitchins, Malachy (bap. 1741, d. 1809), C. L. Kingsford, rev. Derek Howse, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Hitchins, Malachy. C. L. Kingsford, DNBOO (via wikisource)