People: William Bayly

Name Bayly, William
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
14 Nov 1766 – 28 Mar 1771

Posts Assistant

Born 1738 (bap. 8 Oct)

Died 1810, Dec 21


Born at Bishops Cannings, near Devizes, Wiltshire, William Bayly was the second assistant to be appointed by Maskelyne. He was a replacement for Joseph Dymond and was himself replaced by Ruben Burrow. His early history is similar to that of Burrow. The son of a farmer, he spent part of his boyhood assisting on the family farm, taking advantage of an exciseman and then a Mr Kingston of Bath to teach him the elements of mathematics. Like Burrow, he became an usher at a school. In Bayly’s case, this was located at Stoke near Bristol. He started as Maskelyne’s assistant at the age of on 28 on 14 November 1766. Amongst his duties was assisting Maskelyne with the testing of Harrison’s watch H4 for the Board of Longitude.

When the Royal Society began planning its expeditions for the forthcoming Transit of Venus on 3 June 1769, Maskelyne recommended that Bayly should be one of the their observers  He was sent with Jerimiah Dixon to Nordkapp in Norway, departing on 13 April and returning to Greenwich at the start of August. In his absence, his place was taken by Malachy Hitchins, the Comparer for the Nautical Almanac, who remained at the Observatory for at least a week after Bayly’s return.

Why Bayly resigned his post as assistant is not known. On Maskelyne’s recommendation he and William Wales were appointed as astronomers for Cook’s second voyage of discovery, Wales travelling with Cook on the Resolution and Bayly with Captain Furneaux on the Adventure. The two ships left together on 13 July 1772. The Adventure returned to England with Bayly on 14 July 1774, and the Resolution the following year. On his return, Bayly was briefly employed by Maskelyne as a Computer on the Nautical Almanac. When Cook left for his third and final voyage in the summer of 1776, Bayly travelled on the Discovery as astronomer, transferring to the Resolution after the deaths of Cook and King. He arrived back in Orkney on 8 September 1780. His salary for the second trip was paid at the rate of £400 a year, considerably more than the £60 a year that he had received as Maskelyne’s assistant. He also received a payment of £200 as a recompense for his trouble in reducing, compiling and printing the Astronomical Observations made during the trip. Click here to view further details of the payments.

In 1785, Bayly became headmaster of the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth, being pensioned off in 1807 when the academy was transformed into the Royal Naval College.


Further Reading

Bayly, William (bap. 1738, d. 1810). Derek Howse, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

William Bayly (from the Captain Cook Society website)