People: John Burnstead

Name Burnstead, John
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates 16 Oct – 3 Dec 1787 (see below)

Posts Assistant

Very little is currently known about John Burnstead apart from two short entries in one of Maskelyne’s memorandum books that confirm that he was at the Observatory between 16 Oct – 3 Dec 1787 (Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre,1390/2D).

A later entry in the same memorandum books states:

‘Nov.9.1787 Mr. Brinkley went to Cambridge. He returned Jan.27.1788. ___  Absent 79 days = 11 weeks and 2 days’

which might be taken to imply that Brinkley had made an arrangement with Maskelyne to return to Cambridge for a few weeks to continue his studying, and that Burnstead and Moore (who came after him) were only taken on on the basis that they would be little more than stand-ins pending Brinkley’s return. However, according to Robert Main who made a detailed study of Maskelyne’s observing books in 1858 (RGO6/4/8–10), Burnstead observed at Greenwich from 11 November 1787 – 26 March 1788, the latter date being two days before Brinkley left the Observatory for good. The question therefore arises as to whether Maskelyne recorded the dates incorrectly, (which is possible as there is no evidence that he updated his list of assistants in real time), or whether Main made an error in his research (which seems more likely if he only looked at the observer’s intitials since both Burnstead and Brinkley shared the same ones). Until a new examination of the observing books is made, the answer will remain unknown.