People: James Paul

Name Paul, James
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
5 November 1840 – Autumn 1844 (RGO6/72/123)

Posts 1840, Nov 5

Assistant (temporary)

1843, Jan

Magnetic Assistant

Born c.1824

Died ? 1900


Known addresses 1841 Prior Street (1841 census)

James Paul was one of three new assistants taken on in November 1840 following the setting up of a new temporary Magnetical and Meteorological Department at the start of that month. Although initially funded for just three years, the Department eventually became permanent. In 1840, its staffing consisted of James Glaisher, who was put in charge as Superintendent, together with two Magnetic Assistants, Edwin Dunkin and John Russell Hind. Of these, Glaisher was seconded from his post as Sixth Assistant in the Astronomical Department, Dunkin was promoted internally from the post of computer and Hind was recruited from outside. Paul was recruited to cover Glaisher’s former duties in the Circle Department (a sub-section of the Astronomical Department). Like Hind, Paul also came from outside the Observatory.

By 1842, it was clear that three members of staff were not sufficient to carry the workload of the new Department. At the end of that year Airy therefore transferred Paul into the Department, leaving the Astronomical Department one man short. Paul resigned in 1844, leaving the Observatory at around the same time as Hind.

When appointed, Paul would have been around 16 years of age. This was the same as Hugh Breen (Jnr) who had been working at the Observatory for two years as a Computer and who was promoted to the post of Magnetic Assistant in 1844 following the resignation of Paul and Hind. Whilst Paul’s salary as an assistant in 1840 was £120 a year, Breen’s as a computer was just £48. The circumstances of Paul’s appointment are unknown. There was presumably a good reason why, as a mere 16 year old, he was appointed to an observing post on a very respectable salary. Living with what appears to be an uncle, brother or cousin and his family, his home in Prior Street was just four doors along from that of John Belville, the Observatory’s Second Assistant, who moved into number 17 in August 1840. Perhaps it was Belville who secured Paul the post.

It seems likely, that James Paul is the same person as James Thornton Paul who is first listed in the census for 1851. If this is the case, his parents were Joseph Paul and Agness or Agnes Paul nee Wood.  They married on 18 June 1822 in St Dunstan, Stepney. James Thornton Paul himself married Ann/Anne Field on 31 January 1851.  They were living together in the 1851 Census where his occupation is listed as Book Keeper. In the 1861 Census, he is listed as a widower and as ‘a manager of a newspaper’. He died in 1900.