People: John Lucas(Snr)

Name Lucas, John
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
Dec 1855 – July 1860

Observatory posts 1855, Dec

Computer (Lunar & Magnetic Reductions)

Born 1816

Died 1883?


Family Links Son, John Richard Lucas, employed as a computer under his supervision from 1856–1860


Anne Norris (d. between 1848 & 1851): 3 Children

Known Addresses 1851
St Johns Street, Oxford (census)
  1857 1, Miles-terrace, Trafalgar-road (The London Gazette)
? Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford (census)
Vicarage, Haven Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight (census)


Born and brought up in Oxford, John Lucas spent most of his working life at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, where he began work as an assistant to the Radcliffe Observer, Manuel Johnson, in 1840. Married in 1841, by 1851 he was a widower with three children. In that year, his sister Ann was also living with the family.

On 3 May 1853, in an Address to the Board of Visitors at Greenwich, the Astronomer Royal, George Airy, floated a proposal to set up a programme to reduce the Lunar Observations made at Greenwich between 1831 and 1851. This was essentially a follow up to a similar programme that had been carried out under Airy and that had resulted in 1848 in the publication of The Reductions of the Lunar Observations made at the Royal Observatory of Greenwich from 1750 to 1830. The Visitors approved the suggestion and money was allocated in the Navy Estimates for the work to begin in the financial year 1854–5. For various reasons, which included finding a suitable person to superintendent the necessary computers, the start of the project was delayed until the beginning of 1856. It is not presently known what input Johnson, (who was one of the Visitors), had on finding a suitable candidate, but the post of Superintendent was eventually offered to his own assistant John Lucas, who joined the Royal Observatory from Oxford in November 1855. Amongst the new computers recruited to carry out the work, was Lucas’s own son John Richard Lucas who commenced work on 25 February 1856. Following the completion of the Lunar Reductions, in February 1858, Lucas was put in charge of the Reductions of the Magnetic Observations 1848–57 (Ref: Airy autobiography).

On 6 January 1858, Lucas appeared before Mr Commissioner Murphy at the Court for relief of insolvent debtors, the following details being published in the 22 December 1857 edition of The London Gazette:

‘John Lucas the younger, formerly resident Assistant at the Radcliffe Observatory, then of No. 14, Plantation-road, then of No. 45, St. John-street, then of No. 20, Oriel-street, all in Oxford, during the whole period Assistant at the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, then of Iffley, all in Oxfordshire, part of the time Assistant at the Radcliffe Observatory aforesaid, and other part out of employ, and then and now of No. 1, Miles-terrace, Trafalgar-road, East Greenwich, Kent, Supernumerary Computer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Kent.’

This was followed by a further announcement in the 7 February 1860 edition of The London Gazette under the heading of Insolvent Debtors' Court. Dividends:

‘Of one shilling and two pence in the pound to the creditors of John Lucas the younger, of No. 1, Miles-terrace, Trafalgar-road East, Greenwich, Kent, Supernumerary Computer at the Royal Observatory, No. 9,034 P.’

Manuel Johnson died in March 1859 and was succeeded by Airy’s First Assistant, Robert Main, who took up his post on 19 June 1860. A few weeks later, on 21 July, Adolphus Quirling, the First Assistant at the Radcliffe, went on an extended period of sick leave. During this period, Lucas was asked to cover for him. Following the return of Quirling of 1 October, Lucas remained at the Radcliffe, becoming established as Second Assistant in July 1861. On the death of Quirling in 1869, he was promoted to the post of First Assistant.

Following his retirement in the late 1870s, he appears to have gone to live with his daughter Annie and her husband Augustine David Crake, a clergyman and well known author of devotional works and juvenile historical fiction, who at that time were living on the Isle of Wight. It seems that Lucas died on the island in 1883.


Further Reading

The Radcliffe Observatory. H. Knox-Shaw. Vistas in Astronomy, Volume 1 pp.144–49 (1955)

Reduction of the Observations of the Moon made at the Royal Observatory,,Greenwich, from 1831 to 1851

Reduction with reference to the Positions of the Sun and Moon  of the Magnetic Observations from 1848 to 1857