People: Richard Harris

Name Harris, Richard
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
1 August 1841 – 21 November 1843

Observatory posts 1841, Aug 1

Supernumerary Computer (Planetary & Lunar Reductions)

Later employment
1843, Nov

Assistant Secretary, Royal Astronomical Society (died in office)
Born 1811

Died 1845, Dec 25



Originally from Shipton near Burford in Oxfordshire, Richard Harris became a school master in Greenwich at the age of 19. He joined the Royal Observatory as a Supernumerary Computer in 1841.

In 1833, while still Director of the Cambridge Observatory, the Astronomer Royal, George Airy, had sought funding to reduce the Greenwich Planetary and Lunar Observations made between 1750 and 1830. Funding for the Planetary reductions was obtained on 3 August that year, with work commencing under Airy’s supervision at Cambridge on 27 February 1834. The Planetary reductions were worked on initially by just one computer, John Glaisher, the brother of Airy’s then assistant James Glaisher. Exactly when the work was transferred to Greenwich is not clear. Airy was appointed Astronomer Royal with effect from 1 October 1835, but continued to base himself in Cambridge until the end of the year while alterations were made to the dwelling house at Greenwich. It is possible that John Glaisher moved to Greenwich at the time of Airy’s appointment, but it seems more likely that he remained in Cambridge. In February 1836 James Glaisher moved to Greenwich and John was appointed in his place as assistant at Cambridge. At this point, work on the reductions appears to have ground to a halt, being recommenced in mid 1836 when John William Thomas and John Hartnup were taken on to complete the work. The financial go-ahead for the Lunar reductions was obtained on 31 May 1838 and work started soon after with an expanded team of computers. Richard Harris was one of seven new computers who started work in August 1841. During the years 1842 and 1843, he was also given observing duties on the Meridian instruments when the regular assistants responsible for them were absent. For this, he was paid an additional allowance.

In 1838, Hartnup left Greenwich to take up the post of Assistant Secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society. On his appointment as Director of the Liverpool Observatory in November 1843, Richard Harris was appointed as his replacement. He died in office in December 1845. His death was much lamented.



Obituary. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 7, p.49 (1846)