Board of Longitude – Expenses and salaries paid to the Commissioners, Secretary, Superintendents etc


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Although constituted in 1714, their were no allowances or salaries authorised for those administering the work of the Board until the 1760s. Listed below are the allowances and salaries that were permitted to be paid from 1762 until the disolution of the Board in 1828 together with references to the documents from which this data was extracted



At their meeting on 17 August 1762, the Board .... (RGO14/5/42) ...... ‘the Minutes and Papers, since the first appointment of Commissioners of the Longitude to the present time, are in great disorder and confusion...’. They resolved to petition the King that a ‘fit person should be appointed...’ The first of the Board's five Secretaries, John Ibbetson, was appointed in 1763

Letters from the Longitude Commissioners to the Navy Board, 10 September 1763 (ADM/A/2551):

  • That the professors from Oxford and Cambridge should be paid £15 for each meeting they attend, 'since 17th August 1762'
  • The Secretary to the Commissioners (John Ibertson) to be paid £40 a year (from the same date)
  • The money for the allowances to 'be paid out of the Money in the hands of the Treasurers of the Navy, received for Stores spared to Merchant Ships'
  • Approved by Order of Council on 31 August 1763.

Admiralty Memorial to Privy Council dated 30 July 1765 (PC1/7/164):

  • Above source of funding has run out. Payments are in arrears.
  • Request for allowance paid to the Secratary to be increased from £40 to £80
  • Request for the various allowances to be paid for by with 'money arising by the sale of Old Naval Stores'
  • Approved by Privy Council on 1 August 1765.



Admiralty Memorial to Privy Council dated 20 July 1775 (PC1/10/89):

  • Request for the Astronomer Royal to be paid the same allowance for attending meetings as the Professors with effect from 1 December 1774 as 'on account of his vicinity to London, Proposals  Machines & Instruments for discovering the Longitude &ca  are frequently refer'd is put to an extraordinary trouble on that account.'
  • Request approved 26 July 1775.



Board of longitude minutes dated 5 December 1795 (RGO14/6/252)

  • 'Mr Gilpin's services as keeper of the Boards instruments were taken into consideration: Resolved the Mr Gilpin be paid fifty five Guineas, that is, after the rate of five Guineas a year for his past services; and after the rate of ten pounds a year in future for taking care of the instruments, and making trial of such instruments as may hereafter be referred to him.'



Order in Council, 22 December 1806 (RGO14/2/5):

  • With effect from 25 December 1806, expenses paid to the Astronomer Royal and the professors from Oxford and Cambridge to be increased to £25 a meeting
  • Secretary to the Commissioners salary raised from £80 to £120.



The 1818 Longitude Act, which was passed on 8 May that year appointed new Commissioners, and made provisions for salaries (amount not specified) to be paid to the following people:

  • The three Commissioners 'well versed in the Sciences of Mathematics, Astronomy, or Navigation, to be annnually elected, chosen, and named, ...' (newly created posts in 1818) (Clause xx)
  • The Secretary to the Board (Clause xxi)
  • Superintnendent of the Nautical Almanac (Clause xxi)
  • Superintendent of Chronometers (Clause xxi)

The act also envisaged that the posts of Secretary to the Board, the Superintnendent of the Nautical Almanac and Superintendent of Chronometers might all be vested in one individual.

Clause xxviii of the act required that the Commissioners should meet at least four times a year - previously, three meetings a year was the norm.

Although the act made no mention of expenses payable to other Commissioners, all those previously given an allowance (the Oxford and Cambridge professors and the Astronomer Royal) continued to receive one. One new Commissioner, the Observer at the Radcliffe Observatory at Oxford also became entitled to the same allowance (unless they were already receiving an allowance as one of the Oxford professors).

Under the act, it became a requirement under Clause xxiii that the salaries should be placed on the Ordinary Estimate of the Navy. The expenses paid to the other Commissioners were also included, presumably under the provisions of Clause xxv.

The size of the various salaries and expenses, as in earlier years was fixed by Order in Council.

27 May 1818, in a memorial presented at the Court at Carlton House, the Admiralty sought to reduce cost increases by reducing the allowance paid to the professors from Oxford and Cambridge and the Radcliffe Observer to £20 a meeting (meaning that the total expenses for each Commissioner would only increase from £75 (3 x £25) a year to £80 (4 x £20) rather than £100 (4 x £25). The proposal was approved, as was one for an allowance of £100 a year to be paid to each of the three commissioners mentioned above, as was one for £500 a year to be made available to appoint a person to be Secretary, Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and Superintendent of Chronometers. (RGO14/7/250).

The Navy Estimates for 1819 (ADM181/21) include a sum of £480 (presumably 6 x £80) for the expenses of the five professors and Astronomer Royal. This suggests either an oversight in the wording of the Memorial. of 27 May. The expenses do not appear in the Navy estimates for 1818 (ADM181/21), since they were presumably still being funded as before (though the salary of the Secretary was allowed for since at least 1812). The manuscript copy of the Navy Estimates for 1820 (ADM181/29) gives a figure of £600 for the allowances, the lower sum of £480 having been struck out. (RGO14/7/251).

31 October 1818, following a memorial (RGO14/7/253) presented at the Court at Carlton House, it was agreed that since no suitable person could be found to hold the three posts of Secretary, Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and Superintendent of Chronometers, the sum of £500 should be divided between the separate entities. viz:

£300 Superintendent of Nautical Almanac
£100 Secretary to the Board
£300 Superintendent of Chronometers



18 January 1819 at the Court at Brighton, a memorial from the Admiralty dated 15 January was read which asked for the reduction in expenses made the previous year to be reversed. This time, the Astronomer Royal was included in the list. The proposal was approved and expenses of £25 a meeting became payable again. (RGO14/7/262). The end result appears to have been that the individuals were paid at the lower rate for just one meeting (5 November 1818)

The sum of £600 was allowed each year until the disolution of the Board. The other salaries also remained unchanged.