Observations and associated catalogues, Annals, Bulletins and Circulars

The published output of the Royal Observatory falls into six categories: 

Observations and associated catalogues, Annals, Bulletins and Circulars
Annual Reports
Scientific Papers
The Nautical Almanac and associated tables, along with the later spin off volumes
Notes, Reports, Manuals, house journals, etc
Visitor Guides and material for non-professionals

This section deals with the Observations and associated catalogues, Annals, Bulletins and Circulars.



When the Observatory was founded, there was no routine mechanism for publishing the observations or clarity as to who owned them. This led to long delays in their publication. The issue of ownership was resolved in 1765 when Maskelyne was appointed Astronomer Royal, and a set of regulations drawn up for the first time.

In that same year, Halley’s manuscript observations were presented to the Royal Society by his daughter Catherine Price and deposited at Greenwich. Those of Bliss were presented in 1768 and Flamsteed’s manuscript observations and correspondence were purchased in 1771. Following Bradley’s death in 1765, his observations were claimed from the executors by the Board of Longitude. This claim was abandoned in 1776, after Bradley's son-in-law, Samuel Peach, presented them to Lord North, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, who in turn presented them to the University on condition that they should be printed and published. Click here to read more. The manuscript observations were returned to Greenwich in 1861. The observing books and books of reductions for the period 1835-1886 were destroyed by Dyson in the early 1920s.


1675-1719 (Flamsteed)

The first volume of observations to appear in print was a “pirated” edition. Titled Historia Coelestis Libri Duo, it was edited by Halley, and published in 1712. The story of how it came to be published is both complex, and acrimonious and lead to a lifelong feud with Newton. Of the 400 copies printed, 300 were acquired by Flamsteed following the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and Newton’s patron, the Earl of Halifax in 1715. After extracting the sextant observations – the only part of the volume he was happy with, Flamsteed made a bonfire of the rest as ‘a Sacrifice ... to Heavenly Truth’. The extracted pages were incorporated into Historia Coelestis Britannica, which was published posthumously in three volumes in 1725. The National Maritime Museum, London holds several copies of the 1712 edition, including one annotated in Halley’s own hand. This is almost certainly the copy sold by the Radcliffe Trustees in 1935, when they closed the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford where Halley had been Savilian Professor of Astronomy.

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3


1720-1742 (Halley)

Most of Halley’s time at Greenwich was spent making observations of the moon. His observations survive in manuscript form in the RGO archives at Cambridge. A facsimile copy is held in the horology library of the National Maritime Museum, London. The lunar observations made between 13 January 1722 and 27 December 1739 were published posthumously in 1749, forming the final part of:

Edmundi Halleii Astronomi Dum Viveret Regii Tabulæ Astronomicæ. Accedunt De Usu Tabularum Præcepta


1742-1764 (Bradley & Bliss)

None of Bradley’s observations were published in his lifetime. They were belatedly published in two volumes in 1798 and 1805, under the title: Astronomical observations, made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The second volume includes the observations of Bradley’s successor Bliss, who died after just two years in office.

Observations 1750–1762 (Volume 1. Bradley).
Observations 1750–1764 (Volume 2, Bradley & Bliss). Covers period 1756–1764


1765-1811 (Maskelyne)

Most of Maskelyne’s observations were published before Bradley’s. Titled: Astronomical observations, made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, they were made available as printed sheets for each year and priced at 2s. 6d. The sheets were incorporated into four bound volumes published in 1776, 1787, 1799 and 1811 respectively. The first volume has an extensive preface, which gives details of the state of the instruments on Maskelyne’s arrival along with details of his observing techniques. Volume one sold for 25 shillings, the others for 30 shillings.

Maskelyne’s Observations 1765–1774 (Volume 1)
Maskelyne’s Observations 1775–1786 (Volume 2)
Maskelyne’s Observations 1787–1798 (Volume 3)
Maskelyne’s Observations 1799–1810 (Volume 4)


1811-1835 (Pond)

Like those of Maskelyne, Pond’s observations were also published under the title: Astronomical observations, made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The first to be published were from 1811 and 1812. The subsequent observations were published annually until 1824. From the beginning, Pond made the decision to group consecutive years together into single volumes as far as the page numbering is concerned. Volume 1 covers the three years 1811–13. Volume 2 covers 1814-16; volume 3, 1817-19; Volume 4, 1820–22; but Volume 5 covers just the years 1823 and 1824. After this, the observations were published quarterly along with an annual supplement (from 1830 onwards), and all attempts at assigning them to a particular volume ceased. Because of the way the observations were released different owners bound them in different ways. As a result, there is an inconsistency in the way they appear in library catalogues. The 1811-12 observations were priced at two guineas; the annual observations cost one guinea and the quarterly observations five shillings.

Although Pond had a reputation as a first class observer, he was a rather less good administrator. Stephen Lee, Assistant Secretary to the Royal Society, took him to task on more than one occasion over inconsistencies in the published results. (Click here to read the full text of Lee’s letter, published in 1824).

Due to a precedent set in Maskelyne’s time, 60 copies of the annual observations were distributed to those named on a list maintained by The Royal Society, the remainder being delivered to Pond as Astronomer Royal to do with what he wished. In Pond’s case, it appears that this was to sell some on as waste paper for pulping and conversion into pasteboard. Babbage took exception, and published a diatribe in his book of 1831, titled Reflections on the Decline of Science in England. Click here to read it. Click here for The Royal Society a list of those entitled to a copy of the annual observations in 1828. The Royal Astronomical Society (formed in 1820) also maintained a separate list of those entitled to a copy. Click here to see those who were entitled to a copy in 1833.

Pond’s Observations 1811–1813 (Volume 1)
Pond’s Observations 1814–1816 (Volume 2)
Pond’s Observations 1817 (Part 1 of Volume 3)
Pond’s Observations 1818 (Part 2 of Volume 3)
Pond’s Observations 1819 (Part 3 of Volume 3)
Pond’s Observations 1820 & 1821 (Parts 1 & 2 of Volume 4)
Pond’s Observations 1822 (Part 3 of Volume 4)
Pond’s Observations 1823 (Part 1 of Volume 5)
Pond’s Observations 1824 (Part 2 of Volume 5)
Pond’s Observations 1825
Pond’s Observations 1826
Pond’s Observations 1827
Pond’s Observations 1828
Pond’s Observations 1829
Pond’s Observations 1830
Pond’s Observations 1831
Pond’s Observations 1832
Pond’s Observations 1833
Pond’s Observations 1834
Pond’s Observations 1835

Index to Pond’s Observations for the period 18111832


1836–1955 (Airy, Christie, Dyson & Spencer Jones)

With the arrival of Airy, in 1835, a new publishing regime began and volumes were once again published on an annual basis. Airy adopted the same format that he had previously introduced when Director at the Observatory in Cambridge – a format that was to remain largely unchanged for the best part of the next 120 years. Originally published like their predecessors as: Astronomical observations, made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, they were expanded in 1839 and 1840 to include the magnetic and meteorological observations. The magnetic and meteorological observations were then published separately until 1848 when they were included once again with the astronomical observations in a single combined volume. This volume went under the simplified title of Greenwich Observationsa title often now used for the earlier published observations back to the time of Bradley. The astronomical observations were however still published separately, as were the magnetic and meteorological ones.

Unlike the earlier volumes, which were published on high quality paper, Airy went for a cheaper option that has not aged well. Of variable quality, some pages are now extremely brittle and tear easily.

As the years went by and the routine work of the Observatory expanded, the volumes became every larger. Until the end of 1896 full details of all meridian observations were given. From 1897 these details were confined to the Sun, Moon, planets and fundamental stars, and a considerable reduction made in the size of the volume. Owing to the gradual increase of work in various departments, the volume once again began to increase in size, and the advisability of making a further reduction of the contents was considered. By 1911, experience had shown that nothing had been lost so far as security against mistakes and facilities for detection of errors were concerned by the change made in 1897. Dyson therefore proposed that in the future it would be sufficient to print particulars of the instrumental and clock errors only and to omit the detailed journal of the meridian transits and zenith distances. No changes were proposed in the printing of the extra-meridian observations of the Altazimuth or the observations made with the Reflex Zenith Tube.

A small change was made to the title in 1927. Although still known by the abridged title of Greenwich Observations, the full title changed from Astronomical and Magnetical and Meteorological Observations made at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, in the year 19.. under the direction of … , to: Observations made at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in the year 19.. in Astronomy, Magnetism and Meteorology under the direction of …  .

The volumes for the years 1839–1948 have been digitised, and are available to consult via The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System. In accordance with that site's general practice, the 108 volumes have been broken up into sections (2375 in total). Links to each section can be accessed via the two links below. Excellent as the SAO/NASA site is; it is not without its problems. These include misdating, section breaks coming in the wrong place and the listing of several sections under just one title. Sections that appear to be missing are almost certainly there, and, (provided you know what you are looking for) can be often found via a neighbouring section by moving forwards or backwards a page at a time.

Greenwich Observations 1839 to 1924
Greenwich Observations 1925 to 1958


The table below gives links to the volumes of Greenwich Observations that can be downloaded in their entirety (bar the odd page here and there), from Google Books. As mentioned above, those prior to 1848 (except 1839 & 1840), are for the Astronomical Observations only.

1837 1838 1839 1840

1841 1842 1843 1844 1845

1846 1847 1848 1849 1850

1851 1852 1853 1854 1855

1856 1857 1858 1859 1860

1861 1862 1863 1864 1865

1866 1867 1868 1869 1870


Introductions to the Greenwich Observations 1836–1914 (preface from 1910)

The volumes up to and including that for 1909 contained an extensive introduction to the astronomical observations. This included a breakdown of staffing not published elsewhere. The introductions were replaced by a short preface in 1910, the publication of which was discontinued after 1914.

1837 1838 1839 1840

1841 1842 1843 1844 1845

1846 1847 1848 1849 1850

1851 1852 1853 1854 1855

1856 1857 1858 1859 1860

1861 1862 1863 1864 1865

1866 1867 1868 1869 1870

1871 1872 1873 1874 1875

1876 1877 1878 1879 1880

1881 1882 1883 1884 1885

1886 1887 1888 1889 1890

1891 1892 1893 1894 1895

1896 1897 1898 1899 1900

1901 1902 1903 1904 1905

1906 1907 1908 1909 1910

1911 1912 1913 1914


Magnetic and Meteorological Observations (1840 onwards)

Magnetic & Meteorological Observations made at Greenwich (1840–1925)
Magnetic & Meteorological Observations made at Greenwich & Abinger (1926–1957)
Magnetic Observations made at Hartland (1957 onwards)


Appendices to the volumes for 1836–1955

The volumes typically carry one or more appendices. Most from 1838 onwards typically included one of the Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors (normally the one for the following year). Those for 1841–1914 typically included one giving the rates of chromometers and later of of box and pocket chronometers on trial for purchase by the Board of Admiralty, whilst those for 1888–1914 typically included one giving the rates of chronometer watches on trial for purchase by the Board of Admiralty. 

Other appendices were published from time to time on a diverse range of topics. These range from detailed descriptions of the instruments to completed Star Catalogues. Some Catalogues, Tables and Reductions etc were carried in separate publications. These are listed below

Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors (1836–1964)
Rates of chronometers and watches on trial at the Observatory (1840–1915)
Other appendices in the Volumes of Greenwich Observations


Tables and Reductions etc., published as separate publications (1836–1955)

Separate Publications (1836–1955)


Index to the volumes for 1836–1875

Index to records of occasional observations and calculations in the annual volumes 1836 to 1875, with list of other publications of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich


1956 onwards – the Annals, Bulletins and Circulars

Following his appointment as Astronomer Royal, Woolley discontinued the annual publication of the Greenwich Observations with effect from the start of his term of office. From 1956 the results were supposed to appear in one or other of two new publications that were to be issued at irregular intervals:– The Royal Greenwich Observatory Annals, containing long research papers or star catalogues of the kind that had hitherto appeared as separate Observatory publications or appendixes to Greenwich Observations; and Royal Greenwich Observatory Bulletins, containing the more routine results obtained by the various departments. The opportunity was taken at the same time, to combine several departmental reports containing ephemeral matter into a new series entitled Royal Greenwich Observatory Circulars.

Following the merger with the Cape Observatory in 1959, Woolley decided that their publications should also be merged into the RGO series of Bulletins and Annals, but without changing the system of numeration or pagination. To reflect this, the word Greenwich was dropped from the titles, the Bulletins from number 21 onwards, becoming known as the Royal Observatory Bulletins. The original title was restored in 1976 for bulletins number 182 onwards, following the transfer of the Cape Observatory to the Combined South African Observatories (now known as the South African Astronomical Observatory). By virtue of their timing, none of the annals were ever published under the title Royal Greenwich Observatory Annals. But although those of the RGO were all published under the title Royal Observatory Annals, the name change was never actually applied to those of the Cape. These were published as they always had been since 1898, under the title Annals of the Cape Observatory.

Although the bulletins were numbered sequentially, each one was originally assigned to one of five different series (A-E). Within any one series, the bulletins are divided into volumes with the page numbering continuing sequentially from one bulletin to the next – the page numbers being prefixed by the series letter. This practice ceased in 1969, when the bulletins were amalgamated into a single series, commencing with Bulletin number 154.

The fives series of bulletins were:

A          Meridian work (blue covers) – 1 volume
B          Time Service / Time and Latitude Service (yellow covers) – 4 volumes
C          Solar work (grey covers) – 2 volumes
D          Magnetic work (red/brown covers) – 4 volumes
E          Astrophysical and astrometric papers, and miscellaneous other work – 7 volumes


A total of 193 Bulletins were published – the first in 1958 and the last in 1984.

Click here for a list of titles (as published by the RGO archives). Note three of the Time Service Bulletins (nos, 13, 15 & 16) are missing from this list)


A total of 14 Royal Observatory Annals were published – the first in 1961 and the last in 1981.

Click here for a list of titles (as published by the RGO archives).