The published output of the Royal Observatory falls into six categories:
Observations and associated catalogues, Annals, Bulletins and Circulars
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 acquired in 1768 (RGO14/5/167&8) and Flamsteed’s manuscript observations and correspondence were purchased in 1771. In 1765, three years after his death, Bradley’s 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.
The first volume of Flamsteed’s observations to appear in print was titled Historia Coelestis Libri Duo. It was published in 1712. The story of how it came to be published is both complex, and acrimonious and resulted in Flamsteed having a lifelong feud with both Halley and 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 that had been produced under his proper control, Flamsteed burnt the rest as a ‘Sacrifice to TRUTH ...saveing some few that I intend to bestow on you and such freinds as you that are herty lovers of truth that you may keep them by you as Evidences of the malice of Godless persons and of the Candor and sincerity of the freind that writes to you, and conveys them into [your] hands.’ (Flamsteed Correspondence, Vol 3, p.785 also in Baily’s An Account of John Flamsteed p.321). Several of these incomplete volumes are known to still exist.
Historia Coelestis Libri Duo (1712)
The extracted pages were subsequently incorporated into Historia Coelestis Britannica, which was published posthumously in three volumes in 1725. Also bound into the volumes of Historia Coelestis Britannica were the Francis Place etching of Flamsteed’s Equatorial Sextant which dates from c.1676 and a specially commissioned engraving by Emanuel Bowen of his Mural Arc, which probably dates from c.1724. An examination of the volumes of Historia Coelestis Britannica held by different libraries and digitised by Google shows that there was no consistency as to which volumes, or where exactly in the volumes these two prints were inserted. Usually, but not always, they appear together in either volume 1 or volume 3. There are other difference in pagination that exist as well. For this reason, links to all the know digitised volumes (as of March 2021) are included below.
From Lyon Public Library (digitised 3 Feb 2012)
From Ghent University (digitised 9 July 2010)
From the Bavarian State Library (digitised 14 January 2011)
From the National Library of the Netherlands (3 volumes bound as 2, digitised 23 April 2014)
From National Library Naples (Vol 1 in library catalogue, but seemingly not digitised. Vols 2 & 3 digitised 4 November 2013)
From the University of Turin (digitised 22 February 2016, Vol 2 only)
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3
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:
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
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.
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.
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 1830, 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 (includes Airy’s 1835 Observations)
Note: The names of the person making each observeration were only published from 30 April 1825 onwards.
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 Observations – a 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 1836–1955 have been digitised, and are available to consult via The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System. In accordance with that site's general practice, the volumes have been broken up into sections (2487 in total). Links to each section can be accessed via the three 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
At the beginning of 1969 the division of the Royal Observatory Bulletins into five series was discontinued. The magnetic results became the responsibility of the Geomagnetism Unit, Institute of Geological Sciences. The Time and Latitude Service results are now published as Greenwich Time Report, and the remainder of the material in a single series starting with Royal Observatory Bulletin No. 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).
In his Personal History of the Observatory, George Wilkins made the following comment (Vol.1, p.90):
‘Woolley’s decision … to introduce a new series of RGO publications was prompted (according to Sadler in an aside to me [Wilkins]) by adverse criticisms by a referee of one of his research papers. Up to that time, most research papers by RGO staff were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society or other appropriate journals, but from then on most of them were published in a new series of RGO Bulletins that were edited and composed by RGO staff. Consequently, these papers were treated as in-house reports and did not receive the credit that is associated with refereed papers in the primary literature.’
Following the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the Royal Astronomical Society devoted its first meeting of 1999 to celebrating some of the highlights from their long history. Amongst the speakers was Bernard Pagel who had the following to say:
‘A significant policy initiative by Woolley and Eggen related to RGO publications. Previously there had been the ‘Greenwich Observations’ containing tabular material, special reports, and miscellaneous papers published in scientific journals, notably Monthly Notices. The new policy was to have regular series of in-house publications and this raised a problem, because Eggen maintained that in accordance with what he alleged to be the policy at the Lick Observatory all scientific papers should appear as in-house publications, and this policy was adopted with, I think, disastrous results. Three series of publications were instituted, the Royal Observatory Annals, Bulletins, and Circulars, and Alan Hunter was assigned the unenviable task of getting all these publications off the ground through HM Stationery Office, which (needless to say) involved long delays. The Annals were fine for major catalogues, like the famous one on Omega Centauri, and the Bulletins were useful to Olin [Eggen] as a means of publishing shorter catalogues and related discussions, and also conference reports, and there was nothing wrong with that, but the bad part was that the rest of us were forced to use them. Thus for several years until this unfortunate policy (about which I had complained to Woolley in vain) was finally reversed at Donald Lynden-Bell's instigation, we were not allowed to publish in Monthly Notices, we had only very limited opportunities to speak at RAS meetings, and some of the choicest papers from myself, Derek Jones, Pat Wayman, and other colleagues in the first half of the 1960s lie buried in Royal Observatory Bulletins that are available in few university libraries and hardly ever consulted.’
None of the publications are available to consult via the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System. Nor have they been made available in digitised form elsewhere. This together with the fact that copies are held in relatively few libraries and archives, means that even today (2020), the information they contain is difficult for most people to access.
When the division of the Royal Observatory Bulletins into five series was discontinued at the start of 1969, the Time and Latitude Service results began to be published as Greenwich Time Report. Like the Bulletins, each covered a period of three months.
The RGO archives (RGO22) contains 50 Reports covering the period January 1968 to numbers March 1981, one Report is missing in each of the years 1973, 1974 and 1980.