Regulations, 1874

Extracted from Greenwich Observations 1873.





I. On the position of the Royal Observatory in relation to the Government; and on the position, duties, and responsibilities of the Astronomer Royal.

1. The Astronomer Royal is appointed by the First Lord of the Treasury, and holds his warrant of office under the Royal Sign Manual. By this warrant (in which the terms of the original warrant to Flamsteed are strictly preserved) he is directed "to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying the Tables of the Motions of the Heavens and the places of the Fixed Stars, in order to find out the so much desired Longitude at Sea, for the perfecting the Art of Navigation." His salary is now fixed at £1000. (subject to the same deductions as the salaries of other officers). It is well, in illustration, to remark, that the original inscription over what was the principal entrance door of the Observatory states that "Carolus Secundus, rex optimus, astronomiæ et nauticæ artis patronus maximus, speculam hanc in utriusque commodum fecit."

2. A Board of Visitors of the Royal Observatory is appointed by warrant under the Royal Sign Manual. The constitution of this Board has twice been changed; at present it is as follows:-The President of the Royal Society (not being Astronomer Royal or Assistant of the Royal Observatory), the President of the Royal Astronomical Society (not being Astronomer Royal or Assistant of  the Royal Observatory), the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford for the time being, the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge for the time being, and the Hydrographer of the Navy, are ex officio visitors. Six Fellows of the Royal Society and six Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society were appointed by name in the warrant; and on the occurrence of a vacancy a successor is appointed from the Society from which the late member had been selected, by the President of that Society for the time being. The number of Members of the Board at this time is fifteen.

3. The Board of Visitors is authorised to direct the Astronomer-Royal to make such observations as the Board shall think proper; to inspect the instruments, and to communicate with the Lords of the Admiralty upon the arrangements for maintaining them in efficient order; to make any suggestions to the Lords of the Admiralty touching the Observatory; to require from the Astronomer Royal every three months a copy of the observations made, with a view to the printing of them; and to meet at the Observatory on a certain day in every year, and to meet at such other times as may seem expedient to the President or the Lords of the Admiralty.

4. It has been customary for the Board of Visitors to invite the attendance of the Astronomer Royal during a part of their annual meeting, and the communications which have then been made have rendered it unnecessary to exercise some of these powers. At its first institution, the Board actually did direct the Astronomer Royal to make specific observations, but this has not been done for many years. The present Astronomer Royal has introduced the custom of presenting to the Board, at their annual meeting, a very full report on the state and employments of the Observatory (usually printed by order of the Board), the discussion of which has enabled the Board to exercise sufficient influence without actually giving directions. The instruments are always inspected; but the principal changes and additions in late times have been the result of suggestions of the Astronomer Royal, laid before the Board of Visitors. The signed copy of observations (it appears) was regularly presented, as late as the first ten years of this century; at present great exertions are made to bring the printing to the most advanced state possible, and the Astronomer Royal reports on this to the Board of Visitors; and this is accepted as equivalent to the regular presentation of a copy of the observations.

5. By Order in Council, the Lords of the Admiralty are authorised to issue, to the Astronomer Royal Official Instructions. These prescribe – that he usually reside at the Observatory not absenting himself for any long time without leave from the Lords of the Admiralty; that he give his whole time to the duties of the Observatory; that the observations be of standard excellence and carefully selected; that great attention be given to the calculations; that charge be taken of the chronometers belonging to the Royal Navy, and of other chronometers which may be ordered for trial by the Admiralty; that magnetical and meteorological observations be made; that correspondence be kept up with the Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope; that no repairs of the buildings, or expensive purchases, be made without the sanction of the Lords of the Admiralty; and that at the end of every quarter an account of expenses incurred he presented for approval and payment. These instructions have been practically with great accuracy.

6. When the business of the Observatory requires any interference with the grounds of Greenwich Park, within which the entire inclosure of the Observatory and Observatory grounds is contained, it is necessary for the Astronomer Royal, either immediately or trough the department of the Admiralty, to address himself to the Commissioners of Woods, Parks, and Public Works, with whom rests the management of Greenwich Park.

7. At the end of each year, the Astronomer Royal prepares an estimate of the expenses likely to be incurred, and the sum which is necessary to provide for meeting them, in the next year; and this estimate is submitted to the Lords of the Admiralty, and if proved by them is laid before Parliament. The total amount, including all salaries and ordinary expenses but excluding extraordinary expenses for new buildings, &c., usually somewhat exceeds £6,000.

8. In every transaction in or originating in the Observatory, without any exception, the Astronomer Royal alone is responsible to the Government. Even in the case of his absence on leave granted by the Admiralty, it is his duty so to direct the Chief Assistant by written instructions that as little as possible may be left to his discretion.

9. The assistance of the Astronomer Royal is sometimes requested for special purposes, by different departments of the Government.


II. On the position, duties, and responsibilities of the Assistants.

10. By order in Council, the Lords of the Admiralty are authorized to appoint a Chief Assistant, of rank superior to the other assistants, and competent to represent the Astronomer Royal in his absence; a Superintendent of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department; two First Class Assistants; four Second Class Assistants; and an Assistant in the Magnetical and Meteorological Department. The nomination is made after competitive examination by the Commissioners of Civil Services, subject to probationary trial by the Astronomer Royal..

11. By Order in Council, a scale is fixed for the salaries of the assistants. For the Chief Assistant £500 to £600 per annum; for the Superintendent of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department, and for the First Class Assistants, £320 to £450; for the second class assistants, £200 to £300; and for the Assistant of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department, £180 to £250. It will be remarked that no one of the assistants resides in the Observatory; the Astronomer Royal is the only officer of the establishment for whom a residence is provided.) There are also a labourer, a watchman and a gate-porter.

12. The assistants can be dismissed only by the Lords of the Admiralty, generally on the representations of the Astronomer Royal.

13. For several years past a sum (at present £600) has been placed annually in the hands of the Astronomer Royal for the employment of supernumerary computers. They are engaged and dismissed, and their salaries are increased or diminished, entirely at the discretion of the Astronomer Royal.

14. The duty of the assistants is, to undertake no work except that of the Observatory; to give their whole time to the Observatory; and to obey strictly the commands of the Astronomer Royal. Their responsibility is limited to these duties, and to general good conduct. They are not immediately responsible to the Admiralty or the public for their astronomical or magnetical or meteorological observations or investigations, or for any other conduct in the ordinary course of Observatory duties.

15. On written application from the assistants, leave of absence is granted in writing by the Astronomer Royal. The aggregate of these absences for each assistant is not to exceed six weeks for the Chief Assistant, or four weeks for the youngest assistants. In late years it has been usual also to suspend calculations for one day about the time of each new moon.


III. On the general objects to which the Royal Observatory is practically devoted.

16. The selection of the objects on which the establishment of the Observatory is employed, has been guided, partly by the professed object of its institution, partly by a consideration of its history, and partly by examination of the objects usually pursued in other Observatories.

17. The adopted astronomical objects are standard meridional observations of fundamental stars, and of other stars to a moderate but not a very great extent; standard meridional observations, at every possible opportunity, of the sun and planets, and me especially of the moon; observations of the moon with the altazimuth on every day on which she is visible; spectroscopic observations of the sun and stars and photographs of the sun; rating of marine chronometers, and trials of new constructions; dissemination of accurate time by public signal-ball and public clock at the Observatory and by galvanic signals to London and other places. The search for comets, &c., the regular observation of double stars, and the physical scrutiny of celestial bodies do not form a part of the usual business of the Observatory.

18. The adopted objects in the magnetical and meteorological department are, the most continuous and perfect record by photographic and other self-registering methods (and, where these fail, by eye observations) of the three local magnetic elements, of magnetic disturbances, and of spontaneous galvanic earth-currents; and of the usual subjects of and meteorological observation, and the fitting up of the photographic sheets with proper co-ordinate lines of time and measure, so as to make them available at once as a measurable record.

19. In all cases the prompt and careful reduction of the observations is considered equally important with the observations themselves.


IV. On the internal arrangements applying to the daily business of the Observatory.

20. One First Class Assistant superintends the magnetic and meteorological Observatory. He usually has under his direction the special magnetical assistant and two supernumerary computers. They meet for daily computations in the ante-room of the magnetic Observatory.

21. The rest of the establishment is attached to the astronomical and general department of the Observatory. They meet in the computing rooms of the Observatory. One First Class Assistant has specially under his superintendence the supernumerary computers, and is thus employed in calculations through a greater number of hours each day, and therefore is not expected usually to make observations. The other assistants make observations with any instrument and computations of any kind. They are, however, as much as possible confined to special trains of calculation; one First Class Assistant (mentioned above) superintends the Transit reductions; a First Class Assistant is charged with management of chronometer-business with galvanic communications and the issue of time-signals, and with the money-accounts; and of the other Assistants, one has charge of the Library, the Manuscripts, and the distribution of the Observatory Publications; another superintends the Altazimuth reductions; a third is charged with the Meridian Circle-reductions; and the fourth undertakes the Photographic and Spectroscopic observations. The Chief Assistant observes occasionally with any of the instruments. The Astronomer Royal and the Chief Assistant superintend all, and enter into details of each as far as they judge necessary.

22. The Chief Assistant, and the other assistants in the astronomical department who are also observers, are employed in the computing room during five hours. One First Class Assistant, and the supernumerary computers, are employed during six and a half hours in summer and six hours in winter.

23. The course of ordinary observations in each year is arranged (in great part) before the end of the preceding year by the Astronomer royal.

24. On the morning of Monday of every week, the Astronomer Royal, or more usually the Chief Assistant, prepares, upon a proper printed form (No. 33, of which a specimen is subjoined) [omitted here] the arrangement of the astronomical observations to be made by each of the assistants in the following week. This paper is signed by the Astronomer Royal, and is then placed for the view of the assistants in the Computing Room. In filling up the various columns with the assistants' names, it is to be remarked that one assistant is made responsible for all the observations that are to be made with a meridional instrument from 6h A.M. to the following 3h A.M., or for the observations that are to be made with the altazimuth during the night. The same assistant is never charged (except in cases of extreme difficulty) with observations on two successive days. A paper of arrangement (No. 55, of which a specimen is subjoined) [omitted here] for the observers in the Magnetical and Meteorological Department, is prepared at the same time by the Superintendent, is signed by the Astronomer Royal, and is placed in the ante-room of the Magnetic Observatory.

25. A Report on the astronomical observations made in the preceding twenty four hours is prepared, between 9h and 10h A.M. every day, by the Chief Assistant, on a proper printed form (No. 45, of which a specimen is subjoined) [omitted here], distinguishing the observations of different classes, and is laid before the Astronomer Royal.

26. A Report on the magnetical and meteorological observations, the state of the photographic sheets, &c., is also prepared every day by the Superintendent on a printed form (No. 144, of which a specimen is subjoined) and is laid before the Astronomer Royal. At present, a printed form is not used for this Report.

27. The calculations in the Observatory are, in every possible instance, reduced to such an order, that they can be made upon printed skeleton forms. These forms (about 150 in number, in addition to many others for the daily administration of the Royal Observatory) are most carefully prepared by the Astronomer Royal, who is authorized to demand from the Queen's Stationery Office such printed forms (as well as paper and other stores required for daily use) as he may judge necessary. Not the slightest deviation from the order of calculation directed by these forms is permitted to the assistants.

28. From time to time, the Astronomer Royal requires, from the Chief Assistant and the Superintendent of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department, Reports on the progress of calculations in the Astronomical Department and in the Magnetical and Meteorological Department. These are furnished upon printed forms (Nos. 46, 82, of which specimens are subjoined) [omitted here], which are so prepared with reference to the printed skeleton forms mentioned in Article 27, that the work of the reporting assistant consists in merely writing down the date to which each line of the calculation is completed; and the examination of these Reports then gives the Astronomer Royal a most rapid and accurate view of the state of these complicated calculations.

29. The marine chronometers, the property of the Government, which are kept in store in the Royal Observatory, (usually about 150 or more in number,) are regularly rated; all are compared with a corrected solar clock once a week, and many are compared every day. Chronometers on trial for purchase, are exposed to alternations of heat (by means of a stove heated by flames of gas) and of cold (sometimes by exposure to the open air), and are in all cases compared every day. A report of the rates of all chronometers at the Observatory is made to the Admiralty every week.

30. Chronometers are supplied from the store to the ships of the Royal Navy, on the indication of the Hydrographer.

31. The Astronomer Royal judges on the necessity of repair to Government chronometers, communicates with chronometer makers, and sanctions the estimates of expense of repair given by them. Chronometer makers are admitted to the Royal Observatory, for the purpose of inspecting and removing the chronometers, and for other business, on Mondays only. The sanctioned estimates are reported to the Admiralty every month. The details of the business are in ordinary cases conducted by the Chief Assistant or by the Assistant in immediate charge of chronometers.

32. The Astronomer Royal reports on the trial-chronometers after a trial of six or seven months, and advises the Admiralty on their purchases. A digested abstract of the rates is annually printed and extensively circulated among chronometer makers and others, British and Foreign, and is also attached to the annual volume of observations.

33. Every day, before 10h A.M. and again before 1h P.M., the galvanic clock which maintains the movement of various sympathetic clocks in the Observatory and in London, and which drops the signal balls in the Observatory and at Deal, and which gives hourly signals to the South eastern Railway and to the General Post Office (used for extensive distribution in the provinces, for dropping time-balls and for firing signal-guns), is adjusted to correct mean solar time.

34. Occasionally, a special inspection is made of the state of the instruments (in addition to the inspection continually going on during their daily use) by the Chief Assistant, and a report on their condition is made by him to the Astronomer Royal.

35. The arrangement of the library and manuscripts is directed by the Astronomer Royal. From time to time, a report on the state of the library and the manuscripts is required from the Assistant in charge of these departments.

36. Occasional orders to the assistants are given, as far as possible, in writing; and copies of the written orders are preserved.


V. On the printing and distribution of the Observations.

37. Every effort is made to prepare the observations and reductions for the press as early as possible. The Observations are printed, under the authority of the Lords of the Admiralty, by the printers employed by the Queen's Stationery Office. The management of the expenses of printing does not rest with the Astronomer Royal. The number of copies is fixed by the Lords of the Admiralty; at present, 300 copies of the whole work are printed, with an additional number of copies of special parts.

38. The proof sheets are read, and revised after correction, by the assistants at the Royal Observatory.

39. The principal part of the impression of the Observations is distributed by the Astronomer Royal; a small portion being intrusted for distribution to the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society; and a few copies being placed in the hands of the Admiralty publishing agent for sale.


VI. On the management of the Buildings, Grounds and moveable Property of the Royal Observatory.

40. Considerable discretionary power is left to the Astronomer Royal; but it is expected that in all cases of erection of new buildings of permanent character, of expensive alteration of existing buildings, and of purchases of expensive instruments, books, &c., he will apply to the Lords of the Admiralty for authority. The erection of buildings is sometimes (but rarely) affected under the superintendence of the Civil Architect of the Admiralty.

41. Ordinary repairs of buildings, and ordinary repairs of instruments, are made under the authority of the Astronomer Royal without reference to the Admiralty. New book, &c., are procured through H.M. Stationary Office.


VII. On the management of the Money Accounts of the Royal Observatory.

42. On January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1, of every year, the Astronomer Royal requires from all the tradesmen with whom he has had transactions on account of the Observatory, the bills for expenses incurred up to those times.

43. These bills are strictly examined by the Astronomer Royal himself, or under his immediate direction. The tales of days' works are compared with the daily register or "workmen's book," kept by the labourer of the Observatory. The materials are compared with the lists furnished at the time of delivery of the materials.

44. For the payment of small bills and of supernumerary computers, a sum of money is placed to the Public Account of the Astronomer Royal in the Bank of England.

45. The unpaid tradesmen's bills, with notes and certificates by the Astronomer Royal, together with statements of the sums paid by the Astronomer Royal himself, are transmitted to the Admiralty, and are shortly afterwards liquidated by Navy Bills drawn by the Accountant-General of the Navy upon the Paymaster-General.

46. Copies of the bills, notes, and papers of every kind relating to expenses are preserved, among the manuscripts of the Observatory.


VIII. On the Admission of Visitors to the Royal Observatory.

47. The regulations for the admission of Visitors are laid down by the Astronomer royal.

48. In strict rule, no one is admitted except on introduction from some department of Government or from some competent scientific authority. When the employments of the assistants permit, this restriction is somewhat relaxed. The rule is always interpreted liberally as regards foreigners.

49. No person, whatever be his claims, is admitted except by the express permission of the Astronomer Royal, or (in his absence) of the Chief Assistant.

50. No person can be introduced by an Assistant.

51. No visitor is admitted except between the hours of 9 A.M. and 2 P.M.; and no visitor is admitted on Sundays. These rules are most strictly maintained.


IX. Miscellaneous Business of the, Royal Observatory.

52. The Astronomer Royal considers it his duty always to maintain friendly relations with the Hydrographer of the Admiralty, the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, the Superintendent of the British Trigonometrical Survey, the Her Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope; as well as with the heads of all astronomical and other observing institutions, and the officers of the Royal Society and other scientific bodies, Foreign as well as British, with whom he may be brought in contact.

53. The Astronomer Royal also considers it his duty to receive and to answer with courtesy, the inquiries on scientific subjects addressed to him by strangers, and if possible to aid them in any scientific investigations which they may undertake.


Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

1874, August 6.


G. B. Airy.