PortCities London

Professional Assistants

Flamsteed was followed by Halley, Bradley, Bliss, Maskelyne, Pond and then George Biddell Airy who ran and transformed the Observatory between 1835 and 1881.  In Airy’s time as Astronomer Royal the role of assistant at the Observatory changed dramatically.  Pond had increased the number of assistants employed at any one time from one to around six, Airy expanded this several times over introducing a hierarchy and separate departments each looking after a different aspect of astronomy.  Unlike Maskelyne, Airy did encourage at least his higher ranking staff to get involved in the wider scientific community, publishing papers in academic and popular journals and getting involved in the ever increasing number of specialist scientific societies.

James Glaisher (1809-1930), assistant at the Royal Observatory from 1836 to 1874. Best known for his work in meteorology.

James Glaisher (1809-1930), assistant at the Royal Observatory from 1836 to 1874. Best known for his work in meteorology.

Edward Walter Maunder, Assistant at the Royal Observatory (1873-1919).

Edward Walter Maunder, Assistant at the Royal Observatory (1873-1919).

James Glaisher joined the Observatory soon after the Astronomer Royal George Biddell Airy was appointed in 1835. When in 1838 a magnetic and meteorological department was established at Greenwich Glaisher was made its superintendent, a post he held until retirement. Through this work he organised meteorological observations and data collection throughout Britain. In 1849 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and a year later, in 1850 he took a leading role in the foundation of the (now Royal) Meteorological Society.

Edward Walter Maunder worked as an assistant at the Observatory from 1873 to 1913, and again from 1915 to 1919. He arrived when George Biddell Airy was still in charge, stayed on under William Henry Mahoney Christie and Frank Dyson. Working in the Photographic and Spectroscopic Department he became particularly interested in the Sun. With his wife Annie, he collected data on sunspots, from which they concluded that sunspots went in cycles (as demonstrated in Maunder’s famous butterfly diagrams) and these cycles could be linked to magnetic disturbances and changes in weather. He was influential in the formation of the BAA (British Astronomical Association) in 1890 and in 1900 he wrote a book describing the Observatory as it then was.
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