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At Greenwich Observatory, 1836-1846

“Through the last quarter of 1835 I had kept everything going on at the Greenwich Observatory in the same manner in which Mr Pond had carried it on. With the beginning of 1836 my new system began. I had already prepared 30 printed skeleton forms (a system totally unknown to Mr Pond) which were now brought into use. And, having seen the utility of the Copying Press in merchants’ offices, I procured one. From this time my correspondence, public and private, is exceedingly perfect.

“At this time the dwelling house was still unconnected with the Observatory. It had no staircase to the Octagon Room. Four new rooms had been built for me on the western side of the dwelling house, but they were not yet habitable. The North-east Dome ground floor was still a passage room. The North Terrace was the official passage to the North-west Dome, where there was a miserable Equatoreal, and to the 25-foot Zenith Tube (in a square tower like a steeple, which connected the N.W. Dome with Flamsteed’s house). The southern boundary of the garden ran down a hollow which divides the peninsula from the site of the present Magnetic Observatory, in such a manner that the principal part of the garden was fully exposed to the public. The Computing Room was a most pitiful little room. There was so little room for me that I transported the principal table to a room in my house, where I conducted much of my own official business. A large useless reflecting telescope (Ramage’s), on the plan and nearly of the size of Sir W. Herschel’s principal telescope, encumbered the centre of the Front Court.

“On Jath I addressed Mr Buck, agent of the Princess Sophia of Gloucester, Ranger of Greenwich Park, for leave to enclose a portion of the ground overlooking my garden. This was soon granted, and I was partially delivered from the inconvenience of the public gaze. The liberation was not complete till the Magnetic ground was enclosed in 1837.

“In the inferior departments of the Admiralty, especially in the Hydrographic Office (then represented by Captain Beaufort) with which I was principally connected, the Observatory was considered rather as a place for managing Government chronometers than as a place of science. The preceding First Assistant (Taylor) had kept a book of letter references, and I found that out of 840 letters, 820 related to Government chronometers only. On Jath I mentally sketched my regulations for my own share in chronometer business. I had some correspondence with Captain Beaufort, but we could not agree, and the matter was referred to the Admiralty. Finally arrangements were made which put the chronometer business in proper subordination to the scientific charge of the Observatory.

“In my first négociations with the Admiralty referring to acceptance of the office of Astronomer Royal, in 1834, Lord Auckland being then First Lord of the Admiralty, I had stipulated that, as my successor at Cambridge would be unprepared to carry on my Lectures, I should have permission to give a final course of Lectures there. At the end of 1835 Lord Auckland was succeeded by Lord Minto: I claimed the permission from him and he refused it. When this was known in Cambridge a petition was presented by many Cambridge residents, and Lord Minto yielded. On April 18th I went to Cambridge with my wife, residing at the Bull Inn, and began Lectures on April 21st: they continued (apparently) to May 27th. My lecture-room was crowded (the number of names was 110) and the lectures gave great satisfaction. I offered to the Admiralty to put all the profits in their hands, and transmitted a cheque to the Accountant General of the Navy: but the Admiralty declined to receive them.

“On June 4th the Annual Visitation of the Observatory was held, Mr F. Baily in the Chair. I presented a written Report on the Observatory (a custom which I had introduced at Cambridge) in which I did not suppress the expression of my feelings about chronometer business. The Hydrographer, Captain Beaufort, who was one of the Official Visitors, was irritated: and by his influence the Report was not printed. I kept it and succeeding Reports safe for three years, and then the Board of Visitors agreed to print them; and four Reports were printed together, and bound with the Greenwich Observations of 1838.

“In the course of this year I completed the volume of Observations made at Cambridge Observatory in 1835 and on Noth the printed copies were distributed. About the end of 1835 the Dome for the Northumberland Telescope was erected: but apparently the polar frame was not erected.”

The following account of an accident which occurred during the construction of the dome is extracted from a letter by Airy to his wife dated 1836 Jast. “The workmen’s account of the dome blowing off is very curious: it must have been a strange gust. It started suddenly when the men were all inside and Beaumont was looking up at it: the cannon balls were thrown in with great violence (one of them going between the spokes of Ransomes’ large casting), and instantly after the dome had started, the boards of the outside scaffolding which had been tossed up by the same gust dropped down into the gap which the dome had left. It is a wonder that none of the men were hurt and that the iron was not broken. The dome is quite covered and I think does not look so well as when the hooping was visible.”

“Previous to 1836 I had begun to contemplate the attachment of Magnetic Observations to the Observatory, and had corresponded with Prof. Christie, Prof. Lloyd, Prof. J. D. Forbes, and Mr Gauss on the subject. On Jath 1836 I addressed a formal letter to the Admiralty, and on Jath received their answer that they had referred it to the Board of Visitors. On March 25th I received authority for the expenditure of L30, and I believe that I then ordered Merz’s 2-foot magnet. The Visitors met on Feth and after some discussion the site was chosen and the extent of ground generally defined, and on Dend Mr Spring Rice (Lord Monteagle) as Chancellor of the Exchequer virtually effected the transfer of the ground. But no further steps were taken in 1836. A letter on a systematic course of magnetic observations in various parts of the world was addressed by Baron Alexander Humboldt to the Duke of Sussex, President of the Royal Society; and was referred to Prof. Christie and me. We reported on it on June 9th 1836, strongly recommending the adoption of the scheme.

“A plan had been proposed by the Promoters of the London and Gravesend Railway (Col. Landman, Engineer) for carrying a railway at high level across the bottom of the Park. On Jath I received orders from the Admiralty to examine into its possible effect in producing vibrations in the Observatory. After much correspondence, examination of ground, &c., I fixed upon a part of the Greenwich Railway (not yet opened for traffic) near the place where the Croydon trunk line now joins it, as the place for trains to run upon, while I made observations with a telescope viewing a collimator by reflection in mercury at the distance of 500 feet. The experiments were made on Jath, and I reported on Feth. It was shewn that there would be some danger to the Observatory. On Nond Mr James Walker, Engineer, brought a model of a railway to pass by tunnel under the lower part of the Park: apparently this scheme was not pressed.

“In addition to the routine work of the Observatory, a special set of observations were made to determine the mass of Jupiter. Also the Solar Eclipse of May 15th was observed at Greenwich in the manner which I had introduced at Cambridge. The Ordnance Zenith Sector, and the instruments for the St Helena Observatory were brought for examination. Much attention was given to chronometers, and various steps were taken for their improvement. I had some important correspondence with Mr (Sir John) Lubbock, upon the Lunar Theory generally and his proposed empirical lunar tables. This was the first germ of the great reduction of Lunar Observations which I subsequently carried out. In October I was nominated on the Council of the Royal Society, having been admitted a Fellow on Feth 1836. I was President of the Astronomical Society during this and the preceding year (1836 and 1835).

“My connection with Groombridge’s Catalogue of Stars began in 1832, and the examination, in concert with Mr Baily, of the edition printed by Mr Henry Taylor, resulted in its condemnation. In 1834 I volunteered to the Admiralty to prepare a new edition, and received their thanks and their authority for proceeding. It required a great deal of examination of details, and much time was spent on it in 1836: but it was not brought to the state of readiness for press.

“My predecessor, Mr Pond, died on Septh 1836, and was interred in Halley’s tomb in Lee churchyard.”

The following letter was written by Airy in support of the application for a pension to Mrs Pond, who had been left in great distress:


“The points upon which in my opinion Mr Pond’s claims to the gratitude of Astronomers are founded, are principally the following. First and chief, the accuracy which he introduced into all the principal observations. This is a thing which from its nature it is extremely difficult to estimate now, so long after the change has been made, and I can only say that so far as I can ascertain from books the change is one of very great extent: for certainty and accuracy, Astronomy is quite a different thing from what it was, and this is mainly due to Mr Pond. The most striking exemplification of this is in his laborious working out of every conceivable cause or indication of error in the Circle and the two Circles: but very great praise is also due for the new system which he introduced in working the Transit. In comparing Mr Pond’s systems of observation with Dr Maskelyne’s, no one can avoid being impressed with the inferiority of Dr Maskelyne’s. It is very important to notice that the continental observatories which have since attracted so much attention did not at that time exist or did not exist in vigour. Secondly, the attention bestowed by Mr Pond on those points (chiefly of sidereal astronomy) which he regarded as fundamental: to which such masses of observations were directed as entirely to remove the doubts from probable error of individual observations or chance circumstances which have injured many other determinations. Thirdly, the regularity of observation. The effect of all these has been that, since the commencement of Mr Pond’s residence at Greenwich, Astronomy considered as an accurate representation of the state of the heavens in the most material points has acquired a certainty and an extent which it never had before. There is no period in the history of the science so clean. On some matters (in regard to the choice of observations) I might say that my own judgment would have differed in some degree from Mr Pond’s, but one thing could have been gained only by giving up another, and upon the general accuracy no improvement could have been made. Mr Pond understood nothing of physical astronomy; but neither did anybody else, in England.

“The supposed decrease of general efficiency in the last few years is to be ascribed to the following causes:

1. Mr Pond’s ill health.

2. The inefficiency of his first assistant.

3. The oppression of business connected with chronometers.

“The last of these, as I have reason to think, operated very far. Business of this nature which (necessarily) is daily and peremptory will always prevail over that which is general and confidential. I will not trouble you with an account of the various ways in which the chronometer business teazed the Astronomer Royal (several alterations having been made at my representation), but shall merely remark that much of the business had no connection whatever with astronomy.

“I beg to submit these remarks to your perusal, requesting you to point out to me what part of them should be laid before any of the King’s Ministers, at what time, in what shape, and to whom addressed. I am quite sure that Mrs Pond’s claims require nothing to ensure favourable consideration but the impression of such a feeling of Mr Pond’s astronomical merits as must be entertained by any reasonable astronomer; and I am most anxious to assist in conveying this impression.

“Of private history: I went to Suffolk for a week on Math. On Septh my son Wilfrid (my fourth child) was born. In October I made an excursion for a week round the coast of Kent. In November I went to my brother’s house at Keysoe in Bedfordshire: I was much exposed to cold on the return-journey, which probably aggravated the illness that soon followed. From Noth I was ill; made the last journal entry of the year on Deth; the next was on Jath, 1837. I find that in this year I had introduced Arthur Biddell to the Tithe Commutation Office, where he was soon favourably received, and from which connection he obtained very profitable employment as a valuer.”


“My connection with Cambridge Observatory was not yet finished. I had determined that I would not leave a figure to be computed by my successor. In October I had (at my private expense) set Mr Glaisher to work on reducing the observations of Sun, Moon, and Planets made in 1833, 1834, 1835; and subsequently had the calculations examined by Mr Hartnup. This employed me at times through 1837. I state here, once for all, that every calculation or other work in reference to the Cambridge Observatory, in this and subsequent years, was done at my private expense. The work of the Northumberland Telescope was going on through the year: from Noth to 29th I was at Cambridge on these works.

“An object-glass of 6-3/4 inches aperture (a most unusual size at this time, when it was difficult to find a 4-inch or 5-inch glass) had been presented to the Greenwich Observatory by my friend Mr Sheepshanks, and on Math I received from the Admiralty authority for mounting it equatoreally in the empty South Dome, which had been intended for a copy of the Palermo Circle. In the month of July the Admiralty wished for my political assistance in a Greenwich election, but I refused to give any. On Jard I gave notice to the Admiralty that I had finished the computations of Groombridge’s Catalogue, and was ready to print. The printing was authorized and proceeded (the introduction was finished on Nond), but the book was not quite ready till the beginning of 1838. In connection with the Cavendish experiment: on June 10th I wrote to Spring Rice (Chancellor of the Exchequer) for L500, which was soon granted: and from this time there is a great deal of correspondence (mainly with Mr Baily) upon the details of the experiment and the theory of the calculation. On July 24th I saw the descent of the parachute by which Mr Cocking was killed. I attended the coroner’s inquest and gave evidence a few days later.

“The Planetary Reductions from 1750 to 1830 had been going on: the computers (Glaisher, Hartnup, and Thomas) worked in the Octagon Room, and considerable advance was made. In consequence of the agitation of the proposal by Mr Lubbock to form empirical tables of the Moon, for which I proposed to substitute complete reduction of the observations of the Moon from 1750, the British Association at York (Ocrd, 1837) appointed a deputation (including myself) to place the matter before the Government. I wrote on the matter to Mr Wood (Lord Halifax) stating that it would be proper to raise the First Assistant’s salary, and to give me more indefinite power about employing computers. In all these things I received cordial assistance from Mr Wood. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Spring Rice) received us on Deth: statements were furnished by me, and the business was sanctioned immediately. During this year I was very much engaged in correspondence with Lubbock and others on improvements of the Lunar Theory.

“In the operations of 1836 and 1837 a great quantity of papers had been accumulated. I had kept them in reasonably good order, tied up in bundles: but this method began to fail in convenience, as the number increased. The great lines of classification were however now well understood. I believe it was in the latter part of the year 1837 that I finally settled on the principle of arranging papers in packets and subordinate packets, every paper being flat, by the use of four punched holes in every paper. I have never seen any principle of arrangement comparable to this. It has been adopted with the greatest ease by every assistant, and is used to the present time (1871) without alteration.

“On Jard I was informed unofficially by Mr Wood (Admiralty Secretary) that the addition of the Magnetic Ground was sanctioned. On Feth Mr Rhodes (an officer of the Department of Woods and Works) came to put me formally in possession of the ground. Between Apth and May 13th the ground was enclosed, and my garden was completely protected from the public. The plan of the building was settled, and numerous experiments were made on various kinds of concrete: at last it was decided to build with wood.

“After a dinner given by Lord Burlington, Chancellor, the first meeting of the London University was held on Math, and others followed. On Apth I handed to the Chancellor a written protest against a vote of a salary of L1000 to the Registrar: which salary, in fact, the Government refused to sanction. Dissensions on the question of religious examination were already beginning, but I took little part in them.

“In 1833 Mr Henderson had resigned the superintendance of the Cape of Good Hope Observatory, and Mr Maclear was appointed. I recommended the same Official Instructions for him (they had included an allusion to La Caille’s Arc of Meridian) with an addition on the probability of Trigonometrical Survey, on Auth, 1837. On Feth, 1837, I wrote to Beaufort suggesting that Bradley’s Sector should be used for verifying the astronomical determinations, and subsequently received the approval of the Admiralty. In June Sir J. Herschel and I had an interview with Mr Wood on the Cape equipment generally. The Sector was erected with its new mounting, careful drawings were made of every part, instructions were prepared for its use, and on Auth it was sent to Woolwich Dockyard and shipped for the Cape.

“Of private history: On Aurd I started with my wife for an excursion in South Wales, &c. On Septh I gave a lecture in the Town Hall of Neath. While at Swansea we received news of the death of my wife’s father, the Rev. Richard Smith, and returned at once. In this year Arthur Biddell bought the little Eye estate for me.”


“Cambridge Observatory: On Deth, 1837, I had set Mr Glaisher to work in collecting the annual results for star-places from the Cambridge Observations, to form one catalogue: I examined the calculations and the deduced catalogue, and on De, 1838, presented it to the Royal Astronomical Society, under the title of ’The First Cambridge Catalogue.’ For the Northumberland telescope I was engaged with Simms about the clockwork from time to time up to Apth, and went to Cambridge about it. The instrument was brought to a useable state, but some small parts were still wanting.

“At Greenwich: In April I drew up a little history of the Observatory for the Penny Cyclopaedia. On June 30th the Lords of the Admiralty paid a short visit to the Observatory: on this occasion Mr Wood suggested a passage connecting the Observatory with the dwelling-house, and I subsequently prepared sketches for it; it was made in the next year. In the course of the year the Sheepshanks Equatoreal was mounted, and Encke’s Comet was observed with it from Octh to Noth. On Mast, &c. I reported to the Admiralty on the selection of chronometers for purchase, from a long list: this was an important beginning of a new system. The Magnetic Observatory was built, in the form originally planned for it (a four-armed cross with equal arms, one axis being in the magnetic meridian) in the beginning of this year. (No alteration has since been made in form up to the present time, 1871, except that the north arm has been lengthened 8 feet a few years ago.) On May 21st a magnet was suspended for the first time, Mr Baily and Lieut. (afterwards Sir William) Denison being present. Groombridge’s Catalogue was finished, and on Mard I arranged for sending out copies. The Planetary Reductions were carried on vigorously. On May 31st, 1838, the Treasury assented to the undertaking of the Lunar Reductions and allotted L2,000 for it: preparations were made, and in the autumn 7 computers were employed upon it. It will easily be seen that this undertaking added much to my labours and cares. The geodetic affairs of the Cape of Good Hope began to be actively pressed, and in February Beaufort wrote to me in consequence of an application from Maclear, asking about a standard of length for Maclear (as foundation for a geodetic survey). I made enquiries, and on Math wrote to Mr Wood, alluding also generally to the want of a National English standard after the destruction of the Houses of Parliament. On Apth the Admiralty sanctioned my procuring proper Standard Bars. In connection with the Cavendish Experiment, I have an immense quantity of correspondence with Mr Baily, and all the mathematics were furnished by me: the experiment was not finished at the end of the year. The Perturbations of Uranus were now attracting attention. I had had some correspondence on this subject with Dr Hussey in 1834, and in 1837 with Eugene Bouvard. On Feth, of 1838, I wrote to Schumacher regarding the error in the tabular radius-vector of Uranus, which my mode of reducing the observations enabled me to see.

“The National Standards of Length and Weight had been destroyed in the fire of the Houses of Parliament. On May 11th I received a letter from Mr Spring Rice, requesting me to act (as chairman) with a committee consisting of F. Baily, J.E. Drinkwater Bethune, Davies Gilbert, J.G.S. Lefevre, J.W. Lubbock, G. Peacock, and R. Sheepshanks, to report on the steps now to be taken. I accepted the charge, and the first meeting was held at the Observatory on May 22nd; all subsequent meetings in London, usually in the apartments of the Royal Astronomical Society. I acted both as chairman and as working secretary. Our enquiries went into a very wide field, and I had much correspondence.

“On Jath Mr Wood wrote to me, mentioning that Capt. Johnson had made some observations on the magnetism of iron ships, and asking whether they ought to be continued; a steamer being offered at L50 per week. I applied to Beaufort for a copy of Johnson’s Observations, and on Jath replied very fully, discouraging such observations; but recommending a train of observations expressly directed to theoretical points. On Feth I reported that I had examined the Deptford Basin, and found that it would do fairly well for experiments. On July 14th, 1838, Capt. Beaufort wrote to me that the Admiralty wished for experiments on the ship, the ‘Rainbow,’ then in the river, and enquired whether I would undertake them and what assistance I desired, as for instance that of Christie or Barlow. I replied that one person should undertake it, either Christie, Barlow, or myself, and that a basin was desirable. On July 16th and 17th I looked at the basins of Woolwich and Deptford, approving the latter. On July 21st the Admiralty gave me full powers. From July 23rd I was almost entirely employed on preparations. The course of operations is described in my printed Paper: the original maps, curves, and graphical projections, are in the bound MSS.: ’Correction of Compass in Iron Ships “Rainbow,"’ at the Greenwich Observatory. The angular disturbances were found on July 26th and 30th, requiring some further work on a raft, so that they were finally worked out on Auth. I struggled hard with the numbers, but should not have succeeded if it had not occurred to me to examine the horizontal magnetic intensities. This was done on Auth, and the explanation of the whole was suggested at once: graphical projections were made on Auth and 17th for comparison of my explanation with observations, and the business was complete. On Auth and 18th I measured the intensity of some magnets, to be used in the ship for correction. It is to be remarked that, besides the effect of polar magnetism, there was no doubt of the existence of an effect of induced magnetism requiring correction by other induced magnetism: and experiments for this were made in the Magnetic Observatory. All was ready for trial: and on Auth I carried my magnets and iron correctors to Deptford, mounted them in the proper places, tried the ship, and the compass, which had been disturbed 50 degrees to the right and 50 degrees to the left, was now sensibly correct. On Aust I reported this to the Admiralty, and on Auth I tried the ship to Gravesend. On Auth I had the loan of her for an expedition with a party of friends to Sheerness, and on Septh I accompanied her to Gravesend, on her first voyage to Antwerp. On Octh application was made to me by the owner of the ‘Ironsides’ to correct her compasses. In consequence of this I went to Liverpool on Octh, and on this occasion made a very important improvement in the practical mode of performing the correction. On Noth I reported to the Admiralty in considerable detail. On Deth I had an interview with Lord Minto (First Lord of the Admiralty) and Mr Wood. They refused to sanction any reward to me. The following is a copy of the report of the Captain of the ‘Rainbow’ after her voyage to Antwerp: ’Having had the command of the Rainbow steamer the two voyages between London and Antwerp, I have the pleasure to inform you that I am perfectly satisfied as to the correctness of the compasses, and feel quite certain they will continue so. I took particular notice from land to land from our departure and found the bearings by compass to be exact.’” The following extracts from letters to his wife refer to the “Ironsides”: on Octh 1838 he writes, “I worked up the observations so much as to see that the compass disturbance is not so great as in the ‘Rainbow’ (35 deg. instead of 50 deg.), but quite enough to make the vessel worthless; and that it is quite different in direction from that in the ’Rainbow’ so that if they had stolen one of the ‘Rainbow’ correctors and put it into this ship it would have been much worse than before.” And on Nost he writes, “On Wednesday I again went to the ship and tried small alterations in the correctors: I am confident now that the thing is very near, but we were most abominably baffled by the sluggishness of the compass.”

“The University of London: On Jath I attended a sub-committee meeting on the minimum of acquirements for B.A. degree, and various meetings of the Senate. On July 14th I intimated to Mr Spring Rice my wish to resign. I had various correspondence, especially with Mr Lubbock, and on Deth I wrote to him on the necessity of stipends to Members of Senate. The dissensions on religious examination became very strong. I took a middle course, demanding examination in the languages and books, but absolutely refusing to claim any religious assent. I expressed this to Dr Jerrard, the principal representative on the religious side, by calling on him to substitute the words ‘Recognition of Christian Literature’ for ’Recognition of Christian Religion’: I addressed a printed letter to Lord Burlington (Chancellor) and the Members of the Senate, on this subject.

“Of private history: In January I made a short excursion in Norfolk and Suffolk, and visited Prof. Sedgwick at Norwich. In April I paid a short visit to Mr Courtney at Sanderstead, with my wife. On June 14th my son Hubert was born. In September I went with my sister by Cambridge, &c., to Luddington, where I made much enquiry concerning my father and the family of Airy who had long been settled there. We then visited various places in Yorkshire, and arrived at Brampton, near Chesterfield, where Mrs Smith, my wife’s mother, now resided. And returned by Rugby. I had much correspondence with my brother and for him about private pupils and a better church living. I complained to the Bishop of Norwich about the mutilation of a celebrated monument in Playford Church by the incumbent and curate.”

The following extracts are from letters to his wife relating to the above-mentioned journeys:

1838, Ja.

I do not know what degree of cold you may have had last night, but here it was (I believe) colder than before thermometer close to the house at 3 deg.. I have not suffered at all. However I do not intend to go to Lowestoft.

1838, Septh.

We began to think that we had seen enough of Scarborough, so we took a chaise in the afternoon to Pickering, a small agricultural town, and lodged in a comfortable inn there. On Wednesday morning at 8 we started by the railroad for Whitby, in a huge carriage denominated the Lady Hilda capable of containing 40 persons or more drawn by one horse, or in the steep parts of the railway by two horses. The road goes through a set of defiles of the eastern moorlands of Yorkshire which are extremely pretty: at first woody and rich, then gradually poorer, and at last opening on a black moor with higher moors in sight: descending in one part by a long crooked inclined plane, the carriage drawing up another load by its weight: through a little tunnel: and then along a valley to Whitby. The rate of travelling was about 10 miles an hour. Betsy declares that it was the most agreeable travelling that she ever had.

Yesterday (Saturday) Caroline drove Betsy and Miss Barnes drove me to Clay Cross to see the works at the great railroad tunnel there. Coming from the north, the railroad passes up the Chesterfield valley close by the town and continues up the same valley, till it is necessary for it to enter the valley which runs the opposite way towards Buttersley: the tunnel passes under the high ground between these two vallies: so that it is in reality at the water-shed: it is to be I think more than a mile long, and when finished 27 feet clear in height, so it is a grand place. We saw the preparations for a blast, and heard it fired: the ladies stopping their ears in due form.


“Cambridge Observatory: On Math I went to Cambridge on the business of the Northumberland Telescope: I was subsequently engaged on the accounts, and on Auth I finally resigned it to Prof. Challis, who accepted it on Auth. On Septh I communicated its completion and the settlement of accounts to the Duke of Northumberland. The total expense was L1938. 9d. + 15000 francs for the object-glass.

“At Greenwich Observatory: On Jard I received the last revise of the 1837 Observations, and on Jath the first sheet for 1838. In July I report on selection from a long list of chronometers which had been on trial, and on Sepnd I pointed out to Capt. Beaufort that the system of offering only one price would be ruinous to the manufacture of chronometers, and to the character of those supplied to the Admiralty: and that I would undertake any trouble of classifying the chronometers tried. This letter introduced the system still in use (1871), which has been most beneficial to the manufacture. On Septh I proposed that all trials begin in the first week of January: this also has been in use as an established system to the present time. It was pointed out to me that a certain chronometer was affected by external magnetic power. I remedied this by placing under it a free compass magnet: a stand was specially prepared for it. I have never found another chronometer sensibly affected by magnetism. In November and December I tried my new double-image micrometer. Between May 16th and Octh a fireproof room was constructed in the southern part of the quadrant room; and in November a small shed was erected over the entrance to the North Terrace. The position of the free Meridional Magnet (now mounted in the Magnetic Observatory) was observed at every 5 m. through 24 hours on Fend and 23rd, May 24th and 25th, Auth and 31st, and Noth and 30th. This was done in cooperation with the system of the Magnetic Union established by Gauss in Germany. The Reduction of the Greenwich Planetary and Lunar Observations, 1750 to 1830, went on steadily. I had six and sometimes seven computers constantly at work, in the Octagon Room. As in 1838 I had a great amount of correspondence with Mr Baily on the Cavendish Experiment. I attended as regularly as I could to the business of the University of London. The religious question did not rise very prominently. I took a very active part, and have a great deal of correspondence, on the nature of the intended examinations in Hydrography and Civil Engineering. On the Standards Commission the chief work was in external enquiries. On June 6th I had enquiries from John Quincey Adams (U.S.A.) on the expense, &c., of observatories: an observatory was contemplated in America. I had correspondence about the proposed establishment of observatories at Durham, Glasgow, and Liverpool.

“I had in this year a great deal of troublesome and on the whole unpleasant correspondence with the Admiralty about the correction of the compass in iron ships. I naturally expected some acknowledgment of an important service rendered to Navigation: but the Admiralty peremptorily refused it. My account of the Experiments &c. for the Royal Society is dated April 9th. The general success of the undertaking soon became notorious, and (as I understood) led immediately to extensive building of iron ships: and it led also to applications to me for correction of compasses. On Jath I was addressed in reference to the Royal Sovereign and Royal George at Liverpool; July 18th the Orwell; May 11th two Russian ships built on the Thames; Septh the ships of the Lancaster Company.

“I had much work in connection with the Cape of Good Hope Observatory, chiefly relating to the instrumental equipment and to the geodetical work. As it was considered advisable that any base measured in the Cape Colony should be measured with compensation bars, I applied to Major Jervis for the loan of those belonging to the East Indian Survey, but he positively refused to lend them. On Jath I applied to Col. Colby for the compensation bars of the British Survey, and he immediately assented to lending them. Col. Colby had suggested to the Ordnance Department that Capt. Henderson and several sappers should be sent to use the measuring bars, and it was so arranged. It still appeared desirable to have the command of some soldiers from the Garrison of Cape Town, and this matter was soon arranged with the military authorities by the Admiralty.

“The following are the principal points of my private history: it was a very sad year. On Jath I went with my wife to Norwich, on a visit to Prof. Sedgwick, and in June I visited Sir J. Herschel at Slough. On June 13th my dear boy Arthur was taken ill: his malady soon proved to be scarlet fever, of which he died on June 24th at 7 in the morning. It was arranged that he should be buried in Playford churchyard on the 28th, and on that day I proceeded to Playford with my wife and my eldest son George Richard. At Chelmsford my son was attacked with slight sickness, and being a little unwell did not attend his brother’s funeral. On July 1st at 4m. in the morning he also died: he had some time before suffered severely from an attack of measles, and it seemed probable that his brain had suffered. On July 5th he was buried by the side of his brother Arthur in Playford churchyard. On July 23rd I went to Colchester on my way to Walton-on-the-Naze, with my wife and all my family; all my children had been touched, though very lightly, with the scarlet fever. It was near the end of this year that my mother quitted the house (Luck’s) at Playford, and came to live with me at Greenwich Observatory, where she lived till her death; having her own attendant, and living in perfect confidence with my wife and myself, and being I trust as happy as her years and widowhood permitted. My sister also lived with me at the Observatory.”


“In the latter part of 1839, and through 1840, I had much correspondence with the Admiralty, in which I obtained a complete account of the transfer of the Observatory from the Ordnance Department to the Admiralty, and the transfer of the Visitation of the Observatory from the Royal Society to the present Board of Visitors. In 1840 I found that the papers of the Board of Longitude were divided between the Royal Society and the Admiralty: I obtained the consent of both to bring them to the Observatory.

“In this year I began to arrange about an annual dinner to be held at the Visitation. My double-image micrometer was much used for observations of circumpolar double stars. In Magnetism and Meteorology, certain quarterly observations were kept up; but in November the system of incessant eye-observations was commenced. I refused to commence this until I had secured a ‘Watchman’s Clock’ for mechanical verification of the regular attendance of the Assistants. With regard to chronometers: In this year, for the first time, I took the very important step of publishing the rates obtained by comparisons at the Observatory. I confined myself on this occasion to the chronometers purchased by the Admiralty. In March a pigeon-house was made for exposure of chronometers to cold. The Lunar and Planetary Reductions were going on steadily. I was consulted about an Observatory at Oxford, where I supported the introduction of the Heliometer. The stipend of the Bakerian Lecture was paid to me for my explanation of Brewster’s new prismatic fringes. The business of the Cape Observatory and Survey occupied much of my time. In 1838 the Rev. H. J. Rose (Editor of the Encyclopædia Metropolitana) had proposed my writing a Paper on Tides, &c.; In Oc I gave him notice that I must connect Tides with Waves, and in that way I will take up the subject. Much correspondence on Tides, &c., with Whewell and others followed.

“With regard to the Magnetical and Meteorological Establishment. On June 18th Mr Lubbock reported from the Committee of Physics of the Royal Society to the Council in favour of a Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory near London. After correspondence with Sheepshanks, Lord Northampton, and Herschel, I wrote to the Council on July 9th, pointing out what the Admiralty had done at Greenwich, and offering to cooperate. In a letter to Lord Minto I stated that my estimate was L550, including L100 to the First Assistant: Lubbock’s was L3,000. On Auth the Treasury assented, limiting it to the duration of Ross’s voyage. On Auth Wheatstone looked at our buildings and was satisfied. My estimate was sent to the Admiralty, viz. L150 outfit, L520 annual expense; and Glaisher to be Superintendent. I believe this was allowed for the present; for the following year it was placed on the Estimates. Most of the contemplated observations were begun before the end of 1840: as much as possible in conformity with the Royal Society’s plan. Mr Hind (subsequently the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac) and Mr Paul were the first extra assistants.

“Of private history. On Feth I went to Cambridge with my Paper on the Going Fusee. On Math I went to visit Mrs Smith, my wife’s mother, at Brampton near Chesterfield. I made a short visit to Playford in April and a short expedition to Winchester, Portsmouth, &c., in June. From Septh to Ocrd I was travelling in the North of England and South of Scotland.” [This was an extremely active and interesting journey, in the course of which a great number of places were visited by Airy, especially places on the Border mentioned in Scott’s Poems, which always had a great attraction for him. He also attended a Meeting of the British Association at Glasgow and made a statement regarding the Planetary and Lunar Reductions: and looked at a site for the Glasgow Observatory.] “In November I went for a short time to Cambridge and to Keysoe (my brother’s residence). On Deth my daughter Hilda was born (subsequently married to E.J. Routh). In this year I had a loss of L350 by a fire on my Eye estate.”

The following extracts are from letters to his wife. Some of them relate to matters of general interest. They are all of them characteristic, and serve to shew the keen interest which he took in matters around him, and especially in architecture and scenery. The first letter relates to his journey from Chesterfield on the previous day.

1840, April 2.

I was obliged to put up with an outside place to Derby yesterday, much against my will, for I was apprehensive that the cold would bring on the pain in my face. Of that I had not much; but I have caught something of sore throat and catarrh. The coach came up at about 22 minutes past 8. It arrived in Derby at 20 minutes or less past 11 (same guard and coachman who brought us), and drew up in the street opposite the inn at which we got no dinner, abreast of an omnibus. I had to go to a coach office opposite the inn to pay and be booked for London, and was duly set down in a way-bill with name; and then entered the omnibus: was transferred to the Railway Station, and then received the Railway Ticket by shouting out my name. If you should come the same way, you would find it convenient to book your place at Chesterfield to London by your name (paying for the whole, namely, coach fare, omnibus fare _-6_, and railway fare _L1. 15d._ first class). Then you will only have to step out of the coach into the omnibus, and to scream out once or twice to the guard to make sure that you are entered in the way-bill and that your luggage is put on the omnibus.

1840, April 15.

I forgot to tell you that at Lord Northampton’s I saw some specimens of the Daguerrotype, pictures made by the Camera Obscura, and they surpass in beauty of execution anything that I could have imagined. Baily who has two or three has promised to lend them for your inspection when you return. Also I saw some post-office stamps and stamped envelopes: I do not much admire the latter.

The following relates to the fire on his Eye farm, referred to above:

1840, April 23.

On Wednesday (yesterday) went with my uncle to the Eye Estate, to see the effects of the fire. The farming buildings of every kind are as completely cleared away as if they had been mown down: not a bit of anything but one or two short brick walls and the brick foundations of the barns and stacks. The aspect of the place is much changed, because in approaching the house you do not see it upon a back-ground of barns, &c., but standing alone. The house is in particularly neat and good order. I did not think it at all worth while to make troublesome enquiries of the people who reside there, but took Mr Case’s account. There seems no doubt that the fire was caused by the maid-servant throwing cinders into a sort of muck-place into which they had been commonly thrown. I suppose there was after all this dry weather straw or muck drier than usual, and the cinders were hotter than usual. The whole was on fire in an exceedingly short time; and everything was down in less than an hour. Two engines came from Eye, and all the population of the town (as the fire began shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon). It is entirely owing to these that my house, and the farm (Sewell’s) on the opposite side of the road, were not burned down. At the beginning of the fire the wind was N.E. which blew directly towards the opposite farm (Sewell’s): although the nearest part of it (tiled dwelling house) was 100 yards off or near it, and the great barn (thatched roof) considerably further, yet both were set on fire several times. All this while, the tail of my house was growing very hot: and shortly after the buildings fell in burning ruins, the wind changed to N.W., blowing directly to my house. If this change had happened while the buildings were standing and burning, there would have been no possibility of saving the house. As it was, the solder is melted from the window next the farm-yard, and the roof was set on fire in three or four places. One engine was kept working on my house and one on the opposite farm. A large pond was pretty nearly emptied. Mr Case’s horses and bullocks were got out, not without great difficulty, as the progress of the fire was fearfully rapid. A sow and nine pigs were burnt, and a large hog ran out burnt so much that the people killed it immediately.

1840, June 21.

At Winchester we established ourselves at the George and then without delay proceeded to St Cross. I did not know before the nature of its hospital establishment, but I find that it is a veritable set of alms-houses. The church is a most curious specimen of the latest Norman. I never saw one so well marked before Norman ornaments on pointed arches, pilasters detached with cushion capitals, and various signs: and it is clearly an instance of that state of the style when people had been forced by the difficulties and inelegancies of the round arch in groining to adopt pointed arches for groining but had not learnt to use them for windows.......This morning after breakfast went to the Cathedral (looking by the way at a curious old cross in the street). I thought that its inside was wholly Norman, and was most agreeably surprised by finding the whole inside groined in every part with excellent late decorated or perpendicular work. Yet there are several signs about it which lead me to think that the whole inside has been Norman, and even that the pilasters now worked up into the perpendicular are Norman. The transepts are most massive old Norman, with side-aisles running round their ends (which I never saw before). The groining of the side aisles of the nave very effective from the strength of the cross ribs. The clerestory windows of the quire very large. The organ is on one side. But the best thing about the quire is the wooden stall-work, of early decorated, very beautiful. A superb Lady Chapel, of early English.

1840, June 23.

We left Winchester by evening train to the Dolphin, Southampton, and slept there. At nine in the morning we went by steamboat down the river to Ryde in the Isle of Wight: our steamer was going on to Portsmouth, but we thought it better to land at Ryde and take a boat for ourselves. We then sailed out (rather a blowing day) to the vessel attending Col. Pasley’s operations, and after a good deal of going from one boat to another (the sea being so rough that our boat could not be got up to the ships) and a good deal of waiting, we got on board the barge or lump in which Col. Pasley was. Here we had the satisfaction of seeing the barrel of gunpowder lowered (there was more than a ton of gunpowder), and seeing the divers go down to fix it, dressed in their diving helmets and supplied with air from the great air-pump above. When all was ready and the divers had ascended again, the barge in which we were was warped away, and by a galvanic battery in another barge (which we had seen carried there, and whose connection with the barrel we had seen), upon signal given by sound of trumpet, the gunpowder was fired. The effect was most wonderful. The firing followed the signal instantaneously. We were at between 100 and 200 yards from the place (as I judge), and the effects were as follows. As soon as the signal was given, there was a report, louder than a musket but not so loud as a small cannon, and a severe shock was felt at our feet, just as if our barge had struck on a rock. Almost immediately, a very slight swell was perceived over the place of the explosion, and the water looked rather foamy: then in about a second it began to rise, and there was the most enormous outbreak of spray that you can conceive. It rose in one column of 60 or 70 feet high, and broad at the base, resembling a stumpy sheaf with jagged masses of spray spreading out at the sides, and seemed to grow outwards till I almost feared that it was coming to us. It sunk, I suppose, in separate parts, for it did not make any grand squash down, and then there were seen logs of wood rising, and a dense mass of black mud, which spread gradually round till it occupied a very large space. Fish were stunned by it: our boatmen picked up some. It was said by all present that this was the best explosion which had been seen: it was truly wonderful. Then we sailed to Portsmouth.......The explosion was a thing worth going many miles to see. There were many yachts and sailing boats out to see it (I counted 26 before they were at the fullest), so that the scene was very gay.

Here are some notes on York Cathedral after the fire:

1840, Sep.

My first letter was closed after service at York Cathedral. As soon as I had posted it, I walked sedately twice round the cathedral, and then I found the sexton at the door, who commiserating me of my former vain applications, and having the hope of lucre before his eyes, let me in. I saw the burnt part, which looks not melancholy but unfinished. Every bit of wood is carried away clean, with scarcely a smoke-daub to mark where it has been: the building looks as if the walls were just prepared for a roof, but there are some deep dints in the pavement, shewing where large masses have fallen. The lower parts of some of the columns (to the height of 8 or 10 feet) are much scaled and cracked. The windows are scarcely touched. I also refreshed my memory of the chapter-house, which is most beautiful, and which has much of its old gilding reasonably bright, and some of its old paint quite conspicuous. And I looked again at the old crypt with its late Norman work, and at the still older crypt of the pre-existing church.


“The routine work of the Observatory in its several departments was carried on steadily during this year. The Camera Obscura was removed from the N.W. Turret of the Great Room, to make way for the Anemometer. In Magnetism and Meteorology the most important thing was the great magnetic storm of Septh, which revealed a new class of magnetic phenomena. It was very well observed by Mr Glaisher, and I immediately printed and circulated an account of it. In April I reported that the Planetary Reductions were completed, and furnished estimates for the printing. In August I applied for 18,000 copies of the great skeleton form for computing Lunar Tabular Places, which were granted. I reported, as usual, on various Papers for the Royal Society, and was still engaged on the Cavendish Experiment. In the University of London I attended the meeting of Deth, on the reduction of Examiners’ salaries, which were extravagant. I furnished Col. Colby with a plan of a new Sector, still used in the British Survey. I appealed to Colby about the injury to the cistern on the Great Gable in Cumberland, by the pile raised for the Survey Signal. On Jard occurred a most remarkable tidal disturbance: the tide in the Thames was 5 feet too low. I endeavoured to trace it on the coasts, and had a vast amount of correspondence: but it elicited little.

“Of private history: I was a short time in Suffolk in March. On Mast I started with my wife (whose health had suffered much) for a trip to Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, &c. While at Swansea we received news on Apth of the deadly illness of my dear mother. We travelled by Neath and Cardiff to Bath, where I solicited a rest for my wife from my kind friend Miss Sutcliffe, and returned alone to Greenwich. My dear mother had died on the morning of the 24th. The funeral took place at Little Whelnetham (near Bury) on May 1st, where my mother was buried by the side of my father. We went to Cambridge, where my wife consulted Dr Haviland to her great advantage, and returned to Greenwich on May 7th. On May 14th to 16th I was at Sanderstead (Rev. J. Courtney) with Whewell as one sponsor, at the christening of my daughter Hilda. In September I went for a trip with my sister to Yorkshire and Cumberland, in the course of which we visited Dent (Sedgwick’s birthplace), and paid visits to Mr Wordsworth, Miss Southey, and Miss Bristow, returning to Greenwich on the 30th Sept. From June 15th to 19th I visited my brother at Keysoe.”

The following extracts are from letters written to his wife while on the above trip in Yorkshire and Cumberland:

1841, Sep.

We stopped at York: went to the Tavern Hotel. In the morning (Friday) went into the Cathedral. I think that it improves on acquaintance. The nave is now almost filled with scaffolding for the repair of the roof, so that it has not the bare unfinished appearance that it had when I was there last year. The tower in which the fire began seems to be a good deal repaired: there are new mullions in its windows, &c. We stopped to hear part of the service, which was not very effective.

Here are notes of his visit to Dentdale in Yorkshire, the birthplace of his friend Sedgwick:

1841, Sep.

The day was quite fine, and the hills quite clear. The ascent out of Hawes is dull; the little branch dale is simple and monotonous, and so are the hills about the great dale which are in sight. The only thing which interested us was the sort of bird’s-eye view of Hardraw dell, which appeared a most petty and insignificant opening in the great hill side. But when we got to the top of the pass there was a magnificent view of Ingleborough. The dale which was most nearly in front of us is that which goes down to Ingleton, past the side of Ingleborough. The mountain was about nine miles distant. We turned to the right and immediately descended Dent-dale. The three dales (to Hawes, to Ingleton, and to Dent) lay their heads together in a most amicable way, so that, when at the top, it is equally easy to descend down either of them. We found very soon that Dent-dale is much more beautiful than that by which we had ascended. The sides of the hills are steeper, and perhaps higher: the bottom is richer. The road is also better. The river is a continued succession of very pretty falls, almost all of which have scooped out the lower strata of the rock, so that the water shoots clear over. For several miles (perhaps 10) it runs upon bare limestone without a particle of earth. From the head of the dale to the village of Dent is eight miles. At about half-way is a new chapel, very neat, with a transept at its west end. The village of Dent is one of the strangest places that I ever saw. Narrow street, up and down, with no possibility of two carriages bigger than children’s carts passing each other. We stopped at the head inn and enquired about the Geolog: but he is not in the country. We then called on his brother, who was much surprised and pleased to see us. His wife came in soon after (his daughter having gone with a party to see some waterfall) and they urged us to stop and dine with them. So we walked about and saw every place about the house, church, and school, connected with the history of the Geolog: and then dined. I promised that you should call there some time when we are in the north together and spend a day or two with them. Mr Sedgwick says it is reported that Whewell will take Sedbergh living (which is now vacant: Trinity College is patron). Then we had our chaise and went to Sedbergh. The very mouth of Dent-dale is more contracted than its higher parts. Sedbergh is embosomed among lumping hills. Then we had another carriage to drive to Kendal.

Here is a recollection of Wordsworth:

1841, Sep.

We then got our dinner at Lowwood, and walked straight to Ambleside, changed our shoes, and walked on to Rydal to catch Wordsworth at tea. Miss Wordsworth was being drawn about in a chair just as she was seven years ago. I do not recollect her appearance then so as to say whether she is much altered, but I think not. Mr Wordsworth is as full of good talk as ever, and seems quite strong and well. Mrs Wordsworth looks older. Their son William was at tea, but he had come over only for the day or evening. There was also a little girl, who I think is Mrs Wordsworth’s niece.


“In this year I commenced a troublesome work, the Description of the Northumberland Telescope. On Septh I wrote to the Duke of Northumberland suggesting this, sending him a list of Plates, and submitting an estimate of expense L120. On Septh I received the Duke’s assent. I applied to Prof. Challis (at the Cambridge Observatory) requesting him to receive the draughtsman, Sly, in his house, which he kindly consented to do.

“With regard to Estimates. I now began to point out to the Admiralty the inconvenience of furnishing separate estimates, viz. to the Admiralty for the Astronomical Establishment, and to the Treasury for the Magnetical and Meteorological Establishment. The great work of the Lunar Reductions proceeded steadily: 14 computers were employed on them. With regard to the Magnetical and Meteorological Establishment: I suppose that James Ross’s expedition had returned: and with this, according to the terms of the original grant, the Magnetical and Meteorological Establishments expired. There was much correspondence with the Royal Society and the Treasury, and ultimately Sir R. Peel consented to the continuation of the establishments to the end of 1845. In this year began my correspondence with Mr Mitchell about the Cincinnati Observatory. On Au Mr Mitchell settled himself at Greenwich, and worked for a long time in the Computing Room. And in this year Mr Aiken of Liverpool first wrote to me about the Liverpool Observatory, and a great deal of correspondence followed: the plans were in fact entirely entrusted to me. July 7th was the day of the Total Eclipse of the Sun, which I observed with my wife at the Superga, near Turin. I wrote an account of my observations for the Royal Astronomical Society. On Jath I notified to Mr Goulburn that our Report on the Restoration of the Standards was ready, and on Jath I presented it. After this followed a great deal of correspondence, principally concerning the collection of authenticated copies of the Old Standards from all sides. In some discussions with Capt. Shirreff, then Captain Superintendent of the Chatham Dockyard, I suggested that machinery might be made which would saw ship-timbers to their proper form, and I sent him some plans on Noth. This was the beginning of a correspondence which lasted long, but which led to nothing, as will appear hereafter. On Deth, being on a visit to Dean Peacock at Ely, I examined the Drainage Scoop Wheel at Prickwillow, and made a Report to him by letter, which obtained circulation and was well known. On May 26th the manuscript of my article, ‘Tides and Waves,’ for the Encyclopædia Metropolitana was sent to the printer. I had extensive correspondence, principally on local tides, with Whewell and others. Tides were observed for me by Colby’s officers at Southampton, by myself at Christchurch and Poole, at Ipswich by Ransome’s man; and a great series of observations of Irish Tides were made on my plan under Colby’s direction in June, July and August. On Septh Mr Goulburn, Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked my opinion on the utility of Babbage’s calculating machine, and the propriety of expending further sums of money on it. I replied, entering fully into the matter, and giving my opinion that it was worthless. I was elected an Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

“The reduction and printing of the astronomical observations had been getting into arrear: the last revise of the 1840 observations went to press on May 18th, 1842. On Auth came into operation a new organization of Assistants’ hours of attendance, &c., required for bringing up reductions. I worked hard myself and my example had good effect.” His reference to this subject in his Report to the Visitors is as follows: “I have in one of the preceding articles alluded to the backwardness of our reductions. In those which follow it I trust that I have sufficiently explained it. To say nothing of the loss, from ill health, of the services of most efficient assistants, I am certain that the quantity of current work will amply explain any backwardness. Perhaps I may particularly mention that in the observations of 1840 there was an unusual quantity of equatoreal observations, and the reductions attending these occupied a very great time. But, as regards myself, there has been another cause. The reduction of the Ancient Lunar and Planetary Observations, the attention to chronometer constructions, the proposed management of the printing of papers relating to important operations at the Cape of Good Hope; these and similar operations have taken up much of my time. I trust that I am doing well in rendering Greenwich, even more distinctly than it has been heretofore, the place of reference to all the world for the important observations, and results of observations, on which the system of the universe is founded. As regards myself, I have been accustomed, in these matters, to lay aside private considerations; to consider that I am not a mere Superintendent of current observations, but a Trustee for the honour of Greenwich Observatory generally, and for its utility generally to the world; nay, to consider myself not as mere Director of Greenwich Observatory, but (however unworthy personally) as British Astronomer, required sometimes by my office to interfere (when no personal offence is given) in the concerns of other establishments of the State. If the Board supports me in this view there can be little doubt that the present delay of computations, relating to current observations, will be considered by them as a very small sacrifice to the important advantage that may be gained by proper attention to the observations of other times and other places.”

“Of private history: In February I went for a week to Playford and Norwich, visiting Prof. Sedgwick at the latter place. On Mast my third daughter Christabel was born. In March I paid a short visit to Sir John Herschel at Hawkhurst. From June 12th to Auth I was travelling with my wife on the Continent, being partly occupied with the observation of the Total Eclipse of the Sun on July 7th. The journey was in Switzerland and North Italy. In December I went to Cambridge and Ely, visiting Dr Peacock at the latter place.”

From Ferd to 28th Airy was engaged on Observations of Tides at Southampton, Christchurch, Poole, and Weymouth. During this expedition he wrote frequently (as he always did) to his wife on the incidents of his journey, and the following letters appear characteristic:

1842, Fe.

The lower of the above descriptions of my present place of abode is the correct one, as I fearlessly assert on the authority of divers direction-posts on the roads leading to it (by the bye this supports my doctrine that x in Latin was not pronounced eks but khi, because the latter is the first letter of Christ, for which x is here traditionally put). Finding this morning that Yolland (who called on me as soon as I had closed the letter to you) was perfectly inclined to go on with the tide observations at Southampton, and that his corporals of sappers were conducting them in the most exemplary manner, I determined on starting at once. However we first went to look at the New Docks (mud up to the knees) and truly it is a very great work. There is to be enclosed a good number of acres of water 22 feet deep: one dock locked in, the other a tidal dock or basin with that depth at low water. They are surrounded by brick walls eight feet thick at top, 10 or more at bottom; and all the parts that ever can be exposed are faced with granite. The people reckon that this work when finished will attract a good deal of the London commerce, and I should not be surprised at it. For it is very much easier for ships to get into Southampton than into London, and the railway carriage will make them almost one. A very large steamer is lying in Southampton Water: the Oriental, which goes to Alexandria. The Lady Mary Wood, a large steamer for Lisbon and Gibraltar, was lying at the pier. The said pier is a very pleasant place of promenade, the water and banks are so pretty, and there is so much liveliness of ships about it. Well I started in a gig, in a swashing rain, which continued off and on for a good while. Of the 21 miles, I should think that 15 were across the New Forest. I do not much admire it. As for Norman William’s destruction of houses and churches to make it hunting ground, that is utter nonsense which never could have been written by anybody that ever saw it: but as to hunting, except his horses wore something like mud-pattens or snow-shoes, it is difficult to conceive it. Almost the whole Forest is like a great sponge, water standing in every part. In the part nearer to Xchurch forest trees, especially beeches, seem to grow well. We stopped to bait at Lyndhurst, a small place high up in the Forest: a good view, such as it is, from the churchyard. The hills of the Isle of Wight occasionally in sight. On approaching Xchurch the chalk cliffs of the west end of the Isle of Wight (leading to the Needles) were partly visible; and, as the sun was shining on them, they fairly blazed. Xchurch is a small place with a magnificent-looking church (with lofty clerestory, double transept, &c., but with much irregularity) which I propose to visit to-morrow. Also a ruin which looks like an abbey, but the people call it a castle. There is a good deal of low land about it, and the part between the town and the sea reminded me a good deal of the estuary above Cardigan, flat ill-looking bogs (generally islands) among the water. I walked to the mouth of the river (more than two miles) passing a nice little place called Sandford, with a hotel and a lot of lodgings for summer sea-people. At the entrance of the river is a coastguard station, and this I find is the place to which I must go in the morning to observe the tide. I had some talk with the coastguard people, and they assure me that the tide is really double as reported. As I came away the great full moon was rising, and I could read in her unusually broad face (indicating her nearness to the earth) that there will be a powerful tide. I came in and have had dinner and tea, and am now going to bed, endeavouring to negociate for a breakfast at six o’clock to-morrow morning. It is raining cats and dogs.

1842, Fe.

This morning when I got up I found that it was blowing fresh from S.W. and the sea was bursting over the wall of the eastern extremity of the Esplanade very magnanimously. So (the swell not being favourable for tide-observations) I gave them up and determined to go to see the surf on the Chesil Bank. I started with my great-coat on, more for defence against the wind than against rain; but in a short time it began to rain, and just when I was approaching the bridge which connects the mainland with the point where the Chesil Bank ends at Portland (there being an arm of the sea behind the Chesil Bank) it rained and blew most dreadfully. However I kept on and mounted the bank and descended a little way towards the sea, and there was the surf in all its glory. I cannot give you an idea of its majestic appearance. It was evidently very high, but that was not the most striking part of it, for there was no such thing as going within a considerable distance of it (the occasional outbreaks of the water advancing so far) so that its magnitude could not be well seen. My impression is that the height of the surf was from 10 to 20 feet. But the striking part was the clouds of solid spray which formed immediately and which completely concealed all the other operations of the water. They rose a good deal higher than the top of the surf, so the state of things was this. A great swell is seen coming, growing steeper and steeper; then it all turns over and you see a face just like the pictures of falls of Niagara; but in a little more than one second this is totally lost and there is nothing before you but an enormous impenetrable cloud of white spray. In about another second there comes from the bottom of this cloud the foaming current of water up the bank, and it returns grating the pebbles together till their jar penetrates the very brain. I stood in the face of the wind and rain watching this a good while, and should have stood longer but that I was so miserably wet. It appeared to me that the surf was higher farther along the bank, but the air was so thickened by the rain and the spray that I could not tell. When I returned the bad weather abated. I have now borrowed somebody else’s trowsers while mine are drying (having got little wet in other parts, thanks to my great-coat, which successfully brought home a hundredweight of water), and do not intend to stir out again except perhaps to post this letter.

1842, May 15.

Yesterday after posting the letter for you I went per steamboat to Hungerford. I then found Mr Vignoles, and we trundled off together, with another engineer named Smith, picking up Stratford by the way, to Wormwood Scrubs. There was a party to see the Atmospheric Railway in action: including (among others) Sir John Burgoyne, whom I met in Ireland several years ago, and Mr Pym, the Engineer of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, whom I have seen several times, and who is very sanguine about this construction; and Mr Clegg, the proposer of the scheme (the man that invented gas in its present arrangements), and Messrs Samuda, two Jews who are the owners of the experiment now going on; and Sir James South! With the latter hero and mechanician we did not come in contact. Unfortunately the stationary engine (for working the air-pump which draws the air out of the pipes and thus sucks the carriages along) broke down during the experiment, but not till we had seen the carriage have one right good run. And to be sure it is very funny to see a carriage running all alone “as if the Devil drove it” without any visible cause whatever. The mechanical arrangements we were able to examine as well after the engine had broken down as at any time. And they are very simple and apparently very satisfactory, and there is no doubt of the mechanical practicability of the thing even in places where locomotives can hardly be used: whether it will pay or not is doubtful. I dare say that the Commissioners’ Report has taken a very good line of discrimination.


“In March I wrote to Dr Wynter (Vice-Chancellor) at Oxford, requesting permission to see Bradley’s and Bliss’s manuscript Observations, with the view of taking a copy of them. This was granted, and the books of Transits were subsequently copied under Mr Breen’s superintendence. The following paragraph is extracted from the Report to the Visitors: ’In the Report of last year, I stated that our reductions had dropped considerably in arrear. I have the satisfaction now of stating that this arrear and very much more have been completely recovered, and that the reductions are now in as forward a state as at any time since my connection with the Observatory.’ In fact the observations of 1842 were sent to press on Mast, 1843. About this year the Annual Dinner at the Visitation began to be more important, principally under the management of Capt. W.H. Smyth, R.N. In November I was enquiring about an 8-inch object-glass. I had already in mind the furnishing of our meridional instruments with greater optical powers. On July 14th the Admiralty referred to me a Memorial of Mr J.G. Ulrich, a chronometer maker, claiming a reward for improvements in chronometers. I took a great deal of trouble in the investigation of this matter, by books, witnesses, &c., and finally reported on Noth that there was no ground for claim. In April I received the first application of the Royal Exchange Committee, for assistance in the construction of the Clock: this led to a great deal of correspondence, especially with Dent. The Lunar Reductions were going on in full vigour. I had much work in connection with the Cape Observatory: partly about an equatoreal required for the Observatory, but chiefly in getting Maclear’s work through the press. In this year I began to think seriously of determining the longitude of Valencia in Ireland, as a most important basis for the scale of longitude in these latitudes, by the transmission of chronometers; and in August I went to Valencia and examined the localities. In September I submitted a plan to the Admiralty, but it was deferred. The new Commission for restoring the Standards was appointed on June 20th, I being Chairman. The work of collecting standards and arranging plans was going on; Mr Baily attending to Standards of Length, and Prof. W.H. Miller to Standards of Weight. We held two meetings. A small assistance was rendered to me by Mr Charles May (of the firm of Ransomes and May), which has contributed much to the good order of papers in the Observatory. Mr Robert Ransome had remarked my method of punching holes in the paper by a hand-punch, the places of the holes being guided by holes in a piece of card, and said that they could furnish me with something better. Accordingly, on Auth Mr May sent me the punching machine, the prototype of all now used in the Observatory.

“On Septh was made my proposal for an Altazimuth Instrument for making observations of the Moon’s place more frequently and through parts of her orbit where she could never be observed with meridional instruments; the most important addition to the Observatory since its foundation. The Board of Visitors recommended it to the Admiralty, and the Admiralty sanctioned the construction of the instrument and the building to contain it.” The following passage is quoted from the Address of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors at the Special Meeting of Noth, 1843: “The most important object in the institution and maintenance of the Royal Observatory has always been the Observations of the Moon. In this term I include the determination of the places of fixed stars which are necessary for ascertaining the instrumental errors applicable to the instrumental observations of the Moon. These, as regards the objects of the institution, were merely auxiliaries: the history of the circumstances which led the Government of the day to supply the funds for the construction of the Observatory shews that, but for the demands of accurate Lunar Determinations as aids to navigation, the erection of a National Observatory would never have been thought of. And this object has been steadily kept in view when others (necessary as fundamental auxiliaries) were passed by. Thus, during the latter part of Bradley’s time, and Bliss’s time (which two periods are the least efficient in the modern history of the Observatory), and during the latter part of Maskelyne’s presidency (when, for years together, there is scarcely a single observation of the declination of a star), the Observations of the Moon were kept up with the utmost regularity. And the effect of this regularity, as regards its peculiar object, has been most honourable to the institution. The existing Theories and Tables of the Moon are founded entirely upon the Greenwich Observations; the Observatory of Greenwich has been looked to as that from which alone adequate observations can be expected, and from which they will not be expected in vain: and it is not perhaps venturing too much to predict that, unless some gross dereliction of duty by the managers of the Observatory should occur, the Lunar Tables will always be founded on Greenwich Observations. With this impression it has long been to me a matter of consideration whether means should not be taken for rendering the series of Observations of the Moon more complete than it can be made by the means at present recognized in our observatories.” In illustration of the foregoing remarks, the original inscription still remaining on the outside of the wall of the Octagon Room of the Observatory may be quoted. It runs thus: ’Carolus II’s Rex Optimus Astronomiae et Nauticae Artis Patronus Maximus Speculam hanc in utriusque commodum fecit Anno D’ni MDCLXXVI Regni sui XXVIII curante Iona Moore milite RTSG.’

“The Ashburton Treaty had been settled with the United States, for the boundary between Canada and the State of Maine, and one of its conditions was, that a straight line about 65 miles in length should be drawn through dense woods, connecting definite points. It soon appeared that this could scarcely be done except by astronomical operations. Lord Canning, Under Secretary of the Foreign Office, requested me to nominate two astronomers to undertake the work. I strongly recommended that Military Officers should carry out the work, and Capt. Robinson and Lieut. Pipon were detached for this service. On Mast they took lodgings at Greenwich, and worked at the Observatory every day and night through the month. My detailed astronomical instructions to them were drawn out on Math. I prepared all the necessary skeleton forms, &c., and looked to their scientific equipment in every way. The result will be given in 1844.

“Of private history: In January I went to Dover with my wife to see the blasting of a cliff there: we also visited Sir J. Herschel at Hawkhurst. In April I was at Playford, on a visit to Arthur Biddell. On Apth my daughter Annot was born. From July 22nd to August 25th I was travelling in the South of Ireland, chiefly to see Valencia and consider the question of determining its longitude: during this journey I visited Lord Rosse at Birr Castle, and returned to Weymouth, where my family were staying at the time. In October I visited Cambridge, and in December I was again at Playford.”

The journey to Cambridge (Octh to 27th) was apparently in order to be present on the occasion of the Queen’s visit there on the 25th: the following letter relating to it was written to his wife:

1843, Oc, Thursday.

I have this morning received your letter: I had no time to write yesterday. There are more things to tell of than I can possibly remember. The Dean of Ely yesterday was in a most ludicrous state of misery because his servant had sent his portmanteau (containing his scarlet academicals as well as everything else) to London, and it went to Watford before it was recovered: but he got it in time to shew himself to-day. Yesterday morning I came early to breakfast with Sedgwick. Then I walked about the streets to look at the flags. Cambridge never had such an appearance before. In looking along Trinity Street or Trumpington Street there were arches and flags as close as they could stand, and a cord stretched from King’s Entrance to Mr Deck’s or the next house with flags on all its length: a flag on St Mary’s, and a huge royal standard ready to hoist on Trinity Gateway: laurels without end. I applied at the Registrar’s office for a ticket which was to admit me to Trinity Court, the Senate House, &c., and received from Peacock one for King’s Chapel. Then there was an infinity of standing about, and very much I was fatigued, till I got some luncheon at Blakesley’s rooms at 1 o’clock. This was necessary because there was to be no dinner in hall on account of the Address presentation. The Queen was expected at 2, and arrived about 10 minutes after 2. When she drove up to Trinity Gate, the Vice-Chancellor, masters, and beadles went to meet her, and the beadles laid down their staves, which she desired them to take again. Then she came towards the Lodge as far as the Sundial, where Whewell as master took the college keys (a bundle of rusty keys tied together by a particularly greasy strap) from the bursar Martin, and handed them to the Queen, who returned them. Then she drove round by the turret-corner of the court to the Lodge door. Almost every member of the University was in the court, and there was a great hurraing except when the ceremonies were going forward. Presently the Queen appeared at a window and bowed, and was loudly cheered. Then notice was given that the Queen and Prince would receive the Addresses of the University in Trinity hall, and a procession was formed, in which I had a good place, as I claimed rank with the Professors. A throne and canopy were erected at the top of the hall, but the Queen did not sit, which was her own determination, because if she had sat it would have been proper that everybody should back out before presenting the Address to the Prince: which operation would have suffocated at least 100 people. The Queen wore a blue gown and a brown shawl with an immense quantity of gold embroidery, and a bonnet. Then it was known that the Queen was going to service at King’s Chapel at half past three: so everybody went there. I saw the Queen walk up the antechapel and she looked at nothing but the roof. I was not able to see her in chapel or to see the throne erected for her with its back to the Table, which has given great offence to many people. (I should have said that before the Queen came I called on Dr Haviland, also on Scholefield, also on the Master of Christ’s.) After this she returned to Trinity, and took into her head to look at the chapel. The cloth laid on the pavement was not long enough and the undergraduates laid down their gowns. Several of the undergraduate noblemen carried candles to illuminate Newton’s statue. After this the Prince went by torchlight to the library. Then I suppose came dinner, and then it was made known that at half-past nine the Queen would receive some Members of the University. So I rigged myself up and went to the levee at the Lodge and was presented in my turn; by the Vice-Chancellor as “Ex-Professor Airy, your Majesty’s Astronomer Royal.” The Queen and the Prince stood together, and a bow was made to and received from each. The Prince recognised me and said “I am glad to see you,” or something like that. Next to him stood Goulburn, and next Lord Lyndhurst, who to my great surprise spoke very civilly to me (as I will tell you afterwards). The Queen had her head bare and a sort of French white gown and looked very well. She had the ribbon of the Garter on her breast; but like a ninny I forgot to look whether she had the Garter upon her arm. The Prince wore his Garter. I went to bed dead tired and got up with a headache. About the degree to the Prince and the other movements I will write again.

Here is a note from Cubitt relating to the blasting of the Round Down Cliff at Dover referred to above:

Jath, 1843.


Thursday next the 26th at 12 is the time fixed for the attempt to blow out the foot of the “Round Down” Cliff near Dover.

The Galvanic apparatus has been repeatedly tried in place that is by exploding cartridges in the very chambers of the rock prepared for the powder with the batteries at 1200 feet distance they are in full form and act admirably so that I see but little fear of failure on that head.

They have been rehearsing the explosions on the plan I most strongly recommended, that is to fire each chamber by an independent battery and circuit and to discharge the three batteries simultaneously by signal or word of command which answers well and “no mistake.”

I shall write to Sir John Herschel to-day, and remain

My dear Sir,
Very truly yours,

G.B. Airy, Esq.

The following extracts are from letters to his wife written in Ireland when on his journey to consider the determination of the longitude of Valencia.

1843, July 28.

By the bye, to shew the quiet of Ireland now, I saw in a newspaper at Cork this account. At some place through which a repeal-association was to pass (I forget its name) the repealers of the place set up a triumphal arch. The police pulled it down, and were pelted by the repealers, and one of the policemen was much bruised. O’Connell has denounced this place as a disgrace to the cause of repeal, and has moved in the full meeting that the inhabitants of this place be struck off the repeal list, with no exception but that of the parish priest who was proved to be absent. And O’Connell declares that he will not pass through this place. Now for my journey. It is a sort of half-mountain country all the way, with some bogs to refresh my eyes.

1843, August 6.

It seems that my coming here has caused infinite alarm. The common people do not know what to conjecture, but have some notion that the “sappers and miners” are to build a bridge to admit the charge of cavalry into the island. An attendant of Mrs Fitzgerald expressed how strange it was that a man looking so mild and gentle could meditate such things “but never fear, Maam, those that look so mild are always the worst”: then she narrated how that her husband was building some stables, but that she was demanding of him “Pat, you broth of a boy, what is the use of your building stables when these people are coming to destroy everything.” I suspect that the people who saw me walking up through the storm yesterday must have thought me the prince of the powers of the air at least.

1843, August 7.

I sailed from Valencia to Cahersiveen town in a sail-boat up the water (not crossing at the ferry). I had accommodated my time to the wish of the boatman, who desired to be there in time for prayers: so that I had a long waiting at Cahersiveen for the mail car. In walking through the little town, I passed the chapel (a convent chapel) to which the people were going: and really the scene was very curious. The chapel appeared to be overflowing full, and the court in front of it was full of people, some sitting on the ground, some kneeling, and some prostrate. There were also people in the street, kneeling with their faces towards the gate pillars, &c. It seemed to me that the priest and the chapel were of less use here than even in the continental churches, and I do not see why both parties should not have stopped at home. When the chapel broke up, it seemed as if the streets were crammed with people. The turnout that even a small village in Ireland produces is perfectly amazing.


“In the course of 1843 I had put in hand the engraving of the drawings of the Northumberland Telescope at Cambridge Observatory, and wrote the description for letterpress. In the course of 1844 the work was completed, and the books were bound and distributed.

“The building to receive the Altazimuth Instrument was erected in the course of the year; during the construction a foreman fell into the foundation pit and broke his leg, of which accident he died. This is the only accident that I have known at the Observatory. The Electrometer Mast and sliding frame were erected near the Magnetic Observatory. The six-year Catalogue of 1439 stars was finished; this work had been in progress during the last few years. In May I went to Woolwich to correct the compasses of the ‘Dover,’ a small iron steamer carrying mails between Dover and Ostend: this I believe was the first iron ship possessed by the Admiralty. The Lunar Reductions were making good progress; 16 computers were employed upon them. I made application for printing them and the required sum (L1000) was granted by the Treasury. In this year commenced that remarkable movement which led to the discovery of Neptune. On Feth Prof. Challis introduced Mr Adams to me by letter. On Feth I sent my observed places of Uranus, which were wanted. On June 19th I also sent places to Mr E. Bouvard. As regards the National Standards, Mr Baily (who undertook the comparisons relating to standards of length) died soon, and Mr Sheepshanks then undertook the work. I attended the meeting of the British Association held at York (principally in compliment to the President, Dr Peacock), and gave an oral account of my work on Irish Tides. At the Oxford Commemoration in June, the honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred on M. Struve and on me, and then a demand was made on each of us for L6. 6s. for fees. We were much disgusted and refused to pay it, and I wrote angrily to Dr Wynter, the Vice-Chancellor. The fees were ultimately paid out of the University Chest.

“In this year the longitude of Altona was determined by M. Struve for the Russian Government. For this purpose it was essential that facilities should be given for landing chronometers at Greenwich. But the consent of the customhouse authorities had first to be obtained, and this required a good deal of negotiation. Ultimately the determination was completed in the most satisfactory manner. The chronometers, forty-two in number, crossed the German Sea sixteen times. The transit observers were twice interchanged, in order to eliminate not only their Personal Equation, but also the gradual change of Personal Equation. On Septh Otto Struve formally wrote his thanks for assistance rendered.

“For the determination of the longitude of Valencia, which was carried out in this year, various methods were discussed, but the plan of sending chronometers by mail conveyance was finally approved. From London to Liverpool the chronometers were conveyed by the railways, from Liverpool to Kingstown by steamer, from Dublin to Tralee by the Mail Coaches, from Tralee to Cahersiveen by car, from Cahersiveen to Knightstown by boat, and from Knightstown to the station on the hill the box was carried like a sedan-chair. There were numerous other arrangements, and all succeeded perfectly without a failure of any kind. Thirty pocket chronometers traversed the line between Greenwich and Kingstown about twenty-two times, and that between Kingstown and Valencia twenty times. The chronometrical longitudes of Liverpool Observatory, Kingstown Station, and Valencia Station are 12m 0.05s, 24m 31.17s, 41m 23.25s; the geodetic longitudes, computed from elements which I published long ago in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana, are 12m 0.34s, 24m 31.47s, 41m 23.06s. It appears from this that the elements to which I have alluded represent the form of the Earth here as nearly as is possible. On the whole, I think it probable that this is the best arc of parallel that has ever been measured.

“With regard to the Maine Boundary: on May 7th Col. Estcourt, the British Commissioner, wrote to me describing the perfect success of following out my plan: the line of 64 miles was cut by directions laid out at the two ends, and the cuttings met within 341 feet. The country through which this line was to pass is described as surpassing in its difficulties the conception of any European. It consists of impervious forests, steep ravines, and dismal swamps. A survey for the line was impossible, and a tentative process would have broken the spirit of the best men. I therefore arranged a plan of operations founded on a determination of the absolute latitudes and the difference of longitudes of the two extremities. The difference of longitudes was determined by the transfer of chronometers by the very circuitous route from one extremity to the other; and it was necessary to divide the whole arc into four parts, and to add a small part by measure and bearing. When this was finished, the azimuths of the line for the two ends were computed, and marks were laid off for starting with the line from both ends. One party, after cutting more than forty-two miles through the woods, were agreeably surprised, on the brow of a hill, at seeing directly before them a gap in the woods on the next line of hill; it opened gradually, and proved to be the line of the opposite party. On continuing the lines till they passed abreast of each other, their distance was found to be 341 feet. To form an estimate of the magnitude of this error, it is to be observed that it implies an error of only a quarter of a second of time in the difference of longitudes; and that it is only one-third (or nearly so) of the error which would have been committed if the spheroidal form of the Earth had been neglected. I must point out the extraordinary merit of the officers who effected this operation. Transits were observed and chronometers were interchanged when the temperature was lower than 19 deg. below zero: and when the native assistants, though paid highly, deserted on account of the severity of the weather, the British officers still continued the observations upon whose delicacy everything depended.

“Of private history: From July 3rd to Auth I was in Ireland with my wife. This was partly a business journey in connection with the determination of the longitude of Valencia. On Jath I asked Lord Lyndhurst (Lord Chancellor) to present my brother to the living of Helmingham, which he declined to do: but on Deth he offered Binbrooke, which I accepted for my brother.”


“A map of the Buildings and Grounds of the Observatory was commenced in 1844, and was still in progress. On Math I was employed on a matter which had for some time occupied my thoughts, viz., the re-arrangement of current manuscripts. I had prepared a sloping box (still in use) to hold 24 portfolios: and at this time I arranged papers A, and went on with B, C, &c. Very little change has been made in these. In reference to the time given to the weekly report on Meteorology to the Registrar General, the Report to the Board of Visitors contains the following paragraph: ’The devotion of some of my assistants’ time and labour to the preparation of the Meteorological Report attached to the weekly report of the Registrar General, is, in my opinion, justified by the bearing of the meteorological facts upon the medical facts, and by the attention which I understand that Report to have excited.’ On Deth the sleep of Astronomy was broken by the announcement that a new planet, Astraea, was discovered by Mr Hencke. I immediately circulated notices. But in this year began a more remarkable planetary discussion. On Sepnd Challis wrote to me to say that Mr Adams would leave with me his results on the explanation of the irregularities of Uranus by the action of an exterior planet. In October Adams called, in my absence. On Noth I wrote to him, enquiring whether his theory explained the irregularity of radius-vector (as well as that of longitude). I waited for an answer, but received none. (See the Papers printed in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Memoirs and Monthly Notices). In the Royal Society, the Royal Medal was awarded to me for my Paper on the Irish Tides. In the Royal Astronomical Society I was President; and, with a speech, delivered the Medal to Capt. Smyth for the Bedford Catalogue of Double Stars. On Jast I was appointed (with Schumacher) one of the Referees for the King of Denmark’s Comet Medal: I have the King’s Warrant under his sign manual. The Tidal Harbour Commission commenced on Apth: on July 21st my Report on Wexford Harbour (in which I think I introduced important principles) was communicated. One Report was made this year to the Government. In the matter of Saw Mills (which had begun in 1842), I had prepared a second set of plans in 1844, and in this year Mr Nasmyth made a very favourable report on my plan. A machinist of the Chatham Dock Yard, Sylvester, was set to work (but not under my immediate command) to make a model: and this produced so much delay as ultimately to ruin the design. On Jast I was engaged on my Paper ’On the flexure of a uniform bar, supported by equal pressures at equidistant points.’” (This was probably in connection with the support of Standards of Length, for the Commission. Ed.). In June I attended the Meeting of the British Association at Cambridge, and on the 20th I gave a Lecture on Magnetism in the Senate House. The following quotation relating to this Lecture is taken from a letter by Whewell to his wife (see Life of William Whewell by Mrs Stair Douglas): “I did not go to the Senate House yesterday evening. Airy was the performer, and appears to have outdone himself in his art of giving clearness and simplicity to the hardest and most complex subjects. He kept the attention of his audience quite enchained for above two hours, talking about terrestrial magnetism.” On Noth I gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons on Dover Harbour Pier.

“With respect to the Magnetical and Meteorological Establishment, the transactions in this year were most important. It had been understood that the Government establishments had been sanctioned twice for three-year periods, of which the second would expire at the end of 1845: and it was a question with the scientific public whether they should be continued. My own opinion was in favour of stopping the observations and carefully discussing them. And I am convinced that this would have been best, except for the subsequent introduction of self-registering systems, in which I had so large a share. There was much discussion and correspondence, and on June 7th the Board of Visitors resolved that ’In the opinion of the Visitors it is of the utmost importance that these observations should continue to be made on the most extensive scale which the interests of those sciences may require.’ The meeting of the British Association was held at Cambridge in June: and one of the most important matters there was the Congress of Magnetic Philosophers, many of them foreigners. It was resolved that the Magnetic Observatory at Greenwich be continued permanently. At this meeting I proposed a resolution which has proved to be exceedingly important. I had remarked the distress which the continuous two-hourly observations through the night produced to my Assistants, and determined if possible to remove it. I therefore proposed ’That it is highly desirable to encourage by specific pecuniary reward the improvement of self-recording magnetical and meteorological apparatus: and that the President of the British Association and the President of the Royal Society be requested to solicit the favourable consideration of Her Majesty’s Government to this subject,’ which was adopted. In October the Admiralty expressed their willingness to grant a reward up to L500. Mr Charles Brooke had written to me proposing a plan on Seprd, and he sent me his first register on Noth. On Nost the Treasury informed the Admiralty that the Magnetic Observatories will be continued for a further period.

“The Railway Gauge Commission in this year was an important employment. The Railways, which had begun with the Manchester and Liverpool Railway (followed by the London and Birmingham) had advanced over the country with some variation in their breadth of gauge. The gauge of the Colchester Railway had been altered to suit that of the Cambridge Railway. And finally there remained but two gauges: the broad gauge (principally in the system allied with the Great Western Railway); and the narrow gauge (through the rest of England). These came in contact at Gloucester, and were likely to come in contact at many other points to the enormous inconvenience of the public. The Government determined to interfere, beginning with a Commission. On July 3rd Mr Laing (then on the Board of Trade) rode to Greenwich, bearing a letter of introduction from Sir John Lefevre and a request from Lord Dalhousie (President of the Board of Trade) that I would act as second of a Royal Commission (Col. Sir Frederick Smith, Airy, Prof. Barlow). I assented to this: and very soon began a vigorous course of business. On July 23rd and 24th I went with Prof. Barlow and our Secretary to Bristol, Gloucester, and Birmingham: on Deth I went on railway experiments to Didcot: and on Deth to Jand I went to York, with Prof. Barlow and George Arthur Biddell, for railway experiments. On Nost I finished a draft Report of the Railway Gauge Commission, which served in great measure as a basis for that adopted next year.

“Of private history: I wrote to Lord Lyndhurst on Feth, requesting an exchange of the living to which he had presented my brother in De for that of Swineshead: to which he consented. On Jath I went with my wife on a visit to my uncle George Biddell, at Bradfield St George, near Bury. On June 9th I went into the mining district of Cornwall with George Arthur Biddell. From Auth to Septh I was travelling in France with my sister and my wife’s sister, Georgiana Smith. I was well introduced, and the journey was interesting. On Octh my son Osmund was born. Mr F. Baily bequeathed to me L500, which realized L450.”

Here are some extracts from letters written to his wife relating to the visit to the Cornish mines, &c.

1845, June 12th, Thursday.

Then we walked to the United Mines in Gwennap. The day was very fine and now it was perfectly broiling: and the hills here are long and steep. At the United Mines we found the Captain, and he invited us to join in a rough dinner, to which he and the other captains were going to sit down. Then we examined one of the great pumping engines, which is considered the best in the country: and some other engines. Between 3 and 4 there was to be a setting out of some work to the men by a sort of Dutch Auction (the usual way of setting out the work here): some refuse ores were to be broken up and made marketable, and the subject of competition was, for how little in the pound on the gross produce the men would work them up. While we were here a man was brought up who was hurt in blasting: a piece of rock had fallen on him. At this mine besides the ladder ways, they have buckets sliding in guides by which the men are brought up: and they are just preparing for work another apparatus which they say is tried successfully at another mine (Tresavean): there are two wooden rods A and B reaching from the top to the bottom, moved by cranks from the same wheel, so that one goes up when the other goes down, and vice versa: each of these rods has small stages, at such a distance that when the rod A is down and the rod B is up, the first stage of A is level with the first stage of B: but when the rod A is up and the rod B is down, the second stage of A is level with the first stage of B: so a man who wants to descend steps on the first stage of A and waits till it goes down: then he steps sideways on the first stage of B and waits till it goes down: then he steps sideways to the second stage of A and waits till it goes down, and so on: or if a man is coming up he does just the same. While we were here Mr R. Taylor came. We walked home (a long step, perhaps seven miles) in a very hot sun. Went to tea to Mr Alfred Fox, who has a house in a beautiful position looking to the outside of Falmouth Harbour.

1845, June 14, Saturday.

Yesterday morning we breakfasted early at Falmouth, and before 9 started towards Gwennap. I had ascertained on Thursday that John Williams (the senior of a very wealthy and influential family in this country) was probably returned from London. So we drove first to his house Burntcoose or Barncoose, and found him and his wife at home. (They are Quakers, the rest of the family are not.) Sedgwick, and Whewell, and I, or some of our party including me, had slept once at their house. They received George and me most cordially, and pressed us to come and dine with them after our visit to Tresavean mine, of which intention I spoke in my last letter: so I named 4 o’clock as hour for dinner. After a little stay we drove to Tresavean, where I found the Captain of the mine prepared to send an Underground Captain and a Pit-man to descend with us. So we changed our clothes and descended by the ladders in the pumpshaft. Pretty work to descend with the huge pump-rods (garnished with large iron bolts) working violently, making strokes of 12 feet, close to our elbows; and with a nearly bottomless pit at the foot of every ladder, where we had to turn round the foot of the ladder walking on only a narrow board. However we got down to the bottom of the mine with great safety and credit, seeing all the mighty machinery on the way, to a greater depth than I ever reached before, namely 1900 feet. From the bottom of the pump we went aside a short distance into the lowest workings where two men nearly naked were driving a level towards the lode or vein of ore. Here I felt a most intolerable heat: and upon moving to get out of the place, I had a dreadful feeling of feebleness and fainting, such as I never had in my life before. The men urged me to climb the ladders to a level where the air was better, but they might as well have urged me to lift up the rock. I could do nothing but sit down and lean fainting against the rocks. This arose entirely from the badness of the air. After a time I felt a trifle better, and then I climbed one short ladder, and sat down very faint again. When I recovered, two men tied a rope round me, and went up the ladder before me, supporting a part of my weight, and in this way I ascended four or five ladders (with long rests between) till we came to a level, 260 fathoms below the adit or nearly 300 fathoms below the surface, where there was a tolerable current of pretty good air. Here I speedily recovered, though I was a little weak for a short time afterwards. George also felt the bad air a good deal, but not so much as I. He descended to some workings equally low in another place (towards which the party that I spoke of were directing their works), but said that the air there was by no means so bad. We all met at the bottom of the man-engine 260 fathoms below the adit. We sat still a little while, and I acquired sufficient strength and nerve, so that I did not feel the slightest alarm in the operation of ascending by the man-engine. This is the funniest operation that I ever saw: it is the only absolute novelty that I have seen since I was in the country before: it has been introduced 2-1/2 years in Tresavean, and one day in the United Mines. In my last letter I described the principle. In the actual use there is no other motion to be made by the person who is ascending or descending than that of stepping sideways each time (there being proper hand-holds) with no exertion at all, except that of stepping exactly at the proper instant: and not the shadow of unpleasant feeling in the motion. Any woman may go with the most perfect comfort, if she will but attend to the rules of stepping, and forget that there is an open pit down to the very bottom of the mine. In this way we were pumped up to the surface, and came up as cool as cucumbers, instead of being drenched with perspiration. In my description in last letter I forgot to mention that between the stages on the moving rods which I have there described there are intermediate stages on the moving rods (for which there is ample room, inasmuch as the interval between the stages on each rod used by one person is 24 feet), and these intermediate stages are used by persons descending: so that there are persons ascending and persons descending at the same time, who never interfere with each other and never step on the same stages, but merely see each other passing on the other rods It is a most valuable invention. We then changed our clothes and washed, and drove to Barncoose, arriving in good time for the dinner. I found myself much restored by some superb Sauterne with water. When we were proposing to go on to Camborne, Mr and Mrs Williams pressed us so affectionately to stop that we at length decided on stopping for the night, only bargaining for an early breakfast this morning. This morning after breakfast, we started for Redruth and Camborne. The population between them has increased immensely since I was here before. &c. &c.

Here is a letter written to his wife while he was engaged on the business of the Railway Gauge Commission. It contains reminiscences of some people who made a great figure in the railway world at that time, and was preceded by a letter which was playfully addressed “From the Palace of King Hudson, York.”

1845, De.

I wrote yesterday from Mr Hudson’s in time for the late post, and hope that my letter might be posted by the servant to whom it was given. Our affairs yesterday were simple: we reached Euston Station properly, found Watson there, found a carriage reserved for us, eat pork-pie at Wolverton (not so good as formerly), dined at Derby, and arrived in York at 5.20. On the way Watson informed me that the Government have awarded us L500 each. Sir F. Smith had talked over the matter with us, and I laid it down as a principle that we considered the business as an important one and one of very great responsibility, and that we wished either that the Government should treat us handsomely or should consider us as servants of the State acting gratuitously, to which they assented. I think the Government have done very well. Mr Hudson, as I have said, met us on the platform and pressed us to dine with him (though I had dined twice). Then we found the rival parties quarrelling, and had to arrange between them. This prevented me from writing for the early post. (I forgot to mention that Saunders, the Great Western Secretary, rode with us all the way). At Hudson’s we had really a very pleasant dinner: I sat between Vernon Harcourt and Mrs Malcolm (his sister Georgiana) and near to Mr Hudson. This morning we were prepared at 9 at the Station for some runs. Brunel and other people had arrived in the night. And we have been to Darlington and back, with a large party in our experimental train. George Arthur Biddell rode on the engine as representing me. But the side wind was so dreadfully heavy that, as regards the wants of the case, this day is quite thrown away. We have since been to lunch with Vernon Harcourt (Mrs Harcourt not at home) and then went with him to look at the Cathedral. The Chapter-house, which was a little injured, has been pretty well restored: all other things in good order. The Cathedral looks smaller and lower than French cathedrals. Now that we have come in, the Lord Mayor of York has just called to invite us to dinner to-morrow. I propose to George Arthur Biddell that he go to Newcastle this evening, in order to see glass works and other things there to-morrow, and to return when he can.

I think that I can persuade Barlow to stop to see the experiments out, and if so I shall endeavour to return as soon as possible. The earliest day would be the day after to-morrow.

The following extract is from a letter written to Mr Murray for insertion in his Handbook of France, relating to the Breakwater at Cherbourg, which Airy had visited during his journey in France in the autumn of this year.

1845, Octh.

My opinion on the construction I need not say ought not to be quoted: but you are quite welcome to found any general statement on it; or perhaps it may guide you in further enquiries. To make it clear, I must speak rather generally upon the subject. There are three ways in which a breakwater may be constructe. By building a strong wall with perpendicular face from the bottom of the se. By making a bank with nothing but slopes towards the se. By making a sloping bank to a certain height and then building a perpendicular wall upon it. Now if the 1st of these constructions could be arranged, I have no doubt that it would be the best of all, because a sea does not break against a perpendicular face, but recoils in an unbroken swell, merely making a slow quiet push at the wall, and not making a violent impact. But practically it is nearly impossible. The 2nd construction makes the sea to break tremendously, but if the sloping surface be made of square stone put together with reasonable care there is not the smallest tendency to unseat these stones. This is the principle of construction of Plymouth Breakwater. In the 3rd construction, the slope makes the sea to break tremendously, and then it strikes the perpendicular face with the force of a battering ram: and therefore in my opinion this is the worst construction of all. A few face-stones may easily be dislodged, and then the sea entering with this enormous force will speedily destroy the whole. This is the form of the Cherbourg Digue.

From this you will gather that I have a full belief that Plymouth Breakwater will last very long, and that the Digue of Cherbourg, at least its upper wall, will not last long. The great bank will last a good while, gradually suffering degradation, but still protecting the Road pretty well.

I was assured by the officers residing on the Digue that the sea which on breaking is thrown vertically upwards and then falls down upon the pavement does sometimes push the stones about which are lying there and which weigh three or four tons.

I saw some preparations for the foundations of the fort at the eastern extremity of the Digue. One artificial stone of concrete measured 12’9” x 6’7” x 5’7”, and was estimated to weigh 25000 kilogrammes.