Papers of John Flamsteed, 1550 - 1923
Scope and Contents
The largest component of the collection is Flamsteed's observations, which are preserved both in their original notebooks and in the form in which he eventually prepared them for publication in his 'Historiae Coelestis' and 'Atlas Coelestis'. There is also a substantial quantity of correspondence. Much of this relates to the dispute concerning the publication of his astronomical results. However, there are also letters and some documents concerning aspects of his life outside astronomy, including letters of instruction and reprimand to the curates of his parish of Burstow; correspondence with officials in Derby relating to his position as the inheritor of his father's lead mining interests; and letters from amateur astronomers asking for his help and sending him data.
- 1550 - 1923
Conditions Governing Access
Biographical / Historical
Flamsteed was asked to assist a committee examining astronomical methods of finding longitude at sea. Having argued the case for more accurate observations and a new star catalogue, he was appointed in 1675 to the new position of 'Astronomical Observator', known subsequently as the Astronomer Royal, in order to carry out this work. He took up permanent residence at the new observatory at Greenwich Park the following year, and began regular observations with the sextant in September. He employed a variety of assistants and calculators, and with the available instruments was able to improve on contemporary standards of accuracy in his tables and charts. The first volume of Flamsteed's catalogue and observations was published in 1707, but further publications were delayed while he worked on his star catalogue and papers. As a result of this delay, he became embroiled in a dispute with Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley, who published an imperfect edition of his later observations without his consent in 1712.
As Astronomer Royal, Flamsteed took part in the discussion of contemporary issues such as the detection of stellar parallax, refraction, cometary motion, the unequal motions of Sun, Moon and planets, and matters in mathematics and optics. He corresponded with many of the leading figures of the day, such as James Gregory, Edmond Halley, Johannes Hevelius and Giovanni Domenico Cassini, as well as with Newton, who used his observations in writing his 'Principia' (1687).
Flamsteed was ordained in 1675, and presented to the living of Burstow, in Surrey, in 1684. In 1677 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He died at the Greenwich Observatory on 31 December 1719, and was buried at Burstow. The authorised version of his observations was eventually completed by his assistant Joseph Crosthwait, and published in 1725 as the three-volume 'Historia Coelestis Britannica'. The 'Atlas Coelestis' followed in 1729.
155 volume(s) : paper
4 archive box(es) (4 boxes)
1 envelope(s) (1 envelope)
Language of Materials