Papers of Edmond Halley, 1670 - 1767
Scope and Contents
The collection comprises observations, calculations, computations, tables and letters. The text is mainly in English, but also includes Latin and some French.
- 1670 - 1767
Conditions Governing Access
Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
Biographical / Historical
Edmond Halley (1656-1742) was born at Haggerston, Shoreditch, London. After attending St Paul's School, he entered Queen's College, Oxford, in 1673 (M.A., 1678), where he carried out astronomical observations and began to correspond with John Flamsteed. In 1676 he travelled to the island of St Helena, where he made observations during 1677 and 1678, and observed the transit of Mercury in October 1677. He published his findings in 'Catalogus Stellarum Australium' in 1679, which included details of 341 southern stars.
Halley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1678. He edited the Society's 'Transactions' during 1685-1693, and became its secretary in 1713. After receiving the command of HMS 'Paramore' in 1698, he made observations of the magnetic declination in the Atlantic Ocean during 1698-1700, publishing his findings in a 'General Chart of the Variation of the Compass' (1701), and surveyed the tides and coasts of the British Channel in 1701. In 1703 he succeeded John Wallis as Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford. He published 'Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae' in 1705, which argued (accurately) that the sightings of 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 related to the same comet, and that it would return in 1758. He also played a leading role in the publication of two other important works: Newton's 'Principia' (1687), which he published at his own expense, and Flamsteed's astronomical findings, the 'Historia Coelestis', which appeared in 1712, in the face of fierce opposition from their author.
Halley was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1720 in succession to Flamsteed. Despite his age, he began a major project to observe the moon over the eighteen years of the saronic cycle. He completed the work shortly before he death, which took place at Greenwich on 14 January 1742, and his lunar and planetary tables were published in 1749.
Language of Materials
Other Finding Aids
A word-processed handlist is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Halley's papers were presented to the Royal Society in 1765 by his daughter, Mrs Catherine Price, and deposited at Greenwich.
Existence and Location of Copies
RGO 36/1 contains microfilms of the whole of this series in its original arrangement. Consult the hard copy catalogue of this series (available in the Manuscripts Reading Room) to obtain the classmark in use at the time of filming.
This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on Edmond Halley in Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds, 'Dictionary of National Biography', Vol. VIII (London, 1908), pp. 988-993. It was emended in January 2009 by Zoe A. Rees.
Finding aid date