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Papers of John Pond, 1801 - 1836

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 5

Scope and Contents

The collection contains a complete set of astronomical observation ledgers, with clock error notes, computation ledgers, star catalogues, weather records and correspondence. There are observations of comets, including measurements taken of Encke's Comet, 1828, and Halley's Comet, 1835, and observations of rockets, made with Sir James South in 1831. The papers include Pond's measurements for his work on the proper motions of stars, stellar parallax and other subjects, as well as substantial correspondence on chronometers and their mean daily rating, and on the history of Troughton and Jones' mural circles. There is also material on important topics and events, such as the transfer of responsibility for the Royal Observatory from the Board of Ordnance to the Admiralty, 1820; the disbanding of the Board of Longitude, 1828; the inauguration of the Greenwich time ball, 1833; and the establishment of a separate office to oversee the work of the 'Nautical Almanac', c. 1832.


  • 1801 - 1836


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 Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

John Pond (1767-1836) was born in London. After attending Maidstone grammar school, he received private tuition from the mathematician William Wales. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1784 to study chemistry, but was forced by ill health to leave before he could graduate, and embarked on an extended tour of Mediterranean countries. He returned to England in 1798, and established a Troughton altazimuth telescope at Westbury in Somerset. Using observations made at Westbury, he prepared a paper for the Royal Society which demonstrated a deterioration in John Bird's Greenwich quadrant. He was made a fellow of the Society in 1807, and settled in London, where he became involved in the construction of astronomical instruments.

Pond succeeded Nevil Maskelyne as Astronomer Royal in February 1811. He instigated the replacement of the Observatory's old, worn or obsolete instruments, and oversaw the introduction of Edward Troughton and Thomas Jones' mural circles. He introduced improved observational methods and systematised the way in which observations were reduced, instituting the computation ledgers. During his time in office, Pond laid down the principles that provided the basis for the Observatory's operations during the rest of the nineteenth century. The scope of his work expanded after 1820, when the Admiralty assumed responsibility for the Observatory from the Board of Ordnance. Much of the new work related to the testing of marine chronometers for the Royal Navy, which the Admiralty insisted should be carried out at the Observatory.

Pond was a founding member of the Astronomical Society (later the Royal Astronomical Society), established in 1820. During his tenure as Astronomer Royal, he contributed many papers to the R.A.S. and the Royal Society. Following the installation of the Troughton circle at Greenwich, he began work on a catalogue of the north polar distances of 84 principal stars, which he presented to the Royal Society in July 1813. His other works include pieces on the proper motions of stars and stellar parallax, and a catalogue of 1,113 stars, published in 1833. Pond retired as Astronomer Royal in 1835, and died on 7 September 1836.


232 volume(s) : paper

7 bundle(s)

4 envelope(s)

3 folder(s)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

A word-processed handlist is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Most of the papers became part of the Observatory's archives following the death of John Pond. RGO 5/229-240 and 241-243 were transferred from the papers of G.B. Airy in the archives, 13 January and 6 February 1984 respectively.

Related Materials

A number of items from RGO 5 have been digitised on the Cambridge Digital Library, where there are also more detailed catalogue descriptions. See:


This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. It was emended by Dr Emma Saunders in December 2016.


Pond, John

Finding aid date

2005-11-18 13:10:44+00:00

Includes index.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom

The UK Archival Thesaurus has been integrated with our catalogue, thanks to Kings College London and the AIM25 project for their support with this.