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Papers of George Airy, 1710 - 1890

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 6

Scope and Contents

The collection contains papers relating to a wide range of subjects, including the Observatory buildings and grounds; Visitations; solar eclipses; other observatories; astronomical equipment and methodology; longitude; rainbow, pendulum and other experiments; the Royal Astronomical Society; the Railway Gauge Commission; the Sale of Gas Act; the Standards Commission; the Royal Society; scientific societies; geodesy; mechanics; chemistry, chronology, the tides; chronometers; galvanic connections; magnetism; meteorology; the admission of visitors; and accounts. There is a large set of observations, computations, reductions and tables, and many letters, including a large volume of correspondence with tradesmen.


  • Creation: 1710 - 1890


Biographical / Historical

Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) was born at Alnwick, Northumberland, on 27 July 1801. He attended Colchester grammar school, 1814-1819, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1819 (B.A., 1823), where he became a Fellow in 1824. He was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1826, and Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Cambridge Observatory in 1828. He joined the Astronomical Society in 1828, and the Geological Society the following year, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1836.

Airy was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1835. He introduced new instruments of his own design to the Greenwich Observatory, and oversaw the creation of a Magnetic and Meteorological Department in 1838. He controlled the British expeditions to observe the transit of Venus of 1874, and carried out the reduction of the collected data. During his time in office, he also reduced all the planetary and lunar observations made at Greenwich between 1750 to 1830. He retired in 1881, and died at the White House, near Greenwich Park, on 2 January 1892.


12 cubic metre(s) : paper

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 subsequent to Airy's retirement. Details of later accessions are given with the records concerned.

Existence and Location of Copies

RGO 36/2 is a series of microfilms of RGO 6/1-378. 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.

Related Materials

RGO 6/276 has been digitised and is accessible on the Cambridge Digital Library:


This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on George Airy in Sidney Lee, ed., 'Dictionary of National Biography', Vol. XXII (London, 1909), pp. 22-25. It was emended in January 2009 by Zoe A. Rees and in December 2016 by Dr Emma Saunders.


Airy, George Biddell

Finding aid date

2005-12-07 10:44:29+00:00

Includes index.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom