The Nautical Almanac & Its Superintendents
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1811: John Pond, 6th Astronomer Royal 1811 -1835

 

John Pond (1767-1836), born in London, went to Trinity College, Cambridge, but due to ill health he left before graduating. In 1807 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and succeeded Maskelyne as 6th Astronomer Royal. Thus the responsibility of the Almanac (NA & AE) fell on his shoulders.

Pond was more interested in "astronomy". He was responsible for the substantial modernisation of the Greenwich Observatory, not only improvements to equipment, but he also introduced new working practices. Perhaps his most noticeable addition was the installation of the time ball on the roof of the Observatory in 1833.

Over the the next thirty years the Almanac fell into disrepute. It became notorious for its errors; the 29th February was forgotten in the table of apparent places of stars in a particular leap year. In 1818 it was said in the House of Commons that it had become "a bye-word amongst the literati of Europe" [8]. The "leaves-on-the-track" of its day! Another story was told of the Spanish commander who, as a token of international courtesy, exchanged his own almanac for that of the commander's of a British warship; the Spaniard was never heard of again!

Two obvious reasons that may have led to this occurring was the fact that one of the comparers of forty years, the Reverand Malachy Hitchins, died in 1809 just two years prior to Maskelyne. The other being that Pond did not take the same level of interest in the details that Maskelyne had done.

In 1818, Thomas Young was appointed as Secretary to the Board of Longitude and was given the job of Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac in order to re-establish the quality of the Almanac. On the death of Thomas Young in 1829 the superintendence of the Almanac fell to Pond for a second time. However, this was only a stop gap as it was decided to set up a permanent Office with William Stratford as Superintendent.

 

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