The Nautical Almanac & Its Superintendents

1828: The Board of Longitude & Nautical Almanack Act


With the abolishment of the Board of Longitude, the Nautical Almanac Act of 1828 was put on the statute books: "An Act for repealing the Laws now in force relating to the Discovery of Longitude at Sea", 15th July 1828.

In section II it states:

II. And whereas the Publication of the Nautical Almanack, constructed by proper Persons for the finding of the Longitude at Sea, is of great Importance to the Safety of Ships and Persons, and highly conducive to the general Interests of Commerce and Navigation ; be it therefore, enacted, That it shall and may be lawful to and for the Lord High Admiral, or the Commissioners for executing the Office of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the Time being, to cause such Nautical Almanacks, or other useful Table or Tables, which he or they shall from Time to Time judge necessary and useful in order to facilitate the Method of discovering the Longitude at Sea, to be constructed, printed, published, and vended, free of all Stamp Duty whatever, …

The Act further when on to state that:

every Person, who without special Licence and Authority, …, shall print, publish, or vend or cause to be printed, published or vended; any such Almanack or Almanacks or other Table or Tables, shall, for every …, forfeit and pay the Sum of Twenty Pounds, to be recovered, with Costs of Suit, …, and that the Proceeds of the said Penalty when recovered shall be paid and applied to the use of the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich.

An implication following the dissolution of the Board of Longitude was the issue of the responsibility for the Nautical Almanac. An essential aid for navigation which they had published since 1767, the Hydrographic Office had little or no influence over it. The Hydrographer supplied copies of the Almanac to vessels involved in surveying and, with its significance to navigation, it is surprising he was not given some responsibility for its production. Parry was called upon by the Admiralty Board to consider questions raised concerning that publication by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac Office, Dr Young. Those questions related to a Parliamentary enquiry and Parry was asked to identify any improvements that could be made to the publication, which he must have relished as he held a deep and long interest in astronomy having written a treatise on nautical astronomy. Parry made five significant observations on the Almanac, including a request for more occultations and the distances of the principal planets from the Moon, an idea he obtained from the ephemeris published at Copenhagen.

The Almanac (NA & AE) was eventually greatly revised by the (Royal) Astronomical Society (RAS) at the invitation of the Admiralty Board in 1830. William Samuel Stratford (1791-1853) Secretary of the RAS was on the revision committed and was then appointed the Superintendent of the Almanac Office.

The act, with revisions in 1980, is still in force today, however, the stamp duty provisions were repealed by the UK Hydrographic Office in 2003.


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