Maskelyne Symposium

ROG Opening Times

Important Notice for the 31 December: The Royal Observatory North (Flamsteed House) and Meridian Line will open to the public at the later time of 11:30. The Astronomy Centre and Planetarium will open as normal at 10:00.

Because last month's Maskelyne Symposium, on 14-15 October, has now happened, the details have been taken off the NMM's website. For posterity, therefore, I thought it would be wise to record details of the programme here. All-in-all, though, I thought the event went very well: many thanks to all the speakers, those who helped me organise things and to everyone who came to hear more.

On the afternoon of Friday 14 October, we began with a brief view of some of the Maskelyne-related objects that came to the National Maritime Museum in 2009. I began with a quick tour of the new instroductory gallery, Voyagers, which includes objects related to James Cook, John Harrison, Larcum Kendall and, of course, Maskelyne. These last included the pastel portrait attributed to John Russell, Maskelyne's medal from the Institut Français on becoming one of their few Foreign Members and an orrery by William Jones that is said by the Maskelyne family to have belonged to Nevil's daughter Margaret.

This was followed by two further session, one introducing the Maskelyne manuscript collection, led by Richard in the new Caird Library, and the other showing of Maskelyne's observing suit (see picture in this post) and his wife's wedding dress, led by Amy Miller.


The next day was the Symposium proper, with the following talks, after coffee and an introduction by Richard:

  • Revisiting and Revising Maskelyne’s Reputation (Dr Rebekah Higgitt, NMM Curator of History of Science and Technology)
  • Visualizing the Maskelynes (Dr Jenny Gaschke, NMM Curator of Fine Art)
  • ‘The Rev. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.S. and Myself’: the Mathematical Career of Maskelyne’s Sometime Assistant, Robert Waddington (Professor Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford)
  • Object talks by Rory McEvoy (NMM Curator of Horology) in the Royal Observatory's Horology Workshop
  • Calculating the Nautical Almanac: Maskelyne and his Human Computers (Dr Mary Croarken, independent scholar)
  • The Maskelynes at Home (Dr Amy Miller, NMM Curator of Decorative Arts)

It was interesting that our 'celebration' of Maskelyne took a somewhat sideways view of the man, seen as much through the lives and work of his collaborators and colleagues or the eyes of biographers and artists as through his own writings. The man of science was discussed as a man at home, which is apt when home and work were so closely entwined at the Royal Observatory, and the physical remains of his life took as much pride of place as his intellectual heritage. Here was a man who was both "le dieu de l'astronomie" (to Delambre, according to Lalande), and who was short and stout with a penchant for dairy products.