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Papers of Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, 1732-1811, and other members of the Maskelyne family.


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Biographical details Nevil Maskelyne was born on the 5 October 1732 in Kensington Gore, London, and determined on a career in astronomy as a student at Westminster School. He graduated from the mathematical tripos at the University of Cambridge in 1754 and took holy orders the following year, which enabled him to take up a fellowship at Trinity College in 1756. Elected to the Royal Society in 1757, Maskelyne was appointed by the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus on St Helena in 1761: although clouds hampered these observations, he was able to test the lunar-distance method of measuring longitude on route to St Helena. On his return to England in 1762, he began work on ‘The British Mariner’s Guide’ a set of instructions to the lunar-distance method (a copy of the 'Mariner's Guide' is held in the Caird Library's printed book collections, reference PBB2858). In 1763 the Board of Longitude asked Maskelyne to test John Harrison’s H4 longitude watch, an alternative method of measuring longitude, in a sea trial in Barbados aboard the PRINCESS LOUISA. Maskelyne was appointed as Astronomer Royal on the 8 February 1765, an appointment that made him one of the Commissioners of the Board of Longitude and responsible for assessing the proposals submitted to the Board. The day after Maskelyne's appointment the Board agreed to split their longitude prize between Harrison and Mayer and Euler (who had contributed to the development of the lunar distance method), and accepted Maskelyne’s proposal for the annual publication of a nautical almanac that would facilitate the lunar-distance method (copies of which are held in the Caird Library). As Astronomer Royal Maskelyne undertook daily astronomical observations of the moon, sun, planets and 36 stars at the meridian, in addition to observing occasional phenomena such as eclipses, comets, and the occultation of stars and planets by the moon, and measuring the places of newly discovered bodies. Maskelyne also worked on the Nautical Almanac and other astronomical tables, assessed the performance of marine timekeepers submitted for trial at Greenwich and undertook planning for scientific voyages for the Royal Society and Board of Longitude. He was on the council of the Royal Society and conducted an experiment to measure the density of the earth on their behalf in Schiehallion, Perthshire, in 1774, for which he was awarded the Copley medal. He was also elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1788, and became a member of the Institut de France in 1802. Maskelyne married Sophia Rose in 1784, and they had one daughter, Margaret, who married Anthony Mervyn Story in 1819. Maskelyne died at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, on the 9 February 1811. The Caird Library also holds other pieces of Maskelyne’s correspondence: AGC/8/29, AGC/M/16, MKY/8, SAN/F/4, SAN/F/36 and BGN/11, as well as two lieutenant’s logs from the Barbados trials, ADM/L/P/330 and ADM/L/P/331. Additional archive material for Maskelyne is held at Cambridge University Library; St John’s College Library, Cambridge; the Royal Society; the National Library of Wales; the Royal Astronomical Society; Armagh Observatory; the Oxford University Museum of the History of Science; Yorkshire Archaeological Society; and Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
Description Certificate and seal from Russia, issued to Nevil Maskelyne by Catherine the Great, 1776; Notebook of accounts of Rev. Nevil Maskelyne circa 1766-1787; Notebook of accounts of Rev. Nevil Maskelyne circa 1784-1799; Notebook containing recipes for cures for various ailments (from asthma and epilepsy to leprosy, etc.), extracts from medicinal works and Maskelyne's observations on fever and pestilence, with additional notes on Sir Joseph Banks' gout, circa 1766-1810; Two series of letters, the first are from Maskelyne to his brother, Captain Edmund Maskelyne, his daughter Margaret Maskelyne, and to Samuel Vince, Anthony Shepherd, and Sir Joseph Banks. There are also medical observations, a partial letter concerning the discovery of Ceres by Piazzi, a letter to Joseph Banks recounting the death of astronomer William Gooch, and a letter from William Hardy, dated 1820, written in memory of Maskelyne. The second set of letters, dated 1752-1813, are chiefly between members of the Maskelyne family, with an index at and explanatory notes, including a family tree; Drawing of a medal dated 1783; Teresa Storey Maskelyne's published pamphlet on Nevil Maskelyne's life dated 1897; notes on a talk on Maskelyne's life; and correspondence after his death, primarily from Joseph Banks and Samuel Vince to Miss Maskelyne, dated 1784-1839; Correspondence to Nevil Maskelyne, mostly from international astronomers, largely in French or Latin 1773-1813; Correspondents include Edme-Sébastien Jeaurat, Mungo Park, Pierre Méchain, Julian Canelas, and Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre; List of items left to the Board of Longitude after Nevil Maskelyne's death; list of instruments to be used by an astronomer on a voyage to the North-West coast of America; letters to Nevil Maskelyne in English, chiefly from William Hales and Francis Maseres, dated 1798-1806; list of awards to Nevil Maskelyne; letters to Miss Margaret Maskelyne, 1800-1813; awards issued to Nevil Maskelyne; a letter from Maskelyne to Rev. J. Prower concerning a donation to the charity 'Pry Pasture', dated 1786; and an indenture. Circa 1770-1813; Maskelyne's accounts with various booksellers, with inserted extracts on making cider. There are also two letters: one sent to Maskelyne in 1786 and a second, dated 1830, sent by P.M. Roget (Royal Society) to Mrs Story [neé Margaret Maskelyne]. Circa 1762-1830; Valuation and inventory of Maskelyne's books, manuscripts and pictures; correspondence with Samuel Vince on water spouts, 1810; inventory and valuation of furniture belonging to Nevil Maskelyne at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1811; Red accounts book with list of medals and portraits; printed copy of 'Notes on the Maskelyne family and their Home' (at Basset Down House) by T. Story Maskelyne, 1916, with annotations and inserts; a lecture on Nevil Maskelyne by M.N.A.J.; correspondence between Rev. J. Prower, Mrs Story and others, circa 1811-1831 with an index; copies of portraits with related notes and letters; notes on Basset Down House and the Maskelyne family; second copy of ' Notes on the Maskelyne Family and their Home', followed by architectural plans; sonnet; papers on the life of the late Rear Admiral Sir Charles Cunningham and Times article on Thomas Earnshaw, 1806. Circa 1799-1916.
Please see the Board of Longitude Digital Archive for digitised copies of the items in this collection.
Date made 1750 - 1936

Finding Reference MSK
Catalogue section Personal collections
Creator Maskelyne, Nevil
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Extent 3 Boxes, 29 folders
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