Thursday, 15 January 2009

Christie's staff

Christie argued, from the beginning of his tenure as Astronomer Royal, that the existing staff was inadequate to deal with the work that the Royal Observatory was required and expected to do, especially as new forms of astronomy - equatorial observations, photography and spectroscopy - had been introduced. Christie believed that such work was important not to meet the Observatory's historical utilitarian purpose but to "maintain the character of the Observatory as a scientific institution" (Astronomer Royal's Report to the Board of Visitors, 1887). In 1888 there were 8 Assistants, superintending 15 human Computers.

The number of junior staff did slowly rise but by the 1890s Christie was demanding that the number of senior and supervisory staff should also be increased and that there should be more permanency among employees. Traditionally Computers had been employed on a temporary basis as boys, who subsequently left to find more regular clerical work. Under Christie, and because of the expansion of work done at the Observatory, many had begun to be taught to use the telescopes as well as to do their calculation work. Christie felt that it was a waste of talent and of these skills if the best were not given the opportunity to work towards better pay and a permanent position.

By the end of Christie's time as Astronomer Royal there were about 60 members of staff, including two (instead of one) Chief Assistants, six Assistants, one Clerical Assistant, eleven Established (i.e. permanent) Computers and 25 temporary staff, sixteen of which were qualified as Observers. Other staff included carpenters, labourers, mechanics, porters and so on. This was a great change in a short period of time, although Christie still felt that "The employment in an Astronomical Observatory of a temporary staff of boys so large relatively to the permanent staff is open to grave objection" (Astronomer Royal's Report to the Board of Visitors, 1909).

Rebekah Higgitt

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