Originally set up by the warrant of Queen Anne in 1710, the Board of Visitors initially consisted of the President and selected Fellows of the Royal Society. They did not, in their early years, meet regularly. In 1830 the composition of the Board was changed and was thereafter made up of the President of the Royal Society and 5 FRS, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society and 5 FRAS, the Plumian Professor of Astronomy from Cambridge and the Savilian Professor of Astronomy from Oxford. In the 1850s the Hydrographer of the Navy also became an ex officio member of the Board.
In practice the Board of Visitors often acted to back the Astronomer Royals' requests for funds from the government, but the terms of the warrant gave them the power to direct the observing programme if they wished.