[Home] About Janus Participating Institutions Browse and Search What's New Feedback Useful Links Research Tools
RGO Archives contains:
<-- See earlier
RGO 39 Inventories of Instruments, Art, Furniture, etc.
RGO 4 Papers of Nevil Maskelyne
RGO 40 Rules and Regulations
RGO 41 Cape of Good Hope Publications
RGO 45 Papers of John Guy Porter
RGO 46 Papers of Leslie John Comrie
RGO 47 Anglo-Australian Telescope papers
RGO 48 Papers of the Radcliffe Observatory
RGO 5 Papers of John Pond
RGO 50 RO and RGO Solar Plates
RGO 51 RO and RGO Solar Plates Contact Prints
See later -->
Search Janus
Advanced search
Browse catalogues or indexes

More information

Please feel free to contact the repository.

Papers of Leslie John Comrie

Title Papers of Leslie John Comrie
Reference GBR/0180/RGO 46
Creator Comrie, Leslie John
Covering Dates 1912–1952
Extent and Medium 2 boxes; Paper
Repository Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives
Content and context

Leslie John Comrie (1893-1950) was born at Pukekohe, near Auckland, New Zealand, on 15 August 1893. He attended Auckland University College, and graduated M.A. with honours in 1916. He joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1917, and sailed from Wellington early the following year. During the voyage, Comrie plotted the track of the vessel, which was supposed to be secret, by using an astronomical method he had devised for establishing position at sea. On reaching Europe, he served on the Western Front, where he was wounded and lost his left leg. During his convalescence, he saw a Brunsviga mechanical calculating machine demonstrated, and as a consequence became interested in the use of machine calculation in place of tabular logarithmic methods.

In 1920 Comrie took up the Isaac Newton Studentship at St John's College, Cambridge, presenting his Ph.D. thesis on planetary occultations and the phenomena of Saturn's satellites in 1923. During his years at Cambridge, he was active in creating the Computing Section of the British Astronomical Association, becoming the first Director of the Section. He also founded, and then edited, the Handbook of the B.A.A., which first appeared in 1922.

Comrie held Assistant Professorships at American universities from 1923 until 1925, when he returned to England to join H.M. Nautical Almanac Office. He became the N.A.O.'s Deputy Superintendent in 1926, and succeeded P.H. Cowell as superintendent in 1930. While at the Office, Comrie oversaw the total reorganisation and modernisation of its methods. At the heart of these reforms was the increased use of machines to calculate ephemerides, replacing the logarithms that had been employed since Nevil Maskelyne's time. Comrie was able to use the developments in desk calculating machines, punched card machines and later the National Accounting Machine to revitalise the Office and enhance the accuracy and scope of the 'Nautical Almanac'. However, his unconventional approach to his work led to tensions, and he was summarily suspended from duty by the Admiralty in August 1936, as Comrie reported it 'due to profound differences with his superiors on methods of procedure'.

Following his subsequent resignation, Comrie set up the company the Scientific Computing Service in Bedford Square, which offered a unique mathematical service to the nation and, during the Second World War, to the Allies. In his final years he concentrated on the perfection of mathematical tables, and in 1949 Chambers published Comrie's 'Six Figure Mathematical Tables', generally considered to be the most accurate ever published, the figures having been entirely machine-generated by the Scientific Computing Service. He also produced seven- and eight-figure tables. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950, and died at Greenwich on 11 December 1950.

The largest part of the collection is correspondence, much of it dating from Comrie's time in the United States during 1923-1924 (RGO 46/1-32). The letters are concerned primarily with Comrie's work on occultations, and include letters from around the world sending observations. The remaining material is comprised of draft papers by Comrie (33-35), including a copy of his 1923 thesis (35); draft papers that were probably written by Comrie (36); published papers dedicated or sent to Comrie (37-38); other pieces sent to Comrie (39-40); reprints of papers by Comrie (41-61); publication extracts referring to Comrie (62-69); and other items (70-72).

The collection is comprised principally of the personal papers of Comrie that came into the hands of Dr J.G. Porter shortly before Comrie's death (RGO 46/1-40). These were deposited in the R.G.O. Archives with Dr Porter's own papers in 1980 (RGO 45). Additional material has been added to this first deposit subsequently (RGO 46/41-72).

Access and Use

In English, Ger, Spanish

Please cite as Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives, Papers of Leslie John Comrie, RGO 46

Further information

Many of the records from the period of Comrie's tenure of office at the Nautical Almanac Office were lost in the Second World War, during which they were stored at Greenwich. Most of the remaining papers have been preserved in class RGO 16.

A handlist to RGO 46/1-40 is kept in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Indexed

This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

Index Terms
Comrie, Leslie John (1893-1950) astronomer and mathematician
Nautical Almanac Office
RGO Archives/RGO 46 contains:
1 Letter from S.I. Bailey. A letter from S.I. Bailey of the Arequipa Station, Peru, of the Harvard College Observatory, informing Comrie that the 'Journal of the British Astronomical Association' and some occultation predictions have not been received.
1 page.
30 Apr. 1923
2 Letters from E.W. Barlow. Two letters from E.W. Barlow reporting to Comrie on errors in 'Whitaker's Almanac', methods of observation (probably in connection with longitude determination at sea) and the definition of the nautical mile.
4 pages.
21 Sep. 1942–3 Oct. 1942
3 Letters from Richard Barringer. Two letters from Richard Barringer informing Comrie that he has not received the 'Journal of the British Astronomical Association' and the 'Handbook of the British Astronomical Association'; reporting on the occultation of 7 May; and returning a key that Comrie had supplied to a telescope dome.
5 pages + 1 envelope.
17 May 1923–21 May 1923
4 Letters from S.G. Barton. Two letters from Samuel G. Barton, University of Pennsylvania, regarding the 7 May occultation of a star by Jupiter, informing Comrie that he took no accurate times during his observation.
2 pages.
12 May 1923–16 May 1923
5 Letters from Arthur Burnet. Letters from Arthur Burnet, University Observatory, Oxford, giving star positions, many details of planetary occultations of stars and Jupiter's satellites and the phenomena of Jupiter's satellites. There is mention of calculations for occultations by Saturn and Jupiter; the loan of copies of the 'Leeds Journal' and star catalogues; an observation of an occultation made by Steavenson on the Greenwich 28-inch telescope; a note for 'Popular Astronomy' and the 'Harvard Bulletin'; and Burnet's correspondence with Dr Backlund of Pulkova Observatory. In addition to Burnet's letters, there is a copy of a letter written to him by Comrie.
27 pages.
6 June 1921–20 Nov. 1928
6 Letters from H.S. Davis. A letter from Herman S. Davis regarding reductions using Piazzi's first and second catalogues, including comments on a time-saving method of Comrie's. Davis also mentions his large collection of star atlases, his work on variation of latitude and the astronomical congress at Hanover in August 1924.
2 pages.
21 Aug. 1924
7 Letters from B.H. Dawson. Two letters from Bernhard H. Dawson, Astronomical Observatory of the National University of La Plata, reporting on observations of two occultations by Jupiter, one by Venus and one by Mars.
3 pages.
7 May 1923–25 Aug. 1924
8 Letter from W.F.A. Grifin. A letter from W.F.A. Griffin, Armagh Observatory, giving details of his observations of the occultation by Jupiter on 7 May.
2 pages.
circa 1923
9 Letters from Joaquín Gallo. Three letters from Joaquín Gallo [Monterrubio], Mexican National Astronomical Observatory, Tacubaya, sending star positions.
3 pages.
20 July 1922–20 Sep. 1924
10 Letter from H. Spencer Jones. A letter from Harold Spencer Jones, Royal Observatory, Greenwich, replying to an enquiry about the position of Lalande 20654 and the error in the tabulated place of Saturn.
2 pages.
22 Jan. 1920
11 Letter from Harold Knox-Shaw. A letter from Harold Knox-Shaw, Helwan Observatory, reporting to Comrie on an appulse of a star with Jupiter III (Ganymede).
1 page.
10 June 1912
12 Letter from W.D. MacDougall. A letter from W.D. MacDougall, U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington D.C., enclosing various star positions.
2 pages.
15 May 1923
13 Letters from Boh. Masek. Two letters from Dr Boh. Masek, National Observatory of the Czechoslovak Republic, Ondrejov, Bohemia, reporting on the occultation of a star by Jupiter on 7 May 1923 and of a star by Venus on 22 August 1924.
3 pages.
29 June 1923–28 Aug. 1924
14 Letter from Henrique Morize. A letter from Dr Henrique Morize, Director of the Brazilian National Observatory, Rio de Janeiro, enclosing the results of three occultation observations.
4 pages + 1 envelope.
1923
15 Letter to H. Paetsch. A letter from Comrie to H. Paetsch, 9 August 1928, including six star positions added in pencil by Paetsch. There is also an accompanying note.
2 pages.
Aug. 1928
16 Correspondence from B.M. Peek. A letter, 3 October 1942, and a postcard, October/November 1942, from Bertrand M. Peek reporting on his success with a method of position finding suggested by Comrie; putting forward an idea of his own; and telling Comrie of a paper by Hugh M. Johnson of Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A., on errors in observations of Jupiter's satellites.
4 pages + 1 postcard.
1942
17 Letters from T.E.R. Phillips. A letter from Theodore E.R. Phillips, 17 June [1922], regarding the circumstances of an occultation of a star by Jupiter III (Ganymede) on 13 August 1821, mentioning the fact that the satellite was reported to have the shape of a cottage loaf by the observer.
4 pages.
circa 1922
18 Correspondence with Jermain Porter. A copy of a letter from Comrie to Jermain G. Porter, Cincinnati Observatory, 19 May 1922, requesting information on an occultation by Jupiter in the mid-19th century, which was observed at Cincinnati by G.W. Hough, with Porter's reply of 2 June 1922, stating that all records of the period in question have been lost. There is also a second letter from Porter, 22 May 1922, regarding stars for observation and observational technique.
3 pages.
19 May 1922–2 June 1922
19 Note from A.A. Rambaut. A note from Arthur A. Rambaut, Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, containing details of Lalande 45880 in occultation on 28 October 1915.
1 page.
5 Apr. 1922
20 Postcard from W.H. Robinson. A postcard from W.H. Robinson, Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, reporting that the night of 7 May 1923 was completely overcast, obscuring the occultation of a star by Jupiter which took place that night.
1 postcard.
16 May 1923
21 Letter from Luis Rodés. A letter from Luis Rodés, Ebro Observatory, Tortosa, in Spanish, explaining his inability to assist with occultation observations.
1 page.
8 June 1923
22 Letter from W.H. Steavenson. A letter from W.H. Steavenson, British Astronomical Association, describing a method of measuring position angles and making a simple transit instrument.
2 pages.
2 Oct. 1942
23 Messages from James Stokely. A postcard and a letter from James Stokely Jnr, Philadelphia Observatory, giving details of observations of the occultation of a star by Jupiter on [7] May 1923.
1 envelope, 1 page + 1 postcard.
8 May 1923–11 May 1923
24 Letter from Harold Thomson. A letter from Harold Thomson, Honorary Director of Durham University Observatory, containing observations of the occultation of BD -14º 4045 on 7 May 1923 by G. Frank Sargent, made at the instance of E.W. Maunder, and a description of the appearance of the occultation.
3 pages.
5 June 1924
25 Letters from R.H. Tucker. Five letters from R.H. Tucker, Lick Observatory, University of California, regarding an occultation of BD -8º 3552 by Mars on 3 July 1888; the positions of three BD stars; E.S. Holden's noting of the 1888 occultation; a probable error by Bessel in his observation of BD -22º 3769; and news of Tucker's impending retirement. The letters also give the places of two stars in the Cordoba Catalogue, and for BD -11º 3769, and note the absence of any sensible proper motion in the stars. The first letter is undated.
7 pages.
circa 1922–22 June 1925
26 Letter from H.H. Turner. A letter from H.H. Turner, University Observatory, Oxford, regarding the position of BD -20º 4288 and other stars in the Cordoba, Hyderabad and Algiers Catalogues.
1 page.
19 Sep. 1924
27 Letters from R.L. Whitfield. Two letters from Reginald L. Whitfield, British Astronomical Association, undated [1942] and 29 September 1942, thanking Comrie for the gift of his 4-figure tables and discussing three methods for naked eye observation to determine latitude at sea: 1) the interval between sunrise and sunset; 2) the time taken for the Sun to rise or set; and 3) the time at which two stars are vertical to or horizontal to the horizon.
8 pages.
1942
28 Letter from H.E. Wood. A letter from H.E. Wood, Union Observatory, Johannesburg, enclosing a full report on the occultation of BD -14º 4045 by Jupiter on 7 May 1923, and mentioning an occultation of 28 April.
2 pages.
9 May 1923
29 Letter from Lloyd R. Wylie. A letter from Lloyd Ritchie Wylie, Dearborn Observatory, Northwestern University, Illinois, reporting his failure to observe the precise time of occultation of a star (probably A G Lund 3636) by Venus.
1 page.
23 May 1924
30 Letter from Ismael Gajardo. A letter from Ismael Gajardo of the Chile Station of the Lick Observatory giving the position of Cordoba 13202 and promising to send further details.
2 pages.
14 Aug. 1924
31 Letter from Leon [Herrero]. A letter from Leon [Herrero], Director of the Marina Observatory Institute, reporting on the failure of the Observatory to observe the occultation of a star by Jupiter on 7 May 1923.
2 pages.
1923
32 Postcard from [Jan Wop]. A postcard from [Jan Wop] containing requested information on star positions.
1 postcard.
13 May 1923
33 Planetary Occultations. A draft paper by Comrie giving predictions of appulses and occultations for the year 1926.
3 pages.
circa 1925
34 Position Finding Without Instruments. An annotated paper, marked 'not for publication', giving methods to be used by a traveller, equipped only with a reasonably accurate watch and the 'Nautical Almanac', to find his position by I) the time taken for the Sun to rise, and II) the interval between sunrise and sunset. The paper is dated at the end 11 October 1942.
9 pages.
1942
35 Ph.D. Thesis. The original copy of Comrie's Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis on planetary occultation prediction and observation and the phenomena of Saturn's satellites.
1 volume.
1923
36 Jupiter without Sats. 'Jupiter Without Sat[ellite]s', a collection of transcribed pieces taken from publications of the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, regarding apparitions of Jupiter when all the Galilean satellites were in occultation or eclipse.
29 pages.
circa 1923
37 Note on the Vectorial Constants of Orbits. An annotated reprint from the 'Astronomical Journal', No. 934, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Albany, N.Y.), pp. 31-33, of 'Note on the Vectorial Constants of Orbits' by Charles H. Smiley, with a handwritten dedication to Comrie on the first page.
3 pages.
1930
38 Corrected Azimuth and Time. Gallery proofs from the 'Empire Survey Review - Azimuth and Time - 1' of 'Corrected Azimuth and Time: Two Stars in the Same "Vertical" Plane' by G.T.M[erton?].
7 sheets.
1940
39 Review of 'What I Know About Astronomy'. An undated typescript whimsical review by R.T.C[rawford] of 'What I Know About Astronomy by L.J. Comrie', with the cover and blank pages from this booklet.
2 sheets + 1 page.
40 Review of 'What I Know About Astronomy'. An undated typescript whimsical review by 'A.E.L.' of 'What I Know About Astronomy by L.J. Comrie'.
1 page.
41 The Application of Calculating Machines. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Application of Calculating Machines to Astronomical Computing' from 'Popular Astronomy', Vol. XXXIII, No. 4, April 1925. There is a pencil note on the front cover: 'G. Merton. Recd from Dr L.J. Comrie 2.4.46'.
1 booklet.
circa 1925
42 Positions of Comets and Asteroids. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'Telegraphic and Published Positions of Comets and Asteroids' from 'Popular Astronomy', Vol. XXXIII, No. 6, June-July 1925.
1 booklet.
circa 1925
43 The Use of a Standard Equation in Astronomy. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Use of a Standard Equation in Astronomy' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. LXXXVI, No. 8, June 1926, pp. 618-631.
1 booklet.
circa 1926
44 Reprint of 'Computational Problems arising in Eclipses'. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'Some Computational Problems arising in Eclipses' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. LXXXVII, No. 6, April 1927, pp. 483-496.
1 booklet.
1927
45 Recent Developments in Calculating Machines. 'Recent Developments in Calculating Machines' by Comrie, 'being a lecture delivered under the auspices of the Office Machinery Users' Association at the London School of Economics on 1928 January 11', reprinted from the 'Office Machinery Users' Association Transactions, 1927-28' by Gee & Company (Publishers) Limited, London.
1 booklet.
1928
46 The Brunsviga-Dupla Calculating Machine. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'On the Application of the Brunsviga-Dupla Calculating Machine to Double Summation with Finite Differences' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 5, March 1928, pp. 447-459. There are a few annotations on p. 455.
1 booklet.
circa 1928
47 The Construction of Tables by Interpolation. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'On the Construction of Tables by Interpolation' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 6, April 1928, pp. 506-523.
1 booklet.
circa 1928
48 Mathematical Tables. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'Mathematical Tables' from the 'British Astronomical Association Handbook for 1929', pp. 38-43.
1 booklet.
circa 1929
49 Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines. 'The Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines' by Comrie, 'being a Lecture delivered under the auspices of the Office Machinery Users' Association at the London School of Economics on 1929 November 20', reprinted from the 'Office Machinery Users' Association Transactions 1929-30', undated.
1 volume.
circa 1930
50 Four-figure Tables. 'Four-figure Tables of the Natural and Logarithmic Trigonometrical Functions with the Arguments in Time' by Comrie, published by the author, London.
1 volume.
1931
51 Method of Second Difference Integration. A reprint of 'A New Method of Second Difference Integration on the Brunsviga-Dupla Machine' by E. Chappell, and of 'Note on Mr Chappell's Method of Second Difference Integration' by Comrie, from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. XCI, No. 7, May 1931, pp. 817-819.
1 booklet.
circa 1931
52 Mathematical Tables. A reprint of Comrie's report on 'Mathematical Tables' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. 92, No. 4, February 1932, pp. 339-347.
1 booklet.
1932
53 The N.A.O. Burroughs Machine. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Nautical Almanac Office Burroughs Machine' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. 92, No. 6, April 1932, pp. 523-541.
1 booklet.
1932
54 Application of the Hollerith Tabulating Machine. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Application of the Hollerith Tabulating Machine to Brown's Tables of the Moon' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. 92, No. 7, May 1932, pp. 694-707.
1 booklet.
1932
55 The Computation of Total Solar Eclipses. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Computation of Total Solar Eclipses' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. 93, No. 3, January 1933, pp. 175-181.
1 booklet.
1933
56 The Total Solar Eclipse of 1940. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'The Total Solar Eclipse of 1940 October 1' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. 93, No. 3, January 1933, pp. 181-184.
1 booklet.
1933
57a Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines. 'The Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines' by Comrie, 'being based on a lecture delivered under the auspices of the Office Machinery Users' Association at the London School of Economics on 1929 November 20, and two of the Newmarch Lectures, delivered at University College on 1933 March 2 and 9'. The signature of A.E. Carter is on the inside page.
1 volume.
1933
57b Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines. 'The Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines' by Comrie, 'being based on a lecture delivered under the auspices of the Office Machinery Users' Association at the London School of Economics on 1929 November 20, and two of the Newmarch Lectures, delivered at University College on 1933 March 2 and 9'. The signature of [W.] Rogers is on the front cover.
1 volume.
1933
58 Computing 'The Nautical Almanac'. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'Computing "The Nautical Almanac"' from the 'Nautical Magazine', July 1933. The signature of E. Smith is on the front cover.
1 booklet.
1933
59 Papers by Comrie. Reprints of Comrie's papers 'The Hollerith and Powers Tabulating Machines' and 'Computing "The Nautical Almanac"'.
1 volume.
1933
60 Modern Babbage Machines. A typescript of Comrie's 'Modern Babbage Machines' from 'Bulletin of the Office Machinery Users' Association Limited', 29 pages.
1 volume.
1933
61 The National Accounting Machine. 'Supplement to the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Industrial and Agricultural Research Section)', Vol. III, No. 2 (London: The Royal Statistical Society), including Comrie's paper 'Inverse Interpolation and Scientific Applications of the National Accounting Machine' (pp. 87-114).
1 booklet.
1936
62 Extract from M.T.A.C. An extract from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 2 (19), July 1947, pp. 302-306, including reference to work by Comrie.
6 pages.
1947
63 Review of 'Logarithms'. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 2 (19), July 1947, pp. 311-312, including a review by Comrie of W.W. Duffield, 'Logarithms, their Nature, Computation, and Uses' (Washington, 1897).
2 pages.
circa 1947
64 Review of a Comrie article. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (21), January 1948, pp. 53-54, including a review of Comrie's article 'Calculating - past, present and future'.
2 pages.
circa 1948
65 Review of 'Four-Figure Mathematical Tables'. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (22), April 1948, pp. 85-86, including a review of Comrie's 'Four-Figure Mathematical Tables' (W. & R. Chambers Ltd, 1947).
2 pages.
1947
66 Note on 'Five-Figure Tables'. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (22), April 1948, pp. 93-96, including a note on the Nautical Almanac Office's 'Five-Figure Tables of Natural Trigonometrical Functions' (London, 1947).
4 pages.
circa 1948
67 Extract from M.T.A.C. An extract from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (22), April 1948, pp. 143-146, containing various references to Comrie.
4 pages.
circa 1948
68 Mathematical Tables - Errata. An extract from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 4 (32), October 1958, pp. 221-222, including a note by Comrie of a correction to his 'Chambers's Six-Figure Mathematical Tables'.
2 pages.
circa 1958
69 Unterteilung des Tafelschritts. A reprint of 'Unterteilung des Tafelschritts', in German, by F. Emde, Stuttgart, including reference to Comrie's work.
1 booklet.
circa 1934
70 Obituary of Comrie. 'The Journal of the British Astronomical Association', Vol. 61, No. 5, April 1951, including a photograph (facing p. 121) and obituary notice for Comrie (pp. 132-134).
1 volume.
1951
71 Patent Specification. Patent specification No. 162,979 for the 'Total Printing Mechanism for Adding and like Registering Machines', including drawings, printed for H.M.S.O. by Love & Malcolmson Ltd.
1 volume.
1921
72 Brochure for Scientific Computing Service Ltd. A brochure for Comrie's firm, the Scientific Computing Serviced Limited, advertising various publications.
1 booklet.
1952

This site uses Google Analytics Cookies. By using our website you agree that we can place these cookies on your device.

The webmaster.

Valid XHTML 1.0!Valid CSS!