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 (18931950) 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 machinegenerated by the Scientific Computing Service. He also produced seven and eightfigure 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 19231924 (RGO 46/132). 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 (3335), including a copy of his 1923 thesis (35); draft papers that were probably written by Comrie (36); published papers dedicated or sent to Comrie (3738); other pieces sent to Comrie (3940); reprints of papers by Comrie (4161); publication extracts referring to Comrie (6269); and other items (7072).
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 46/140). 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 46/4172).

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 46/140 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 (18931950) 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 28inch 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 timesaving 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 KnoxShaw. A letter from Harold KnoxShaw, 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 mid19th 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 4figure 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 mid19th 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. 3133, 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, JuneJuly 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. 618631. 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. 483496. 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, 192728' by Gee & Company (Publishers) Limited, London. 1 booklet. 
1928 
46

The BrunsvigaDupla Calculating Machine. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'On the Application of the BrunsvigaDupla Calculating Machine to Double Summation with Finite Differences' from 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society', Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 5, March 1928, pp. 447459. 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. 506523. 1 booklet. 
circa 1928 
48

Mathematical Tables. A reprint of Comrie's paper 'Mathematical Tables' from the 'British Astronomical Association Handbook for 1929', pp. 3843. 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 192930', undated. 1 volume. 
circa 1930 
50

Fourfigure Tables. 'Fourfigure 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 BrunsvigaDupla 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. 817819. 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. 339347. 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. 523541. 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. 694707. 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. 175181. 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. 181184. 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. 87114). 1 booklet. 
1936 
62

Extract from M.T.A.C. An extract from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 2 (19), July 1947, pp. 302306, 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. 311312, 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. 5354, including a review of Comrie's article 'Calculating  past, present and future'. 2 pages. 
circa 1948 
65

Review of 'FourFigure Mathematical Tables'. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (22), April 1948, pp. 8586, including a review of Comrie's 'FourFigure Mathematical Tables' (W. & R. Chambers Ltd, 1947). 2 pages. 
1947 
66

Note on 'FiveFigure Tables'. A reprint from 'Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation', 3 (22), April 1948, pp. 9396, including a note on the Nautical Almanac Office's 'FiveFigure 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. 143146, 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. 221222, including a note by Comrie of a correction to his 'Chambers's SixFigure 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. 132134). 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 