Nevil Maskelyne

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The Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne FRS (6 October 1732 – 9 February 1811) was the fifth English Astronomer Royal. He held the office from 1765 to 1811.



Maskelyne was born in London, the third son of Edmund Maskelyne of Purton, Wiltshire. Maskelyne's father died when he was 12, leaving the family in reduced circumstances. Maskelyne attended Westminster School and was still a pupil there when his mother died in 1748. His interest in astronomy had begun while at Westminster School, shortly after the eclipse of 25 July 1748.

Maskelyne entered St Catharine's College, Cambridge in 1749, graduating as seventh wrangler in 1754.[1] Ordained as a minister in 1755, he became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1756.

About 1785 Maskelyne married Sophia Rose of Cotterstock, Northamptonshire. Their only child, Margaret (1786–1858), was the mother of Mervyn Herbert Nevil Story-Maskelyne (1823–1911) professor of mineralogy at Oxford (1856–95). Maskelyne's sister, Margaret, married Robert Clive.

Nevil Maskelyne is buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, the parish church of the village of Purton, Wiltshire, England.[2]


Measurement of longitude

In 1758 Maskelyne was admitted to the Royal Society, which in 1761 despatched him to the island of St. Helena to observe the transit of Venus. This was an important observation since accurate measurements would allow the accurate calculation of Earth's distance from the Sun, which would in turn allow the scale of the solar system to be calculated.

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