Papers of the Board of Longitude : Letters, memoranda and journal containing the history of Mr William Gooch

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>Letters and other documents relating to the life of <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Gooch%20%281770-1792%29'>William Gooch (1770-1792)</a>. The Board of Longitude appointed Gooch as astronomer to <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Vancouver'>George Vancouver</a>'s (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw06472/Probably-George-Vancouver?LinkID=mp04600&search=sas&sText=george+vancouver&role=sit&rNo=0'>link</a>] at the National Portrait Gallery) expedition to the <a href='/search?keyword=north-west%20coast%20of%20America'>north-west coast of America</a>. Sadly, he was killed on the island of <a href='/search?keyword=Oahu'>Oahu</a> before he was able to join Vancouver's ships, <a href='/search?keyword=Discovery'>Discovery</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/263918.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and <a href='/search?keyword=Chatham'>Chatham</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/39086.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] - an incident that has even been noted on at least one globe [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.nmm.ac.uk/collections/objects/200582.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . The papers principally comprise letters from Gooch to his parents and from <a href='/search?keyword=Nevil%20Maskelyne'>Nevil Maskelyne</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/379043.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] to Gooch's father, who was also called William. There are also extracts from Gooch's journal during the voyage. Two volumes of Gooch's observations from the voyage can be found among the Board of Longitude archive at [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00062/1'>RGO 14/62</a>] and [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00063/1'>RGO 14/63</a>].</p> <p>The letters and other documents by Gooch himself include a letter to one of his patrons, <a href='/search?keyword=Lady%20Middleton'>Lady Middleton</a>, and notes on his other scholarships, but are mainly to his parents. They date from 1790 to 2 May 1792, ten days before his death. These letters describe experiences in often vivid detail. They include his final examinations at the <a href='/search?keyword=University%20of%20Cambridge'>University of Cambridge</a>, where he was Second Wrangler, the process of his appointment as official astronomer to the Vancouver expedition, which included some behind the scenes lobbying [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(49);return false;'>24-25</a>], preparing for the voyage and the practicalities of doing his duties at sea on the <a href='/search?keyword=Daedalus'>Daedalus</a> (Gooch's drawing [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(119);return false;'>59r</a>] of the ship is our only visual record of it). Some of this provides fascinating anecdotal evidence. One letter [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(73);return false;'>36-37</a>] was written as he waited outside the Board of Longitude meeting at which he was formally appointed. Another gives details of time spent at the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Observatory'>Royal Observatory</a> in <a href='/search?keyword=Greenwich'>Greenwich</a> as he was informally assessed and then trained by Nevil Maskelyne. He also provides an account of a timekeeper by <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Earnshaw'>Thomas Earnshaw</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14148.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] being broken by a cat [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(114);return false;'>56v</a>], followed by Earnshaw's arrival with a replacement. The details of the sorts of supplies a young astronomer might have with him on such a voyage are also fascinating - including his books, the various types of clothing needed, goods taken to sell at a profit along the way, and even details of how his belongings were arranged in his cabin [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(111);return false;'>55-56</a>] - as are those concerning the practice of astronomical observing on board ship and in temporary observatories such as the one he had erected on an island in the harbour at <a href='/search?keyword=Rio%20de%20Janeiro'>Rio de Janeiro</a>.</p> <p>The letters show that Gooch crossed paths with or mentioned a number of people of interest. This included <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Wales'>William Wales</a>, who advised him on the practicalities of being an expeditionary astronomer, and Cambridge academics including <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Lax'>William Lax</a>, <a href='/search?keyword=Samuel%20Vince'>Samuel Vince</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/214778'>link</a>] at the Cambridge University Institute of Astronomy Library) and <a href='/search?keyword=Anthony%20Shepherd'>Anthony Shepherd</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/anthony-shepherd-17211796-plumian-professor-of-astronomy-195452'>link</a>] at BBC Your Paintings). He also records encounters with politicians such as <a href='/search?keyword=Lord%20Grenville'>Lord Grenville</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/112401.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , naval personnel including <a href='/search?keyword=Sir%20Harry%20Parker'>Sir Harry Parker</a> and members of the Board of Longitude, including Maskelyne and <a href='/search?keyword=Joseph%20Banks'>Joseph Banks</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/107455.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . In addition, other people the Board dealt with, such as the instrument-maker <a href='/search?keyword=Jesse%20Ramsden'>Jesse Ramsden</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/136386.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] are referenced. During his time aboard the <i>Daedalus</i> he most often mentioned the ship's commander, <a href='/search?keyword=Lieutenant%20Richard%20Hergest'>Lieutenant Richard Hergest</a>, who died with Gooch on <a href='/search?keyword=Oahu'>Oahu</a>, <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Thomas%20New'>Captain Thomas New</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Pitts'>William Pitts</a>, who accompanied him. Frequent mentions are also made of <a href='/search?keyword=Sally%20Smithson'>Sally Smithson</a>, his 'Goody Two Shoes', with whom he had begun to develop a relationship not long before setting off from England.</p> <p>The letters from Maskelyne to Gooch's father [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(189);return false;'>94-127</a>] run from 18 July 1793 to 23 August 1794, with Maskelyne describing in detail his efforts to sort out William's financial affairs in order to pass the money owed to his parents. Maskelyne discusses the sale by auction of Gooch's belongings at Nootka, as well as his painstaking efforts to determine who owed what and to reclaim the money on behalf of the Gooch family.</p> <p>The journal extracts describe not only day-to-day details of being on board ship (including a near disastrous fire [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(372);return false;'>184v-185v</a>] on the <i>Daedalus</i>), but also Gooch's experiences and impressions of <a href='/search?keyword=Rio%20de%20Janeiro'>Rio de Janeiro</a>, the <a href='/search?keyword=Falkland%20Islands'>Falkland Islands</a> and the <a href='/search?keyword=Marquesas%20Islands'>Marquesas Islands</a>. This includes his impressions of people he met in Rio and elsewhere as well as his great upset after being involved in a sea lion hunt [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(346);return false;'>171v-174v</a>]. There are also a few sketches among the pages, notably of 'A Chief of Ohitahoo' [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(368);return false;'>182v</a>], sea lions being hunted [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(329);return false;'>164</a>] and a fish spotted in the Marquesas [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(362);return false;'>179v-180r</a>], as well as credit notes for money borrowed from others.</p> <p>The papers were assembled by Gooch's father as a record of his son's life, and were left at his death to <a href='/search?keyword=Mr%20C.%20Doughty'>Mr C. Doughty</a>, a tanner of Brockdish and friend of the family. Doughty in turn gave them to <a href='/search?keyword=Dawson%20Turner'>Dawson Turner</a>, a local historian of Norfolk, who added a recollection by one of William Gooch's schoolmates, some notes by Sir Joseph Banks, and a letter by <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Dobson'>Thomas Dobson</a>, who had witnessed Gooch's death. It was Turner who presented them to the <a href='/search?keyword=University%20of%20Cambridge'>University of Cambridge</a>, at the same time adding the letter of donation that prefaces them.</p> <p>A few scholars have already made some use of this material, notably Greg Dening, <i>The Death of William Gooch. A History's Anthropology</i> (Melbourne University Press, (1995), Simon Schaffer, '"On Seeing Me Write": Inscription Devices in the South Seas', <i>Representations</i>, 97 (2007), pp. 90-122 and 'L'Inventaire de l'Astronome. Le commerce d'instruments scientifiqes au XVIIe siècle (Angleterre-Chine-Pacifique', <i>Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales</i>, 60, 4, juillet–août 2005, pp. 791–815, and Andrew David, 'Vancouver's Survey Methods and Surveys', in Robin Fisher and Hugh J. M. Johnston (eds), <i>From Maps to Metaphors: The Pacific World of George Vancouver</i> (UBC Press, 1993), pp. 51-69.</p> <p>Richard Dunn<br /> Royal Museums Greenwich<br /> </p>


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