Papers of the Board of Longitude : Accounts of the Board of Longitude

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>Some of the financial records of the Board of Longitude relevant to the period from 1765 to 1828. Other financial papers relating to the Board are concentrated in volumes [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00015/1'>RGO 14/15</a>] to [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00021/1'>RGO 14/21</a>].</p> <p>This volume includes financial accounts submitted to <a href='/search?keyword=Parliament'>Parliament</a> or to the Treasurer of the <a href='/search?keyword=Navy'>Navy</a> (who responded to the Board's requests for funding by allocating it unused monies or those raised from the sale of Naval stores). Also included is correspondence with the Secretary of the Board over past grants and records and communications regarding money for travel and salaries later given to the Commissioners and their employees. The volume contains relevant legislation, reports from the Board committee which later examined the accounts, requests for specific imprests of money from the Navy, and even pocketbooks of expenses including one kept by the final Secretary [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(295);return false;'>168-188</a>], <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Young'>Thomas Young</a>. There are also copies of minutes from a small number of later Board meetings which had specific financial relevance and some Board approvals for accounts or imprests - draft as well as signed and sealed. These diverse records provide not just arithmetical accounts of financial matters but also detailed evidence about the activities of the Commissioners, their supplicants, and employees including secretaries, computers and observers.</p> <p>In 1858, the Astronomer Royal <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Airy'>George Airy</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/136564.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] ordered [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(3);return false;'>1</a>] these documents into different sections according to date and either type (such as correspondence with the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a> on the payment of accounts, or reports from the committees of the Board of Longitude on the examination of accounts) or most relevant individual (for example <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>] and <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Pond'>John Pond</a>). The Astronomers Royal figure greatly in these accounts, since they and especially Maskelyne were central to many of the activities which the Board encouraged or carried out, from voyages of science and exploration to the computation and publication of texts including the annual Nautical Almanac.</p> <p>Together the financial records in RGO 14/2 and [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00015/1'>RGO 14/15</a>] to [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00021/1'>RGO 14/21</a>] shed much light on the diverse activities and internal workings of the Board of Longitude. However, these accounts are partial and heavily weighted towards the final decades of the Board's existence. Many earlier records were lost or have been filed elsewhere, in part because the Board did not truly become a official standing institution and gain a Secretary to oversee its documents until the 1760s, and because Airy only collected and bound these papers a few decades after the body was abolished. Furthermore, more group meetings took place during the later decades than the earlier, and more records were also produced then because the ways in which the Board reviewed and reported its financial needs and outlays changed over the years as well. As a result, the accounts in these RGO volumes do not encompass the activities of the Commissioners of Longitude and other relevant actors before those officials held their first known communal meeting and gave their first grant in 1737, and then during the first 28 years of communal meetings and of dealings with the clockmaker <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Harrison'>John Harrison</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/136321.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . There was much activity including sea trials before 1737 which was relevant to the Commissioners and to the competition for the rewards established in 1714. This has mostly been erased from the official history of 'the Board' because it was mainly overseen by actors including the Astronomer Royal (also a Commissioner) and the Admiralty rather than by a host of Commissioners and was funded through other channels. Evidence of these earlier events survives in a variety of locations including the National Archives at Kew, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, and the British Library.</p> <p>A useful breakdown of known Board expenditures can be found in: Derek Howse, 'Britain's Board of Longitude: The Finances, 1714-1828', <i>The Mariner's Mirror</i> 84(4), 1998, pp. 400-417. Howse calculated that the Board spent approximately £157,000 altogether during its existence, consisting of: £53,000 for rewards; £45,000 for publications (with a profit in return of £26,000); £23,000 for expeditions and experiments; and £36,000 for overheads and staff salaries, mainly during its last 25 years.</p> <p>Alexi Baker<br /> History and Philosophy of Science<br /> University of Cambridge</p>


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