Papers of the Board of Longitude : Confirmed minutes of the Board of Longitude, 1802-1823

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The confirmed minutes of the Board of Longitude from 1802 to 1823. These minutes cover Board meetings following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In this period, the Board had to justify its existence in the context of wide financial cutbacks. It also had to prove its usefulness to Parliament and The Admiralty Board. The Board at this time was the target of the criticisms raised by men of science regarding the structure of power and funds within the scientific community in the metropolis.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Several key events between 1802 and 1823 are recorded in these minutes. They help us understand the role the Board had in the evolution of the scientific metropolis. They also show the international role it played whilst working with the Admiralty and Navy Boards. Perhaps most significant in this volume are the minutes relating to the 1818 Act, "An Act for more effectually discovering the longitude at sea, and encouraging attempts to find a Northern Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and to approach the Northern Pole" <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(410);return false;'>[2:249]</a>. This Act resulted in a complete restructuring of the Board's Commissioners and the introduction of quarterly meetings from 1818 onwards. It required three Commissioners to live permanently in London and Thomas Young was placed in the position of both the Secretary of the Board and the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(416);return false;'>[2:255]</a>. The expanded remit of the Board now included improvement of all aspects of navigation. The Act had a new set of prizes for the number of degrees travelled west in pursuit of the North-West Passage [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]. These prizes transformed the north west American coast into a space of special scientific interest. The interviews of the men returning from the North-West Passage on a voyage that set out in early 1819 in HMS Hecla [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and HMS Griper are also contained within these minutes. In an extraordinary meeting of the Board <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(482);return false;'>[2:321]</a> in November 1820, Lieutenants William Edward Parry, Matthew Liddon, Henry Parkins Hoppner and Captain Edward Sabine, attempted to claim the lowest prize of £5000 for a longitude 110˚ west.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>It is important to remember that these minutes represent how the Board wanted to present itself to its interested public audience, including those attempting to criticise it. The Commissioners, and in particular Thomas Young, were extremely aware of the importance of balancing clarity and discretion in their work. As a result, it often seems that things are happening behind the minute book. Arrangements made in confidence are then just presented neatly in the confirmed minutes of this volume. This is shown by the very brief mention of the establishment of an Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope in the meeting of the Board <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(458);return false;'>[2:297]</a> on 3rd February 1820. The continued planning and building of the observatory as well as the purchasing of equipment during its early years under the direction of Fearon Fallows is treated similarly.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Includes meetings regarding, among other matters, tables devised by José Mendoza de Ríos; correspondence with John Crosley (the astronomer with the expedition to New South Wales); a claim for a reward for Charles Mason's work on lunar tables; a report on the Arnold and Earnshaw chronometers going on the voyage of Captain Matthew Flinders; grants and awards to chronometer-makers; the observations of Nathaniel Bliss when he was Astronomer Royal; models of watch escapements produced by John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw; methods of calculating refraction and parallax; observations made by Captain and Lieutenant Flinders; Edward Massey's patent log and sounding machine; a method of observing the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites at sea invented by John Playfair; the appointment of Thomas Young as Secretary to the Board of Longitude; the establishment of an observatory at the Cape of Good Hope; Rowland's pendulum quadrant; the voyages of HMS 'Hecla' and HMS 'Griper' to the north of America, including questions asked of the officers of these vessels on their return; questions asked of various chronometer-makers about their inventions, with answers; a joint proposal with the Académie des Sciences, Paris, to measure the exact distance between Dover and Calais; the first years of the Cape Observatory under Fearon Fallows; the re-measurement of Lacaille's arc of the meridian; observations of a biennial comet in 1823; the trials of various chronometers and other timepieces; and matters relating to computers and comparers.</p>

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