Papers of the Board of Longitude : John Gottlieb Ulrich's specification for the escapement of a marine chronometer

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>This volume contains two documents. The first, composed by <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Gottlieb%20Ulrich'>John Gottlieb Ulrich</a>, is a significant text outlining the principles and mechanism of his spring detent escapement sent to the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a> in 1827. The second is a letter written in 1829 from <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Barrow'>John Barrow</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/107724.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] to <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Young'>Thomas Young</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/thomas-young-17731829-216072'>link</a>] at BBC Your Paintings), the former secretary to the Board of Longitude, requesting that Ulrich's description be considered by members of the 'Scientific Committee'. The request in 1829 for a 'Scientific Committee' to look into Ulrich's escapement plans, rather than the Board of Longitude, was necessary as the Board of Longitude had been wound-up in 1828. Crucially, however, the fact that <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Barrow'>John Barrow</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Young'>Thomas Young</a> were still dealing with requests sent to the Board of Longitude should remind us that many of the activities formerly associated with the Board became incorporated into various departments within the Admiralty.</p> <p>As has been demonstrated by <a href='/search?keyword=Jonathan%20Betts'>Jonathan Betts</a> (in his currently unpublished biography of John Ulrich), Ulrich was a very interesting character who from the early 1820s began making incredibly complex chronometers that relied on massive sources of power. The escapement in this volume is what has been called a 'constant force escapement', described as 'probably the most complex chronometer escapements ever constructed'[Betts]. Though he did receive some money from the Board of Longitude in the early 1820s to help his efforts to 'improve' the quality of escapements for marine chronometers, Betts tells us that much of his endeavour was backed by a speculating business called <a href='/search?keyword=Joseph%20Croucher'>Joseph Croucher</a>, who went into business with Ulrich in the 20s but which by 1830 had failed and the business went into effective receivership. Following this, Ulrich continued to petition the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a> and the Clockmakers Company for support in his work, but though receiving some financial help, Ulrich died in 1874 a very poor man.</p> <p>This volume reminds us that the attempt to improve timekeepers for the purpose of finding Longitude at sea continued long into the nineteenth century - significantly after the Board of Longitude's interaction with <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>] in the mid-eighteenth century. This is not to say, of course, that the status of timekeepers in this period as potential solutions to find a practical way of finding Longitude was the same. Indeed, by the late 1820s, timekeepers were frequently being used on <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Navy'>Royal Navy</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=East%20India%20Company'>East India Company</a> ships (see, for example, [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00005-00238/1'>RGO 5/238</a>]), and there existed a growing culture of Officers and clockmakers communicating more directly, through publications such as the Nautical Magazine and the London Journal of arts and sciences, in which new inventions and patents were discussed and promoted, with the purpose of acting like a trade catalogue for potential buyers. Indeed, John Ulrich, a London clock and watchmaker, entered into discussions in these journals very frequently. In 1837, for example, Ulrich complained to the editor of the London Journal that he had frequent mention of the quality of <a href='/search?keyword=Edward%20Dent'>Edward Dent</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/145512.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] 's chronometers in various journals, complementing aspects of Dent's chronometers that he had in fact invented in his 'improved chronometers in 1828'. What is perhaps most significant is that the content of this discussion is very similar to the kind of correspondence which took place between <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>] and the Board of Longitude (c.1803-1808), but was now happening in a very different forum, signalling this shift in the relationship between clockmaker and its market.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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