Papers of the Board of Longitude : Observations and correspondence

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>Twenty three sections of letters and astronomical observations, some arising from activities at the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Observatory'>Royal Observatory</a> in <a href='/search?keyword=Greenwich'>Greenwich</a> and most from communications with observatories around the world, some of which the Board of Longitude had helped to establish and to outfit. (In 1858, the later Astronomer Royal <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Airy'>George Airy</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] sorted these papers into one volume which he simply entitled 'Observatories' [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>3</a>].) These include the <a href='/search?keyword=Cape%20Observatory'>Cape Observatory</a>, the <a href='/search?keyword=Parramatta%20Observatory'>Parramatta Observatory</a> and the <a href='/search?keyword=Port%20Jackson%20Observatory'>Port Jackson Observatory</a> in <a href='/search?keyword=New%20South%20Wales'>New South Wales</a> (later Australia). These documents mostly hail from the later decades of the Board's existence, in part because the extant archives as a whole are skewed towards the later years, and in part because many of these institutions were not founded until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Contributing to or overseeing establishment and operation of such institutions far from the British mainland were part of the growing trend of the institutional Board of Longitude and the Astronomers Royal, in particular <a href='/search?keyword=Nevil%20Maskelyne'>Nevil Maskelyne</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] until his death in 1811, increasingly working with the <a href='/search?keyword=Navy'>Navy</a> and the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Society'>Royal Society</a> to define and maintain 'scientific' and technological standards at a distance.</p> <p>The initial papers in the volume appear related to Greenwich, including: manuscript comparisons [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>4</a>] of astronomical observations made with the values predicted in the Nautical Almanac and in the Connaissance de Temps for the early 1820s (author and origins not noted); printed comparisons [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(19);return false;'>10</a>] of astronomical observations including of the right ascensions of the Sun and stars made at Greenwich with the predictions in the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> and other publications for the period 1816 to 1826 (author and origins not noted); the bookseller <a href='/search?keyword=Storey'>Storey</a>'s offer [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(31);return false;'>17</a>] on 28 January 1825 to sell his remaining stock of 130 copies of the late Maskelyne's observations to the Board for a reduced rate of ₤300 (instead of the normal ₤6 per copy) on the assumption that they could more easily disperse the volumes; <a href='/search?keyword=Peter%20Mark%20Roget'>Peter Mark Roget</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , the Secretary of the Royal Society and later of <i>Roget's Thesaurus</i> fame, writing [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(39);return false;'>21</a>] on 2 February 1828 on behalf of the Society's President and Council to urge that the Board oversee and publish the reduction of past and current observations made at Greenwich; the famed German mathematician and astronomer <a href='/search?keyword=Friedrich%20Bessel'>Friedrich Bessel</a> writing on 1 August 1825 [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'>24</a>] in German about strictures on the Greenwich observations and other matters; and the Astronomer Royal <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Pond'>John Pond</a> writing [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>27</a>] in an unknown year that he could not make it to a committee meeting because the weather was too suited to testing out the new mural circle by <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Jones'>Thomas Jones</a> (whose scale divisions he deemed 'perfect').</p> <p>The remaining sets of documents in the volume relate to new British observatories overseas. There is a most interesting set of letters [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(55);return false;'>32</a>] related to the negotiations and equipment purchases related to the establishment of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope (the first European scientific institution in Africa) in 1820 and its ensuing fitting out and activities until 1828, as well as a copy of a petition [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(77);return false;'>43</a>] submitted to the King in support of the initial establishment of the observatory. Then follows correspondence with and bills and receipts mainly from the craftsmen and tradesmen involved in fitting out the observatory -- including the well-known <a href='/search?keyword=London'>London</a> optician <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Dollond'>George Dollond</a> [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(175);return false;'>80</a>], the esteemed London instrument maker <a href='/search?keyword=Edward%20Troughton'>Edward Troughton</a> [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>192</a>] [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , the German immigrant tool and lathe makers <a href='/search?keyword=Hotzapffel'>Hotzapffel</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=Deyerlein'>Deyerlein</a> [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(383);return false;'>175</a>] in London, and the aforementioned Thomas Jones [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(389);return false;'>179</a>] of London -- which provide a most illuminating record of the steps and missteps often involved in commissioning and obtaining instruments and astronomical texts and tables, and in transporting such resources to distant lands.</p> <p>The letters from <a href='/search?keyword=Fearon%20Fallows'>Fearon Fallows</a> [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(205);return false;'>93</a>], the astronomer at the Cape Observatory, also provide many details of his struggles to obtain a site for the institution, to build and outfit it, and then to maintain and update it. Fallows also writes of his astronomical activities and thoughts, such as a catalogue of the principal fixed stars [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(265);return false;'>119</a>] and observations of summer solstices [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(309);return false;'>137</a>]. In addition, many of these letters reveal the types and identities of agents who assisted with transporting equipment, information and correspondence around the world from England. There is furthrmore correspondence about a telescope [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(437);return false;'>202</a>] which could be purchased from <a href='/search?keyword=Glasgow%20University'>Glasgow University</a> for the Cape, and correspondence [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(449);return false;'>207</a>] arising from the meeting of a Board Committee on 20 April 1820 about the materials and instruments and books which would be needed for the Cape.</p> <p>At the very end of this volume, there is some correspondence about the observatory at Parramatta [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(469);return false;'>217</a>] in New South Wales -- constructed privately by <a href='/search?keyword=Governor%20Thomas%20Brisbane'>Governor Thomas Brisbane</a> and the first observatory in what would become Australia -- and more about the reductions [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(501);return false;'>233</a>] of the observations which <a href='/search?keyword=Stephen%20Groombridge'>Stephen Groombridge</a> had made. There is also a lengthy set of correspondence [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(509);return false;'>238</a>] from the astronomer and colonial administrator <a href='/search?keyword=Willam%20Dawes'>Willam Dawes</a> about the observatory at Port Jackson in the same colony, where Sydney is now located. This includes descriptions of his efforts to erect and maintain a permanent observatory, including sketches [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(595);return false;'>281</a>]. The final item [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(657);return false;'>310</a>] in this volume is the copy of a letter, submitted to the Board's consideration in 1828, from the astronomer <a href='/search?keyword=Sir%20James%20South'>Sir James South</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>link</a>] at National portrait Gallery) to the President and Council of the Royal Society regarding the comparative state of astronomical observations in England and on the Continent, with a reply from the President of the Royal Society <a href='/search?keyword=Davies%20Gilbert'>Davies Gilbert</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . South, who had received funding along with <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Herschel'>William Herschel</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] from the Board for their work on double and multiple stars, desired better instruments for this endeavour which afterward might be used in the Southern Hemisphere or elsewhere (at the same time alluding to the impending abolition of the Board).</p> <p>For more about these observatories, see: David Aubin et al (eds.), <i>The heavens on earth: observatories and astronomy in nineteenth-century science and culture</i>, (Durham, North Carolina, 2010).</p> <p>Alexi Baker<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>

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