Papers of the Board of Longitude : Log book of HMS 'Resolution'

Papers of the Board of Longitude

A version of the log book compiled by Wales, William on board HMS Resolution NMM icon during the passage to the South Seas under the command of Captain James Cook NMM icon . The log book begins on 21 June 1772 1r with Wales arriving at the store-houses in Sheerness NMM icon to collect the instruments RMG icon assigned to him by the Board of Longitude. It ends on August 1 1775 186v when Wales handed the log book in to Nevil Maskelyne NMM icon , the Astronomer Royal, along with the instruments that had been provided. In the log book Wales describes people encountered on the voyage in detail such as the inhabitants of Tonga 111 and Leper Island 116. In many cases his descriptions are the first recorded encounters. The volume also contains over twenty maps and charts, including the first ever drawn of a number of islands that include Palliser's Islands 104a and Palmerston's Island 108a. When considered alongside the drawings, paintings and prints RMG icon of the official expedition artist,William Hodges, these accounts offer a rich insight to British perceptions of exploration and discovery in the late 18th century.

William Wales was one of two astronomers on the voyage. William Bayly NMM icon was the second and was employed as astronomer on the accompanying ship HMS Adventure NMM icon , which was under the command of Tobias Furneaux. Like all astronomers sent on voyages in this period (1770-1820), Wales and Bayly had spent a considerable amount of time working under Nevil Maskelyne as computers for the Nautical Almanac.

Having extensively charted the eastern coast of New Holland (Australia) NMM icon on a previous voyage, the general purpose of Cook's second voyage was to explore the South Pacific and determine the location and existence of 'Terra Australis Incognita' NMM icon . This was the name given to the uncharted southern land mass that was desired and believed to exist by many.

Wales provides an important perspective on the exploration and highlights the immensity and peculiarity of the type of labour and time that went into to capturing, revealing and claiming these 'discoveries'. He provides accounts not just for the great southern land mass but also for the many other land masses that were encountered during the voyage, such as Hervey's Islands 60, Easter Island 93-100 and the Marquesa Islands 102. Wales provides a sense of what it was like to encounter 'new' land masses and 'new' peoples, of which there were many. One form of revealing these 'new' encounters, deployed by Wales in this volume, is of the observer witnessing the encounter, while appearing removed from it. The entry on 20 June 1774 109v, in which Wales records an incident where native islanders attacked the landing crew, is typical of this approach.

The other form of revealing and capturing the 'discoveries' central to this volume are Wales' accounts of using a wide range of instruments and materials (tents RMG icon , ships, texts) to record the location of the ship and the new lands the crew believed they had discovered. Wales, as astronomer, was responsible for carrying and using an assemblage of different instruments including compasses, thermometers, telescopes and transit instruments. One of these instruments was the timekeeper K1 RMG icon . This timekeeper, made by the watchmaker Larcum Kendall, was commissioned by the Board of Longitude as a cheaper, accurate copy of John Harrison NMM icon 's timekeeper, H4 RMG icon . Wales records his testing of this instrument alongside three timekeepers made under John Arnold (portrait link in the British Museum). Arnold's No. 1 link and No. 2 link are now held by the Royal Society. The four timekeepers were divided between the two ships. Wales in charge of K1 and a timekeeper called Arnold No.1. William Bayly took responsibility for the other two Arnold timekeepers.

The amount of space devoted to accounting and describing the practice and problems involved in the handling of these instruments, tents and tools in this volume is remarkable. In his entry for 29 July 1772 2v, Wales exclaims that he (along with some others who are not mentioned) 'Got on shore the Instruments, which was attended with much more trouble and expense than I expected, as we were obliged to carry them all to the Custom House'. It should be noted that in this log book, Wales rarely mentions anybody else helping him carry, or move, the instruments assigned to him by the Board of Longitude. A typical incident is that of 4-16 November 1772 5v, where Wales recounts trying to steady a watch on either side of him as he returned by boat to the ship.

An interesting aspect of this volume is the way in which Wales records his observations (both of sky and land) and the ship's location. He uses linear columns filled with numerical data extracted from the use of the various instruments and materials alongside considerable space left for descriptive text. Throughout the log book Wales changes some of the columns and the layout of pages. He sometimes ignores columns as different instruments break. Sometimes he leaves them blank and relies on a different column or space filled with text. This highlights the complexity of conveying the location and appearance of location alongside new people and places in a clear and concise log book.

Eóin Phillips
History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge

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