Papers of the Board of Longitude : Observations on HMS Resolution

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>Observations from <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Cook%27s'>Captain Cook's</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14102.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] second voyage to the South Pacific on the HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Resolution'>Resolution</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/100618.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] from July 1772 until August 1775. This volume relates closely to the log book [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00058/1'>RGO 14/58</a>] compiled by <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Wales'>William Wales</a> for the same voyage. Making and recording observations of the kind contained in this book was a major purpose of voyages of discovery in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However, it was not just routine calculation of the ship's position that was important. The performance of the many instruments used on a voyage to the Pacific was also critical.</p> <p> The instruments that were tested included marine timekeepers made by <a href='/search?keyword=Larcum%20Kendall'>Larcum Kendall</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/usercollections/f9c8ad8b198e42bb44947210a901ffb3.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%20Arnold'>John Arnold</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=55293&partid=1'>link</a>] at the British Museum). K1 [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/79143.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and one of Arnold's timekeepers were taken on board <i>Resolution</i>. The other two timekeepers were tested by <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Bayly'>William Bayly</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/154073.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] on the accompanying ship, HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Adventure'>Adventure</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/86374.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] .Of particular note in this volume is an entry made by Wales in the memoranda section. He describes the particular location of the ship's thermometers. One thermometer was kept in Captain Cook's cabin, near the marine timekeepers. The other was mostly kept in shade on the deck during the voyage. This alerts us to two things. </p> <p>The first is the care taken by the ship's astronomer to reassure the readers of his observations, notably the Board of Longitude, that he was consistently recording the conditions in which the timekeepers were kept. This is particularly important because marine timekeepers in this period were still very much being trialled, rather than used simply as navigational devices. From 1821, all state owned timekeepers were trialled at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich before being used on voyages. Amongst other things, the Observatory tested their ability to operate under different and varying temperatures. It is perhaps curious to note that this type of testing was informed by practices on ships before it became commonplace in the observatory.</p> <p>Secondly, although Wales kept a thermometer in Cook's cabin, he regularly moved the timekeepers. Wales records in his logbook that, alongside the whole package of instruments used together to generate the observations making up this volume, he regularly took the timekeepers on deck, on a different ship, or on land. We should be reminded that the rich quantitative material contained in this volume was created in a very dynamic environment. The observations serve on the one hand to demonstrate the <i>Resolution</i>'s course and the consequences of its instruments. On the other, they mark the intense and varied work performed by a ship's crew to get many different instruments and techniques working alongside each other in variable, often intolerable, conditions.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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