Papers of the Board of Longitude : Observations on a voyage of discovery of the HMS Investigator

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>An array of astronomical calculations and comparisons of the timekeepers made on board HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Investigator'>Investigator</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/86331.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] between 1801 and 1803. As shown in [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00068/1'>RGO 14/68</a>], this voyage to chart the east coast of <a href='/search?keyword=New%20Holland'>New Holland</a> (<a href='/search?keyword=Australia'>Australia</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/549804.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] ) proved disastrous for <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Matthew%20Flinders'>Captain Matthew Flinders</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/549804.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . After three years of command and following a series of unfortunate events, he ended up in prison for six years. Rough calculations and comparisons of the ship's timekeepers take up most of this volume. Captain Flinders and his brother <a href='/search?keyword=Lieutenant%20Samuel%20Ward%20Flinders'>Lieutenant Samuel Ward Flinders</a> made these observations. However, their quality and exact authorship later came into question.</p> <p>As previously mentioned, this voyage proved ill fated for Captain Flinders. After three years of commanding the voyage he had to abandon the Investigator at <a href='/search?keyword=Port%20Jackson'>Port Jackson</a>, the natural harbour of <a href='/search?keyword=Sydney'>Sydney</a>. This was due to irreparable damage sustained while surveying parts of the coast further east. A series of shipwrecks and rescues saw the crew leave for <a href='/search?keyword=England'>England</a> from Sydney on HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Porpoise'>Porpoise</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/110203.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , only to be wrecked on the <a href='/search?keyword=Great%20Barrier%20Reef'>Great Barrier Reef</a>, and subsequently rescued and returned to Port Jackson. Captain Flinders took an alternative route back to England to much of the crew in 1803. On his journey on HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Cumberland'>Cumberland</a>, he was taken prisoner by the French authorities on what was then the <a href='/search?keyword=Ile%20de%20France'>Ile de France</a> (now <a href='/search?keyword=Mauritius'>Mauritius</a>). Flinders spent six years as prisoner on this island, from where he sent many letters back to England, concerning both his release and the reception of the observations contained in this volume by the <a href='/search?keyword=Board%20of%20Longitude'>Board of Longitude</a> and the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a>.</p> <p>Particularly interesting in this volume is a single page [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(400);return false;'>3:55a(v)</a>], in which we see a series of French phrases written in Matthew Flinders' hand, signed October 18, 1807. The translation is as follows:</p> <p>Red Horse - Everything is ready for departure</p> <p>A Hound - There is no way to settle.</p> <p>White Horse - Do not say anything</p> <p>Letter in his hand - The paper was presented.</p> <p>Roll(?) by hand - There has been no response</p> <p>Grey hat in hand - The answer is very unfavourable.</p> <p>Black hat - There is no hope.</p> <p>Grey hat on his head - The [] leaves in 8 days</p> <p>Black hat - He will leave in 15 days.</p> <p>Handkerchief across the gate - Shows my room.</p> <p>White handkerchief on his head - There is no hope.</p> <p>Nothing on his head - Much hope.</p> <p>Hats on their heads - There is no yet planned release date to succeed.</p> <p>Hat in hand - Nothing is decided yet.</p> <p>The meaning of these corresponding phrases is difficult to determine. We know that Matthew Flinders was at this time still on the Ile de France as a prisoner. We also know from his personal letters that he was at this time excitedly expecting to hear back from the Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station, <a href='/search?keyword=Sir%20Edward%20Pellew'>Sir Edward Pellew</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/201626.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , as to whether an English ship would be arriving to secure his release and send him to <a href='/search?keyword=India'>India</a>. In a letter addressed to Pellew on October 9 1807, Flinders says that he will send 'a black man to the town, to wait the answer <a href='/search?keyword=Mr.%20Stock'>Mr. Stock</a> [the commissary of prisoners] may receive from the government'.[Letter No. 81, Matthew Flinders, Private Letters, Vol. 2]. It is perhaps possible that these French phrases represent a series of visual codes intended for a ship in communication with the men Flinders was sending into town. In his frustration to leave the island and return to England, they could also have been prepared as potential written messages for letters to various contacts through which Flinders was hoping to secure his release.</p> <p>For more information on Captain Flinders, see The Flinders Papers [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://flinders.rmg.co.uk/'>link</a>] .</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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