Papers of the Board of Longitude : Observations on voyages of discovery

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>An eclectic collection of letters, comments and observations sent to the <a href='/search?keyword=Board%20of%20Longitude'>Board of Longitude</a> by Captains and astronomers on voyages of discovery. The voyages mentioned date from 1763 to 1805. They are not generally as well known as those of <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Cook'>Captain Cook</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>] or <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Flinders'>Captain Flinders</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=agent-7692;makerReference=agent-7692'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . However, they do provide extraordinary records of the Board's attempts to manage the voyages of state-sponsored ships in the late eighteenth century. As such, this volume is significant to the history of the Board of Longitude. It also provides an insight more generally to the history of British presence in the Pacific.</p> <p>The range of ways in which Captains and astronomers arranged their observations are notable in this volume. For example, the scattered, untidy observations taken by <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Horsley'>John Horsley</a> of <a href='/search?keyword=Glatton'>Glatton</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/83270.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] in 1763 are markedly different from those made by the astronomer <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Wales'>William Wales</a> in 1772. Whilst we might assume now that accurate communication and presentation must be integral to the production of accurate astronomical and navigational results, during this period in which many instruments and theories were tried, tested and developed, suitable frameworks in which a ship's crew might be able to order their results were still being developed. Across the range of log books and collections of observations in the Board of Longitude archive, it is interesting to note the numerous comments made by astronomers and Captains on how they have chosen to arrange their data.</p> <p>This period also saw the introduction of what was another experimental procedure by the Board of Longitude - to put astronomers on board state-sponsored vessels. Astronomers were not an easy fit on board ships, nor did they have an easy time. This is shown by this volume's collection of the observations made by the astronomer <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Crosley'>John Crosley</a> on board HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Providence'>Providence</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=vessel-341020;vesselReference=vessel-341020'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , commanded by <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20William%20Broughton'>Captain William Broughton</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14050.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . Crosley had formerly served as an at the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Observatory'>Royal Observatory</a> at <a href='/search?keyword=Greenwich'>Greenwich</a>. While employed as a computer there, he worked under the Astronomer Royal <a href='/search?keyword=Nevil%20Maskelyne'>Nevil Maskelyne</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/379043.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , before Maskelyne selected him for this voyage. Like all astronomers on voyages of discovery, Crosley took responsibility for the care and deployment of a range of instruments, most notably four Board of Longitude timekeepers . These were <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>] 's Pocket Timekeeper No, 1, Earnshaw's Pocket Timekeeper No. 2, Earnshaw's Box Timekeeper No. 248, and <a href='/search?keyword=John%20Arnold'>John Arnold</a>'s Box Timekeeper No. 56. Crosley's detailed descriptions of handling instruments both in land-based observatories and on ship, are peppered with incidents relaying the enormous problems he came across when the timekeepers stopped working, or were physically damaged. He took great care to describe the cause of this damage in detail. Incidents such as this, where astronomers describe the difficulties involved in preventing timekeepers from stopping or being damaged, are common in the Board of Longitude archives.</p> <p>Crosley's care of four Board of Longitude timekeepers highlights the difference in role between Captain Broughton and the ship's astronomer. There is no direct mention of tension between the astronomer and Captain in this account but astronomers and ship's officers did not necessarily operate seamlessly together on a ship. Issues of authority and perceived gradations of trust and power between crew members and between them and the Board of Longitude could cause tension. Although Crosley was entrusted with the care of the Board of Longitude timekeepers for this voyage, he mentions in this volume that the Captain actually bought his own Arnold No. 45 from an <a href='/search?keyword=East%20India%20Company%20Officer'>East India Company Officer</a> at <a href='/search?keyword=Macao'>Macao</a> in January 1797. Broughton and then proceeded to pitch his own observatory and take separate astronomical observations. While this was very much encouraged by the Board of Longitude, when making a record of a voyage, it represents the ways in which the specific relationship between an officer, an instrument, and a table of observation, might be used to claim authority for a particular discovery, or decision. Indeed, in [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00001/1'>RGO 14/1</a>] Crosley claims that it was his idea to change the path of the voyage of the Providence to chart the coast of China. In comparison, Broughton mentions nothing of Crosley's role in his account. The particular ways in which officers and astronomers communicated through observations, log books and journals can tell us as much about the constant contestation for authority or credibility that took place on voyages of discovery as much as the actual content of those claims.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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