Papers of the Board of Longitude : Correspondence and related papers regarding observations made on voyages of discovery

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>A group of letters and reports by astronomers and captains about work on late 18th and early 19th century voyages of discovery. This volume is similar to [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00067/1'>RGO 14/67</a>] in that it highlights the difficulties of astronomers working in places other than the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Observatory%20at%20Greenwich'>Royal Observatory at Greenwich</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/106337.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . It includes letters that describe how hard it was to use and look after instruments at sea, such as a letter [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(431);return false;'>209-216</a>] written by <a href='/search?keyword=James%20Inman'>James Inman</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/sir-james-inman-17761859'>link</a>] held in the Ministry of Defence Art Collection)to <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>] . Other letters, such as those sent [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(73);return false;'>38-67</a>] by Matthew Flinders to the Board of Longitude, reveal the power that was attached to observing and recording on voyages.</p> <p>This volume tells us a lot about the experiences of astronomers John Crosley, James Inman and William Wales. All three had trained as astronomical assistants at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich under the Astronomer Royal. Their duties at the observatory included making observations and recording the positions of stars and doing complex calculations. On voyages they carried out the same tough duties as well as managing, testing and recording the performance of state-owned instruments. The difficulties involved in looking after instruments at sea take up much of this volume.</p> <p>The responsibility for making observations and looking after instruments was negotiated before, during and after a voyage. The Board of Longitude accepted the complex nature of this task but also sought to manage and simplify it. We see early in the volume that it was important to know who was in possession of the instruments. It not only aided understanding of records made using the instruments but also helped the Board to understand the claims of a ship's crew. For example, this volume records the Board of Longitude's attempts to understand the slightly contradictory claim [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(33);return false;'>17-18</a>] of <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Matthew%20Flinders'>Captain Matthew Flinders</a> and that [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(129);return false;'>62-63</a>] of his brother <a href='/search?keyword=Lieutenant%20Samuel%20Ward%20Flinders'>Lieutenant Samuel Ward Flinders</a>. Both claimed to have been in sole possession of the instruments on <a href='/search?keyword=HMS%20Investigator'>HMS 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>] following the departure of the official Board-appointed astronomer, John Crosley. Matthew Flinders did so in order to claim authorship of observations made on the voyage whereas Samuel Ward Flinders sought payment for acting as the voyage's astronomer.</p> <p>This volume contains a number of drawn-out examples of individuals claiming recognition or reward and highlights the importance attached to such claims. These include a claim by <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Broughton'>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>] for the observations [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(199);return false;'>92-170</a>] he made after HMS Providence sank and a claim by <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Vancouver'>George Vancouver</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/captain-george-vancouver-rn-17571798-41'>link</a>] held at King's Lynn Town Hall) for observations [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>9-12</a>] made aboard <a href='/search?keyword=HMS%20Discovery'>HMS Discovery</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/263918.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] during a voyage around the world.</p> <p>Equally notable are the claims by captains and astronomers to take charge for the preparation of observations and charts. Recognition for this work was highly valued because publications became the ultimate product of the voyage. William Wales sought assurances in his 1787 letter [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>3-7</a>] to the Board of Longitude that he would be granted the authority and paid to prepare the published versions 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>] 's first voyage, as well as those by <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Byron'>Captain Byron</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14066.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Wallis'>Captain Wallis</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/153893.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , and <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Carteret'>Captain Carteret</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/110103.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] in their earlier voyages to the <a href='/search?keyword=Southern%20Hemisphere'>Southern Hemisphere</a>. This was eventually published in 1788. </p> <p>Granting the right to be involved in the preparation for publication of the observations from a voyage of discovery was frequently surrounded by rival claims. Captain Flinders' desperate requests to have his observations published by the Board of Longitude are significant in this sense. Flinders did not return from his voyage with the rest of his crew. He travelled on a separate ship from Australia and was taken prisoner and kept at <a href='/search?keyword=Mauritius'>Mauritius</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/541880.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] by the French. Flinders worried that his work might go unpublished without the backing of the Board or be challenged by another member of the crew, as had happened for the publications of Cook's previous voyage. In addition to asking for the Board's backing, Flinders sought further assurances both for his reputation and the financial welfare of his family by requesting that his brother, Samuel Ward Flinders, be employed in the preparation of his voyages observations.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br /> History and Philosophy of Science<br /> University of Cambridge</p>


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