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National Maritime Museum Manuscripts : The Barrington Papers

Barrington, William Wildman

National Maritime Museum Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This small archive of thirteen documents and one pamphlet once belonged to William Wildman, Viscount Barrington, (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery) who, in the years 1762 to 1765 was Treasurer of the British Navy. This position made him an <i>ex officio</i> Commissioner of Longitude, and allowed him to attend eight meetings during a key period in the Board's negotiations with the clockmaker John Harrison [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]. Barrington appears to have been a hoarder of documents. These fourteen represent the papers from his work for the Board. They include accounts, opinions and correspondence, Barrington's notes for a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(29);return false;'> speech (BGN:8:1-8:4)</a> to the House of Commons, and a rare unbound copy of a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(63);return false;'> pamphlet (BGN:14:1-14:24)</a> published by Harrison in 1763. As a whole they represent the materials used by Barrington to argue in the House of Commons that the Board of Longitude needed a new Act (<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00001'> 5 Geo. III c.20 (RGO 14/1)</a>) from Parliament in May 1765. This was a direct response to the discussions of the rival time-keeper and lunar-distance methods which had taken place at Board meetings in February<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00005/79'> (RGO 14/5:75)</a>. This would clarify the conditions necessary to win the prize, it would award sums of money to Harrison for his time-keepers [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], and to Tobias Mayer and Leonhard Euler (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=',%20Leonhard'>portrait</a> at Kunstmuseum Basel) for their work on the lunar distance method, and it would authorise the Commissioners to begin publishing the Nautical Almanac. These papers add a personal perspective to the official archives of the Board, and to the Journal of the House of Commons which charts the Act's passage through Parliament.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Barrington's materials show that the passage of this Act was not easy. He was clearly amassing evidence to justify the Board's actions and decisions in the face of a sceptical Parliament; sceptical both as to the Board's need for more money, and as to its refusal to award Harrison the 'great reward.' In three different sets of Accounts, Barrington tracked the Board's previous expenditure and financial support of Harrison, mostly from the sale of old naval stores. He collected expert opinions in <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1);return false;'> notes (BGN:1:1-1:4)</a> from Isaac Newton [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and Martin Folkes (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at The Royal Society) on the accuracy of the different methods for measuring longitude at sea. He corresponded with other Commissioners over the passage and components of the Act. The papers include <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(21);return false;'> two (BGN:6:1-6:4)</a><a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(25);return false;'> letters (BGN:7:1-7:4)</a> from Lord Morton, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'> one (BGN:12:1-12:4)</a> from Sir John Cust, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(39);return false;'> one (BGN:11:1-11:4)</a> from Nevil Maskelyne [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and Anthony Shepherd, and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'> one (BGN:5:1-5:4)</a> from Thomas Hornsby. He also read Harrison's own pamphlet contribution. In his speech, he was therefore able to lay out carefully for the Commons, the history of the Board's relationship with Harrison, and the relative success and future promise of the rival methods. He explained that the Board did not doubt the successful trial of Harrison's watch (known as <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>H4</a>) but that the Commissioners needed a clearer understanding of the watch's workings and of its replicability before they deemed H4 to have won the prize. The papers include the Board's consequent resolutions on what would make it so worthy, and include an intriguing note stating the Commissioners' ineligibility to win the prize themselves. Crucially, Barrington argued for the Board's continued existence, and the need for further work to find a 'practicable and useful solution' to the longitude problem. The main Board of Longitude archives would look rather different if he had not been successful.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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