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National Maritime Museum Manuscripts : Abstract of observations made by Fisher when in the Arctic with Parry

Fisher, George

National Maritime Museum Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>George Fisher was appointed acting chaplain and astronomer for Captain William Parry’s voyage towards the northwest of the Hudson Bay in 1821. Fisher was on board HMS Fury with Parry which sailed in convoy with George Francis Lyon on board HMS Hecla when it left England in April of 1821. This was Fisher’s second expedition; the first had been on HMS Dorothea with Captain David Buchan who had sailed north of Spitsbergen in 1818 looking for a passage to the Bering Strait. Many of the Fisher volumes that are still in existence today are from his second voyage and contain the observations that he made during his time spent in the Arctic from 1821 to 1823.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A'> (FIS/6/A)</a> is a series of abstracts of observations taken during this voyage when Fisher first arrived at the North East Coast of America, included are chronometer variations as well as <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/51'> experiments to determine the velocity of sound (FIS/6/A:42h)</a>. The notebook is a written report of the investigational work that Fisher performed during the voyage and contains discussion of the problems encountered whilst carrying out the work, for example having to <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/60'> presume chronometers were keeping accurate time (FIS/6/A:43)</a>. Also within this collection of neatly written up summaries is an account of Fisher’s <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/61'> measurements for the figure of the earth (FIS/6/A:44)</a>, <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/62'> observations of the satellites of Jupiter (FIS/6/A:45)</a> and <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/66'> measurements of variation in a dipping needle (FIS/6/A:49)</a>. Each of these accounts has a written report that discusses the method, difficulties and conclusions of the particular set of experiments. On the <a href='/view/MS-FIS-00006-A/81'> back pages (FIS/6/A:61-64)</a> of the volume there are calculations and reductions along with several similar loose sheets that appear to be the accompanying calculations and reductions for the experimental results that are summarised in the volume.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'> FIS/6/B is a similar volume written by Fisher where he summarises and discusses his astronomical observations performed during the Parry lead expedition to Hudson Bay in 1821. There is an interesting <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(6);return false;'> account of the setting up of the observatory (FIS/6/B:2)</a> where Fisher performed much of his experimental work and astronomical observations. It serves to remind us of the difficulty of the endeavour in creating a field-space in hostile environments that could be judged reliable enough to produce significant or useful data for theorising with. Also in this volume are accounts of <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'> observations (FIS/6/B:5)</a> taken by James Clark Ross, who was then a midshipman, for the refraction of Sirius. The volume also contains several pages of <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(22);return false;'> observations (FIS/6/B:18)</a> for determining refraction at low temperatures for stars just above the horizon that were taken by Lieutenant Palmer as well as further <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(27);return false;'> observations (FIS/6/B:23)</a> made by either Fisher or Palmer to determine the error of Palmer’s altitude measurements. Fisher’s summary of his work and that of others on the voyage is a reminder of the group effort required to record observations and to perform experimental work in adverse conditions as well as the fact that many members of a Ship’s crew, in addition to the serving astronomer, would be interested and capable of taking astronomical and other kinds of observations.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Both of these volumes were perhaps produced so that Fisher could present, or even publish, his observational activities, data, calculations and theoretical interpretations to those that took an interest at the Royal Society, Astronomical Society and The Admiralty. They could also potentially have been composed for use in further work by Fisher, but there is no record of his having published any of his observations or theories from this voyage.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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