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Papers of John Pond : Correspondence with the Admiralty

Papers of John Pond

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Within this volume and also <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00005-00230'> (RGO 5/230)</a> and [RGO 5/231] are the letters sent to John Pond, Astronomer Royal from 1811 till 1835, from the first and second secretaries of the Admiralty, John Croker and John Barrow respectively. The volume opens with a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/229:2)</a> written by Barrow and signed by Croker dated 23rd July 1821 informing Pond that he has been appointed to be Superintendent of Chronometers for the use of His Majesty's Navy. The following <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/229:4)</a> is from Captain Thomas Hurd, secretary to the Board of Longitude, and contains a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> list (RGO 5/229:5)</a> of 131 government owned timekeepers and the ships they were currently consigned to, dated 3rd September 1821. The list also contains the makers of the chronometers and the officer to which it was entrusted aboard each ship. Co-ordinating the loans of these extremely valuable instruments would have been of great importance to the Admiralty and these three volumes are the record of how this huge effort of bureaucratic organisation unfolded.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The movement of chronometers from Greenwich or other depositories to on board ships was a complicated business that generated a vast quantity of paperwork. Barrow writes formally to Pond every time a ship is to receive or return a chronometer and this volume functions as an excellent way to track specific chronometers from voyage to voyage. Captains would in the first instance apply to the Admiralty for one or additional chronometers and their request would be forwarded or discussed with Barrow or Croker, one of whom would then write to Pond instructing him to send out the desired instruments. For example, a very typical note from Barrow is generated by Captain Walcott's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> request for a chronometer (RGO 5/229:13)</a> aboard HMS Carnation. This request from Walcott was one of the first to be processed in this fashion after Pond's appointment as Superintendent of Chronometers and perhaps a little unsure in his new role, he wrote back to Barrow for more detailed <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> instruction (RGO 5/229:15)</a>, which arrived several days later on 5th November 1821. Pond was particularly worried about the problem of transporting a chronometer by John Arnold over such a distance as Greenwich to Plymouth, where it would arrive at a place without a space for making adjustments or regulating a chronometer before going onto the ship. In Barrow's reply we find that Captain Hurd has arranged for an agent of Arnold's, based in Plymouth with a good regulator, to care for the instrument upon arrival. Having a man at the various ports was essential to ensure that a chronometer was seaworthy after travelling to the port, this volume contains details of the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> appointment (RGO 5/229:307)</a> of Mr Cox in late 1825 to take charge of government chronometers at Devonport.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume also reminds us of the role of the maintenance and repair of chronometers in order to keep up with the demands of the Navy. In this volume are several instances of the destruction of chronometers almost beyond repair, for the example in a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/229:32)</a> dated 16th February 1822 Pond is instructed by Barrow to supply new chronometers to a the Kangaroo Surveying Vessel in Jamaica via HMS Scout in order to replace chronometers that were damaged by lightning. Many of these letters also deal with the repairs of chronometers returning from sea no longer functioning, for example there is the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> copy of a letter (RGO 5/229:157)</a> dated 12th January 1824 from Captain White of the Shamrock Surveying Vessel who claims his Arnold, no.420, “fluctuates so considerably, plus and minus, as to render it entirely useless even as a working watch.” Also in this volume are the letters containing the approval of the Admiralty Board for the repair of chronometers after Pond has obtained estimates for the work needed. Damage evaluation is also of serious concern to Barrow, we see in one <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/229:197)</a> from 30th June 1824 that Pond is instructed to report to the Admiralty on all chronometers returned defective stating whether the damage was caused by accident or the inattention of the officers in whose charge they were placed.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>From this collection of requests for chronometers we can also learn that the historical idea of the chronometers as a standardised piece of hardware for navigation in this period is deceptive; there is a gradient of trust in the collection of government chronometers with some timekeepers valued as more reliable or accurate than others. This is partially due to a variation in maker but also seems to correspond to the number of voyages that a chronometer can be said to have endured and the extent of repairs required on its return. Evidence for this can be seen in Barrow's occasional request for the “best chronometers available” often for surveying work rather than navigation. For example when the HMS Owen Glendower was sent out to more precisely ascertain the longitude of Madeira, Pond is <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> instructed (RGO 5/229:51)</a> to send out the twelve “best” chronometers available with Doctor John Lewis Tiarks.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Pond also had to ensure that chronometers were available for investigations and activities that were not surveying and navigation, for example within this volume is a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/229:336)</a> dated 11th May 1826 from Barrow informing him that Dr Thomas Young has asked for several chronometers to be lent to George Airy and William Whewell for experiments concerning the density of the earth about to be made in a mine shaft in Cornwall under the auspices of the Board of Longitude. This particular letter helps remind us that the need for accurate and precise timekeepers was not limited to those concerned with navigation and astronomy; the ability to keep more accurate time had transformed other aspects of scientific thinking as well as the organisation of society more generally.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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