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Papers of John Pond : Admiralty papers on chronometers

Papers of John Pond

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume continues on from <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00005-00229'> (RGO 5/229)</a> containing the letters sent to John Pond, Astronomer Royal and Superintendent of Chronometers at Greenwich, regarding the supply and maintenance of government chronometers to naval officers by John Croker and John Barrow, first and second secretaries to the Admiralty respectively. There was a considerable amount of bureaucracy involved in the process of getting, sometimes specific, chronometers on board ships that were in port all over England as well as at sea across the globe. A typical example of this kind of correspondence is the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 5/230:5)</a> dated 18th January 1827 that informs Pond that by some accident His Majesty's observing vessel the Mastiff commanded by Commander Richard Copeland sailed for the Mediterranean without being furnished with chronometers and Pond had to send several out directly by way of Captain Curzon on HMS Asia currently waiting at Portsmouth. In addition there are, in this volume, an increasing number of letters concerning the purchase of chronometers by naval officers often whilst stationed during a voyage. At New South Wales a Commander Mitchell, as a result of the chronometer supplied to the Slaney being useless, purchased a chronometer by Garrand, no.856, for the sum of £100 in 1827. Pond was <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> instructed (RGO 5/230:25)</a> to reimburse Mitchell and therefore to consider the new chronometer as government property. There are also many examples in this volume of chronometers being damaged; a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> copy of a letter (RGO 5/230:139)</a> from Commander Suckling of HMS Medina was sent to Pond with a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> note (RGO 5/230:138)</a> from Barrow instructing him to replace a damaged chronometer. The copied letter declares that the main spring in the chronometer broke when it was wound, Suckling declares that this was due to the excessive dampness in the air after several rain storms on the Island of Ascension as every care had been taken with the chronometer. All these letters regarding damaged or replaced chronometers help to inform our understanding of navigation instruments in this period by reminding us that the examples we often have left to us in our collections are the exceptions. Most chronometers do not survive to become museum objects; the majority are at some point damaged beyond repair or lost. The purchasing and repair of new chronometers was a crucial aspect of Naval Administration.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There is also the consideration of how a chronometer will get to a ship. Sometimes this is relatively simple, for example with a chronometer going from Greenwich to Devonport over land and being received and calibrated by Mr Cox, who was charged with the care of government chronometers at the port, and then placed on board ship. This volume also contains more complex examples which serve to remind us that moving chronometers in and out of Greenwich was not always so simple. In order to get chronometers to his majesty's schooners employed under the command of lieutenants of the Navy on the West India station towards the end of 1828, Pond is <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> informed by Barrow (RGO 5/230:125)</a> that he will send a small vessel to Greenwich to receive the chronometers and take them to HMS Shannon by which they will be conveyed to <a href='/view/'> Jamaica ()</a>. Seven chronometers were to be given to the Commander of the vessel in question, who was yet to be confirmed, and Pond was to ensure that he got a receipt when handing over the timekeepers. They were to be the responsibility of Captain Benjamin Clement of the Shannon on the way over to Jamaica and then of Vice Admiral Hemming at Jamaica, who would ensure that they were given out to the lieutenants.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Towards the end of 1829 the correspondence regarding chronometers starts to come exclusively from Francis Beaufort, the newly appointed British Admiralty Hydrographer of the Navy, who in an attempt to streamline this work gets pre-written letters printed up that have spaces left blank in the text for the date, officer, ship, number of chronometers and signature. The second of these <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> printed letters (RGO 5/230:187)</a> instructs Pond to send a chronometer over to HMS Winchester on 2nd January 1830. The following letter is a handwritten note from Beaufort informing Pond: “In reply to your letter of yesterday I have to inform you that the Winchester is at Chatham”. This <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> additional letter (RGO 5/230:188)</a> rather undermines the effort of the printed version, which has no blank space for information regarding the port the ship is in, and perhaps to make the letter worthwhile Beaufort also gives Pond further instructions that Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood has ordered Captain Charles Austen, brother of the authoress, to take the chronometers and lodge them at the Royal Naval College until they were needed for the voyage. From this time onwards the location of the ship as well as the number of the chronometer, if specified, is noted at the bottom of the printed letter. For example Pond is <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> informed (RGO 5/230:197)</a> on the 30th of March 1830 that “The north star is at Portsmouth”. At this point in the volume we see the introduction of “Steam vessels”, for <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> example (RGO 5/230:216)</a> on 29th June 1830, Pond is told he must supply chronometers to Lieutenant Andrew Kennedy on board the Steam Vessel Hermes.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There is also evidence in this volume of the continuation of the tradition of “public trial of chronometers at Greenwich” where clockmakers could bring their chronometers to be examined. This was not always an easy thing to supervise as the premiums awarded to the best performing timepieces were highly coveted. There is, for example, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter of complaint (RGO 5/230:228)</a> in the volume regarding the exclusion of chronometers from the trial in 1830. Over all, this volume gives insight into the administration involved in the maintenance, trialling, acquirement and distribution of chronometers and highlights the level of bureaucracy involved in ensuring that the Navy was well provided for.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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