skip to content

Papers of the Board of Longitude : Rough minutes

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The rough records contained in this volume give us a feel for the day-to-day workings of the Board. We can see how members interacted, how minutes and resolutions were recorded, and what information was and was not thought important, allowing for considerations of what may not have survived. As usual, the frustration is how little material exists for the early years of the Board. A handful of notes refer to events in the 1790s. The vast majority of the rough minutes and records of administration deal with the period from 1810 onwards. This tells us as much as the records themselves do about the increasing institutionalisation and standardisation of the Board's activities at the turn of the century. The rough minutes increase in number and become more standard in format. There begins to be regular correspondence from the Secretary of the Board, Thomas Hurd [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='!csearch;authority=agent-178430;makerReference=agent-178430'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Melville [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], regarding calling Board meetings on 'the established day.' Likewise, various Commissioners, including Samuel Vince [<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 Stephen Rigaud, write to Hurd requesting the dates for future meetings. This regularisation culminates in the only printed item in the volume: a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(477);return false;'> letter (RGO 14/3:236r)</a> calling the Commissioners to the November 1820 Board to consider the claims of the Officers of HMS Hecla and Griper [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]. This section of the volume opens with a similar, undated, handwritten <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(353);return false;'> template (RGO 14/3:175r)</a> calling a Board of Longitude. The contrast is striking.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The rough notes and minutes make clear how the burden of work for the Board of Longitude lay, and the perils of such responsibility. The minutes from the 1790s-1810 show how much work fell upon the Astronomer Royal, 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>], in terms of evaluating proposed schemes, and especially editing the Nautical Almanac. The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(13);return false;'> earliest items (RGO 14/3:7r)</a> in the volume record Maskelyne's concern over a published accusation by the clockmaker Thomas Mudge that he had been receiving money from the Board for his work on the Nautical Almanac. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'> Extracts (RGO 14/3:5r)</a> from the minutes going back to 1767 have been compiled to prove his role in the publication. Later, in 1810, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(371);return false;'> letter (RGO 14/3:184r)</a> suggests how far Maskelyne may also have acted as <i>de facto</i> secretary of the Board. He writes to the new secretary, Thomas Hurd, telling him when and how to call a meeting, asking for the return of his minutes from the last, and informing him how to get the addresses of the other Commissioners. The fact that Hurd was to acquire these 'of George Gilpin, son of the late Secretary, either at the Royal Society apartments, Somerset House, or as a Clerk at the Navy Office,' suggests that the Board had little or no central record keeping even in 1810. The volume includes the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(483);return false;'> resignation letter (RGO 14/3:240r)</a> of Harold Parker as secretary in 1795, but it is not clear when George Gilpin took over the position. With Maskelyne's death, the burden of work seems to have moved to Hurd, and the volume includes regular correspondence from him calling meetings, and dealing with specific queries from the Commissioners. A note of frustration is clear in a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(415);return false;'> note (RGO 14/3:206r)</a> from Hurd dated 1817, explaining that no replies can be had until the Board's next meeting. Also noteworthy, is a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(403);return false;'> letter (RGO 14/3:200r)</a> from Hurd to Melville in 1815 requesting permission to call an extraordinary Board due to concerns over errors in the Nautical Almanac. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The pattern of responsibility clearly continued with Thomas Young's appointment as Secretary to the Board and Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac in 1818, at the same time as the reconstitution of the Board as a whole. At this point the minutes become more standard in style, and items record the creation of sub-committees to deal with the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(117);return false;'> accounts (RGO 14/3:59r)</a>, and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(149);return false;'> advise on specific expeditions (RGO 14/3:75r)</a>. From 1825, the rough minutes give way to <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(229);return false;'> 'Sketch Agendas' (RGO 14/3:115r)</a> and only unusual resolutions seem to be noted, suggesting the more monotonous quality of the Board's discussions and considerations from this date.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br /> History and Philosophy of Science<br /> University of Cambridge</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: