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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Confirmed minutes of the Board of Longitude, 1823-1829

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Minutes from the meetings of the Board of Longitude between 3 April 1823 and 5 June 1828. This volume shows the Board as a fully established government office. It includes reports by the Commissioners and the Secretary, Thomas Young (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> in the National Portrait Gallery) on various endeavours related to the Board's interests. It also shows how the Board planned its responses to incoming correspondence from a broad cross section of scientific minds. Most of the minutes relate to the loan of instruments and payment of small sums to individuals whose endeavours were regarded as worthy of such support by the Commissioners.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume records four meetings a year during this period, in the first week of February, April, June and November. The formality and decorum of these minutes suggests that much of the organisation and planning for the Board of Longitude's projects and proposals happened elsewhere. Large and expensive projects such as the establishment of a Glass Committee <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(52);return false;'>[20]</a> and the further sponsorship of its experimental work towards the improvement of optical glass in 1824 are proposed and accepted within a paragraph of the minutes.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The minutes record incoming schemes and inventions at the end of each meeting. For unsuccessful proposals, the Board instructed the Secretary to thank but politely reject correspondent. For successful schemes, the Secretary is instructed either to transfer a sum of money or to send out on loan one of the Board's instruments to aid the work of the individual. The Board rejected some schemes prior to the meeting. This provokes the question as to why they are included in the minutes at all. But the presence of acknowledgement of such correspondence by the Board in the minutes of their meetings is very telling. At the height of its power in the early part of the eighteenth century the Board was very aware of its place in the public eye. The systematic mentioning of all incoming correspondence in the minutes, even if sometimes rather damning, is an attempt at institutional transparency. The minutes from this period demonstrate that the Commissioners were attempting to appear as neither corrupt nor nepotistic and were attempting to justify their usefulness to The Admiralty Board [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], Parliament and men of science generally.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There is also a collection of outgoing correspondence <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(101);return false;'>[201]</a>, copied out by Thomas Young, to keep a transparent record of the Board's dealings and opinions regarding the schemes and proposals submitted by various individuals. They range from the exceedingly brief to long in-depth descriptions of the conditions placed upon the use of money bequeathed by the Board to individuals.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In addition, this collection of minutes covers various key events in the later history of the Board of Longitude and its contribution to scientific endeavour, exploration and the growth of the British Empire. Among other matters, assisting the establishment of an observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by loaning the instruments required <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(41);return false;'>[9]</a> by Fearon Fallows. The minutes also document Sir Humphrey Davy [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]'s suggestion that the Board should pay for the publication of a catalogue of double stars <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(47);return false;'>[15]</a> by John Herschel [<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 Sir James South (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at the National Portrait Gallery). Other significant events in the period covered by these minutes include the plans to discover the relative longitudes of Cambridge, Oxford and Greenwich <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(67);return false;'>[35]</a>. Dr Tiark's voyage to Heligoland to discover the island's longitude and its relative position to the coast of Germany and Greenwich <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(51);return false;'>[19]</a> is also recorded. The Astronomer Royal John Pond punctuates these minutes with reports on chronometer trials at Greenwich. Thomas Young and others, including John Pond and John Herschel, also intervene with reports on the content of the Nautical Almanac.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br /> History and Philosophy of Science<br /> University of Cambridge</p>

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