Papers of the Board of Longitude : Letter book containing outgoing correspondence

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume contains copies of the Board's outgoing correspondence and is dominated by exchanges with the Admiralty. Much of the paperwork is routine but offers an insight into the bureaucratic side of the Board. There are a number of letters regarding the payment of printers and paper merchants. These give an insight to the practical organisation involved in the production of the Nautical Almanac after all the tables have been computed, checked and edited. There is also a collection of letters regarding <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> changes in the educational system (RGO 14/9:24)</a> at the Naval College in Portsmouth and at sea. School masters aboard his majesty's ships were to encourage higher standards in officers' understanding and use of the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> and Hadley's Quadrant. This is significant material when we come to consider the consumption and utility of knowledge produced by the Board.</p> Both the important and mundane are recorded in this volume. Outgoing letters were copied up by Sir Harold Parker as Secretary of the Board until his resignation in 1795. William Wales adds a few letters until his death in 1798. After this George Gilpin becomes Secretary and provides a steady supply of letters until the volume ends in 1810. <p style='text-align: justify;'>As well as the correspondence between the Board of Longitude and the Navy and Admiralty Boards there are also rather a few examples of letters sent to projectors in response to improvements in navigational instruments, theory and tables in the period covered by the volume. There are the accompanying requests for payment for the schemes and inventions that the Board considers useful. More interestingly, there are copies of the responses to the proposals that the Board saw as of little or no value. These letters demonstrate the awareness the Commissioners had of their public front, something they were keen to maintain. The letters are consistently polite but definitively negative in their response. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> For example (RGO 14/9:82)</a>, Mr Brigham of Yorkshire, was informed on the 13th June 1796 by the Secretary on behalf of the Commissioners that they had taken 'into consideration wherein you propose to find the longitude by the sun's declination; and I am directed to acquaint you they think that method cannot be of any use to the public.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There are also letters containing instructions to voyaging astronomers as well as accounts of the lending of instruments from the Board to individuals. For example the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> instructions (RGO 14/9:61)</a> for William Gooch are particularly extensive for his voyage on the Daedalus and on shore at the North West coast of America, where he was set to meet with Captain Vancouver (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw06472/Probably-George-Vancouver?LinkID=mp04600&search=sas&sText=vancouver&role=sit&rNo=0'>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery) and continue his journey on HMS Discovery [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=vessel-307417;vesselReference=vessel-307417'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]. The instructions are an interesting insight into what the Board regarded as a perfect example of data collection. They are extensive and accompanied by an extensive list of mathematical, optical and astronomical instruments as well as books and charts given to him for his astronomical, trigonometrical and nautical observations. William Gooch never made his rendezvous as he was killed in May 1792 by natives in Oahu, Hawaii (see a terrestrial floor globe [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/200582.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] that records this incident). Exactly the same instructions are sent out again, this time to Mr John Crosley who was to go out with HMS Providence to meet Captain Vancouver in Gooch's place for the return voyage.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br /> History and Philosophy of Science<br /> University of Cambridge</p>


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