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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Petitions and memorials

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume, along with <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00012'> (RGO 14/12)</a>, brings together a set of memorials, petitions and letters sent to the Board over the course of 46 years, between 1782 and 1828. Both showcase the wide range of reasons for which correspondents would contact the Board, and also the persistence of writers who were convinced they had a successful but misunderstood solution to the longitude problem. Interestingly, both volumes include letters from prisoners of war seeking release in return for communicating their findings. This volume includes letters from both the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> French M. Blandin (RGO 14/11:39)</a> and the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Dutch D. Kohlmann (RGO 14/11:282)</a>. While the two volumes are arranged simply alphabetically by applicant's surname (as arranged under the direction of George Airy [<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 the 1850s), this volume has nonetheless a subtly different flavour to the following one.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The writers here are notable for their eloquence compared to the belligerence of many in <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00012'> (RGO 14/12)</a>. John Couch wrote a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> delightfully sarcastic letter (RGO 14/11:129)</a> to Thomas Young (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery), then secretary to the Board, in 1823, accepting that his proposal had been rejected, but asking for the Commissioners to add their signatures to a series of statements that he enclosed. Each statement praised one of his inventions as immeasurably improving the safety of navigation but ended with the comment that it was 'not thought likely to promote the Objects of the Board.' He then asked to which institution he should in fact apply for remuneration under the 1714 longitude act. Captain Heywood, in an <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> undated letter (RGO 14/11:240)</a>, criticised at length 'the cold room he was shown into, the time he waited there, the Omission … of the common civil offer of a Chair to a Stranger … [and] the cold indifference of Doctor Young.' The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> 'wildness' (RGO 14/11:68)</a> of some of the claims made is consistent across the volumes, however. Here, R. Broderick<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> claimed (RGO 14/11:69)</a> in 1818 that his grandfather had been encouraged to take his proposal to England and then left kicking his heels by the Commissioners before returning to Ireland a broken man. The Commissioners had, further, kept his books, such that 'all the improvements that was made in arts and sciences since the above period derived from his works.' Even more extreme, in 1788John Hamilton, wrote to the Board <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> demanding (RGO 14/11:228)</a> that they pay him interest on the period of time since his first letters when the prize money had been withheld from him, threatening 'if they refuse to comply [I] shall then take the necessary steps to Enforce it.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Also noteworthy is the range of cases of charity who applied to, and were clearly considered carefully by, the Commissioners. Wives, daughters and sometimes sons of past computers and comparers of the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> applied to the Board for financial assistance. In 1823, Anne Coppard<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> asked for remuneration (RGO 14/11:113)</a> based on the past services of her father John Robertson, and mentioned that she knew Margaret Mackay had received support based on her husband's work. Papers dealing with Mrs Mackay's applications are, indeed, <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00012/61'> found in Volume 12 (RGO 14/12:326r)</a>. Two applicants, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(531);return false;'> Mary Leslie (RGO 14/11:291r)</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(459);return false;'> Adam Johnson (RGO 14/11:257r)</a>, even asked for financial support based on the work that their husband or father respectively had put into speculative proposals to the Board, despite the fact these had been rejected. Mary Edwards is the most persistent correspondent <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(237);return false;'> here (RGO 14/11:134r)</a>, trying for reinstatement as a computer, based on both her own and her husband's past work. It is made clear how carefully the Board considered such applications in a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(295);return false;'> note (RGO 14/11:163r)</a> from 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 John Barrow [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], Secretary to the Admiralty, stating that Mary Edwards' case was deserving but that the Commissioners felt they owed more to another computer in poor circumstances, William Andrewes.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume also gives us small clues as to administrative functions within the Board of Longitude. It is noteworthy how many correspondents refer to previous exchanges of letters which no longer survive in the archive. One, John Garnett, made the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(315);return false;'> odd comment (RGO 14/11:174r)</a> in 1815 that he feared 'from your Letter … that some mistake has arisen in supposing me to be a foreigner, from whom, I am informed, the board of Longitude does not receive communications.' The series of letters from Blandin, the French prisoner of war, includes <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(73);return false;'> translations (RGO 14/11:41r)</a> of each letter by Hurd. Simple notes in the margins of letters by the secretaries, such as Young's comment on an <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(391);return false;'> application (RGO 14/11:216r)</a> from John Gresley, 'Answered in the negative,' show how business was carried out; and a draft letter on a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(457);return false;'> tiny piece of paper (RGO 14/11:256r)</a> in answer to Adam Johnson's application in 1801 suggests how secretaries may have noted replies during the course of Board meetings.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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