Papers of the Board of Longitude : Petitions and memorials

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>This volume, along with [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00011/1'>RGO 14/11</a>], brings together a set of memorials, petitions and letters sent to the Board over the course of 46 years, between 1782 and 1828. While the two volumes are arranged simply alphabetically by applicant's surname (as arranged under the direction of <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Airy'>George Airy</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/136564.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] in the 1850s), this volume has nonetheless a subtly different flavour to the previous one.</p> <p>What is striking is not only the range of requests to which applicants thought the Commissioners would respond, but also the persistence of applicants, and the length of time over which some continued to apply to the Board. Many such petitions asked the Board for money in one form or another. A number asked for financial assistance based on previous work for the Board, such as <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Margetts'>George Margetts</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=agent-103786;makerReference=agent-103786'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , a watchmaker who wrote [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(55);return false;'>322r</a>] stating that he had provided the Board with timekeepers and since lost money in trade in the East Indies, or the wife and sons of <a href='/search?keyword=Charles%20Mason'>Charles Mason</a> who referred to [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(99);return false;'>346r</a>] his work on lunar tables in the 1790s. One son even asked [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(117);return false;'>355r</a>] for the Board's help in paying a passage to America. Similarly, <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Turnbull'>William Turnbull</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/136778.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] asked [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(325);return false;'>458r</a>] for a position, and <a href='/search?keyword=James%20Stoat'>James Stoat</a> wrote [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(249);return false;'>429r</a>] asking for help in getting a teaching job in Australia in return for performing observations there. Even a French prisoner of war <a href='/search?keyword=%5BWilliam%5D%20Violaine'>[William] Violaine</a> offered [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(347);return false;'>472r</a>] his proposal in return for being moved from the prison ship. Many such applicants had worked as comparers or computers of the Nautical Almanac and seem to have had some kind of understanding with its superintendent, the Astronomer Royal, <a href='/search?keyword=Nevil%20Maskelyne'>Nevil Maskelyne</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/379043.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . One application by <a href='/search?keyword=Benjamin%20Workman'>Benjamin Workman</a>, who had worked as a computer for Maskelyne, included a printed poster [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(387);return false;'>494r</a>] advertising his skills as a teacher. Some applicants like <a href='/search?keyword=Margaret%20Mackay'>Margaret Mackay</a>, widow of a computer, sent polite and very apologetic requests [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(61);return false;'>326r</a>] for assistance; others, like <a href='/search?keyword=William%20North'>William North</a>, sounded increasingly desperate. North's last letter [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(191);return false;'>396r</a>] stated that he had almost no food or clothing.</p> <p>One set of correspondence [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(153);return false;'>376r</a>] with <a href='/search?keyword=Edward%20Naylor'>Edward Naylor</a> gives useful insight into many of the other letters. Naylor wrote to <a href='/search?keyword=Thomas%20Young'>Thomas Young</a> (see portraits [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp04986/thomas-young?search=sas&sText=thomas+young'>link</a>] at the National Portrait Gallery), the Secretary of the Board, complaining that his scheme had been rejected but his papers had not been returned to him. Young had informed him that he might ask for the papers as a 'favour' but that the Board usually kept proposals in order to defend themselves against complaint. Many letters certainly include persistent, and lengthy complaints at the Board's lack of interest in a proposed scheme, or ask for unsuccessful proposals to be returned. Charles Mason's son, for instance, asked for [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(111);return false;'>352r</a>] the return of his father's lunar tables in order to sell them. Two particularly persistent applicants were <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Lester'>William Lester</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?t=people&type=all&f=&s=william+lester+&record=0'>link</a>] at the Science Museum Group) and <a href='/search?keyword=J%C3%B3zef%20Maria%20Hoene-Wro%C5%84ski'>Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://katalog.muzeum.krakow.pl/en/work/MNK-III-NI-6770-J%C3%B3ze-Maria-Hoene-Wro%C5%84ski'>link</a>] at the National Museum in Krakow). Lester sent Young eleven letters [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>297r</a>] over March and April 1821, explaining different parts of his proposal. He specifically compared his 'Solometer' to the marine chair proposed by <a href='/search?keyword=Christopher%20Irwin'>Christopher Irwin</a>, which he had been involved in trialling in 1763. These letters clearly ignored replies by Young saying the Board was not interested ( more correspondence [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00040/111'>RGO 14/40:340r</a>] regarding the Solometer also features under 'Impracticable Schemes' in another volume of the archives). Wronski also applied to the Board in 1820-1821 with a whole new mathematical system to solve longitude. His letters [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(391);return false;'>497r</a>] took a particularly accusatory tone. With these is a letter [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(399);return false;'>501r</a>] from <a href='/search?keyword=Joseph%20Banks'>Joseph Banks</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/107455.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] (presumably to Young) including an anonymous note [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(403);return false;'>502r</a>] sent to him calling Wronski 'an artful dangerous character.' This seems to explain the cheque [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(401);return false;'>501a</a>] to Wronski which also remains in the volume. Wronski also petitioned [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(471);return false;'>536r</a>] <a href='/search?keyword=George%20IV'>George IV</a> suggesting that the Board rejected him in order to reserve the glory of discovering longitude to the British, and he published a printed sheet [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(529);return false;'>565r</a>] criticising the Board, which certainly seems to back up the anonymous accusation of his 'talking unintelligibly.'</p> <p>Other applicants corresponded with the Board for over twenty years, such as <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Mitchel'>William Mitchel</a>, regarding [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(131);return false;'>364r</a>] his quadrant, and <a href='/search?keyword=Joseph%20Emanuel%20Pellizer'>Joseph Emanuel Pellizer</a>, about [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(197);return false;'>400r</a>] his lunar theory. Pellitzer even wrote [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(201);return false;'>401r</a>] justifying that his proposal had been forwarded by the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a> and that he was therefore not contravening the Board's order ten years earlier never to contact them further.</p> <p>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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