Papers of the Board of Longitude : Papers on payments for Board work

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Documents including accounts, correspondence, chequebooks, pocketbooks, and payments and receipts from between 1770 and 1823 related to the financial transactions and records of the Board of Longitude. This volume forms a partial and overlapping financial record of the body in conjunction with volumes <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00002'> (RGO 14/2)</a> and <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00015'> (RGO 14/15)</a> through <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00021'> (RGO 14/21)</a>. The Board obtained the funding and refunds for its activities, rewards and operating costs by application to the Treasurer of the Navy, who was directed to apply unused Naval funds to that purpose and later the money raised through the sale of Naval stores as well. The King and Parliament had to approve increases to the limits set on these funds, as well as the establishment or increase of travel refunds and salaries for the Commissioners and their employees. For example, in 1763 the government approved the Commissioners' request of the previous year to give refunds to the Astronomer Royal and Professors from Oxford and Cambridge who had to travel to London to attend Board meetings and to establish a small salary for hiring a Secretary. In later decades, the Board set up a committee to review its financial accounts, and Parliament eventually required that it also submit spending estimates alongside those of the Navy.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The records in this volume expose some of the inner workings of the Board and often highlight the importance to its diverse activities of interpersonal relationships and communication, and of the energy and initiative of specific Commissioners such as the Commissioner and 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>] and the Secretary and career 'civil servant' Thomas Young(see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery), both of whom make frequent appearances. They reveal not only basic financial information, but also details about the preparations for and conduct of the Board's diverse activities such as sea voyages, the trials of methods such as the lunar-distance and technologies such as chronometers, and the education of Naval Masters in these and other new technologies and methods. The later Astronomer Royal 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>]<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> sorted (RGO 14/18:1)</a> these papers into 49 different sections according to the Commissioners, employees or tradesmen to whom they are relevant - or who owned them, in the case of <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Thomas Young's chequebook (RGO 14/18:487-580)</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Nevil Maskelyne's pocketbooks (RGO 14/18:23-77)</a> of postal expenses. They include: Commissioners and Secretaries such as Maskelyne, Young and Anthony Shepherd(see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at Old Schools, University of Cambridge); booksellers, printers and engravers such as Mount & Page and Thomas Malton (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery); computers such as William and Mary Mason; observers and other employees and associates such as William Wales and George Witchell; instrument makers such as Edward Nairne, Jesse Ramsden [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='!csearch;authority=agent-147313;makerReference=agent-147313'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and Edward Troughton [<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 'projectors' such as Joseph de Mendoza de R'os.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>It must be remembered that these and the other financial documents in the RGO volumes are partial and heavily weighted towards the final decades of the Board's existence. This is due to a combination of the body's having become much more active from the 1760s on and of some earlier documents have been lost or archived elsewhere, or having been judged irrelevant to the official history because they predate the beginning of known communal meetings in 1737. Therefore, there are no records here from more than a half century of relevant events, including more than three decades of collaboration with John Harrison [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>]. A useful breakdown of known Board expenditures can be found in: Derek House, 'Britain's Board of Longitude: The Finances, 1714-1828', <i>The Mariner's Mirror</i> 84(4), 1998, pp. 400-417. Howse calculated that the Board spent approximately £157,000 altogether during its existence, consisting of: £53,000 for rewards; £45,000 for publications (with a profit in return of £26,000); £23,000 for expeditions and experiments; and £36,000 for overheads and staff salaries, mainly during its last 25 years.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Alexi Baker<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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