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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Vouchers

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Following on from <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00019'> (RGO 14/19)</a>, this volume continues the ephemera related to the Board of Longitude accounts from 1822 to the Board's dissolution in 1828. Thomas Young's (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at the National Portrait Gallery) efficient management, as Secretary to the Board, is evident throughout, and indeed attested by one correspondent's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(735);return false;'> stated reliance (RGO 14/20:775r)</a> on his 'punctuality' and confidence that 'I could depend on your word.' The continuing bureaucratisation of the Board is evident in the steadily increasing number of orders from Young to the Board's bank, Coutts & Co, dealing with payments and queries.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Much of the volume deals with similar payments to those in RGO 14/19. Much correspondence deals with the computation and printing of the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> ; with the purchase and upkeep of instruments; and with duty payments on books and papers imported from Europe by the Commissioners. One <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 14/20:479)</a> from their duty agent, J. Chinnery, shows us that attempts to avoid government taxation were as alive in the eighteenth century as the twenty-first (see William J. Ashworth, <i>Customs and Excise: Trade, Production and Consumption in England 1640-1845</i> ). Chinnery points out to Young that he has managed to bring all of the maps in as books and therefore avoided a five-times bigger duty charge! There are also <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> nice examples (RGO 14/20:671)</a> of a set of bills, bankers' draughts, and receipts beginning and ending the same financial transaction.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Transactions into the later 1820s also show how the Board of Longitude became involved in more diverse projects and with other British scientific institutions. There are expenses for Michael Faraday [<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 work on flint glass, for the Board's joint committee with the Royal Society, and also expenses paid to the RS for re-printing relevant parts of the Philosophical Transactions. Lengthy accounts also deal with construction projects financed by the Commissioners at both Greenwich Hospital [<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 at the Royal Institution. The latter works to build an observing shed and furnace were vetted by Faraday and the instrument maker George Dollond. Other sets of receipts and correspondence deal with the Board's joint venture with the Paris Observatory to find the difference of longitude between Greenwich and Paris. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Expenses (RGO 14/20:879)</a> from Edward Sabine [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] for the transport and repair of pendulums, for instance, match with <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00009/'> correspondence (RGO 14/9:66)</a> elsewhere in the archive.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Various letters among the accounts and receipts, also show us the humanity with which Young and the commissioners dealt with their many employees who computed the <i>Nautical Almanac</i>. In 1823, a Captain Lynn wrote requesting the Board's assistance paying for the burial of a deceased computer, Mr Marshall, and Margaret Mackay continued to receive yearly support thanks to her deceased husband's computing work. A <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 14/20:775)</a> from one of the rare female computers, Elizabeth Edwards, particularly shows the personal relationship which these employees established with Young and other commissioners over a long employment. In 1827, she wrote that, 'I have by death lost a friend in Abraham Robertson [the late Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford] in the Hon. Board of Longitude, but hope and flatter myself I have a real friend and warm advocate in you.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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