Papers of the Board of Longitude : Correspondence regarding methods of establishing longitude by Jupiter's satellites, the planets and fixed stars

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This volume concludes the collection of astronomical methods for finding longitude that were submitted to the Board of Longitude. 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>] organised this vast collection of correspondence and papers by methodology. This volume relates closely to <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00035'> (RGO 14/35)</a> and <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00036'> (RGO 14/36)</a>. All three hold letters relating to astronomical schemes that focus on Jupiter's satellites, fixed stars or other planets. In this volume, each of the 21 sections relate to a different scheme presented between 1811 and 1828. There are few mentions of chronometers, one example was submitted by Thomas Bannerman. He wrote to the Board in 1822 to recommend a technique for <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> proving the correctness of chronometers for finding Longitude at sea using astronomical observations (RGO 14/37:299)</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The late date of this correspondence regarding alternatives to chronometers serves as a useful reminder of the slow introduction of chronometers into general usage in the early nineteenth century. At this time, chronometers and astronomical methods were often both employed on board ship to secure longitude. The fact that this correspondence was kept and organised, despite very little of it receiving encouragement from the Board of Longitude, highlights the increasing awareness of the Board of their accountability as a public authority funded by the 'public purse'. This was in the context of the financial retrenchment that followed two wars with France, fought on an unprecedented scale of public expense, resources and manpower.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Most of the correspondence sent to the Board in this period went to the Admiralty. Unlike the Board of Longitude, the Admiralty had a well-known building that a letter could be directed to. After an initial reply, correspondence tended to start being directed to Thomas Young's (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portraits</a>at the National Portrait Gallery)'s private residence in Welbeck Street. This lack of building or regulated meeting space (after 1818 the Board of Longitude often met in Young's home) is one of the criterion that opened the Board and Young himself up to accusations of jobbing and wasting of public money. Critics asked why a nation in financial peril should pay for an exclusive and discreet club that did little in the way of public service and wondered at the potential for moral corruption in an elite group that seemed to be in control of a part of the Naval budget.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The correspondence in this volume between Young's home and the authors of various schemes contain a few letters of particular interest and several stunning illustrations. For example in 1819, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Mr Barrett sent a proposal (RGO 14/37:262)</a> with <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(79);return false;'> illustrations (RGO 14/37:264)</a> for finding the longitude by the altitude of two stars to Mr Croker, First Secretary to the Admiralty. He presumably handed it over 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>], Second Secretary as the volume contains the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 14/37:261)</a> that Barrow wrote forwarding it to Young. There are also <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> illustrations (RGO 14/37:249)</a> in Captain Tucker's (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at the National Portrait Gallery)'s correspondence on finding the longitude by an altitude and the bearing of the pole star sent to “the Honourable Board of Longitude, Admiralty” in 1819.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Also of interest in this volume are the annotations in red pencil which are a remnant of Young's personal filing system, there are several letters with annotations near the top of the first page of correspondence. These offer a small insight into Young's personal reaction to the content of the Board's correspondence. For example, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 14/37:267)</a> from Mr W Waldron on finding the longitude is annotated in red pencil with the words “Nothing New”. There is also in the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> correspondence (RGO 14/37:291)</a> from John Tyrrell Baylee, written again in Young's handwriting “J. Tyrell Baylee again”. Yet these are not just slightly malicious comments, it is more likely Young was attempting to rationalise the constant incoming correspondence. Several others just have the author and description written at the top of the correspondence, for example Mr Sargeant's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letters (RGO 14/37:493)</a> on "finding the longitude by Polaris and Uras Majoris".</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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