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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Correspondence on schemes and inventions

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'><a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00044'> (RGO 14/44)</a> and RGO 14/45 are the last volumes of incoming correspondence to the Board. They contain letters from forty-six different authors between them. These schemes seem to have fallen by the wayside. Many would have fitted into other volumes, particularly the irrational schemes, yet 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>] filed them together under 'miscellaneous' when he organised and bound the papers of the Board of Longitude. This suggests that at some point Airy's work on the Board's papers became less thorough; perhaps he ran out of time or simply grew wearisome of sorting the Board's large collection of letters. Organised alphabetically, the correspondence ranges in date from 1784 to 1828. This is towards the end of the Board's existence. Its focus at this stage had been opened up to schemes for improving navigation and related experiments more generally rather than a focused search for longitude schemes. The forty-six separate sections each contain the correspondence of a different individual, several of whom sent more than one scheme or invention.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Just before the start of the nineteenth century the sphere of activity prescribed to the Board of Longitude by Parliament was expanded to include the judgement of schemes regarding navigation more generally rather than a focused search for a way to secure longitude at sea. Within this volume there are several letters that highlight this change in the Board's remit which resulted in a plethora of letters regarding nearly all aspects of life at sea. For example Mr T Lowitz's 1792<a href='/view/'> method for rendering putrid water drinkable ()</a>, which involved mixing the water with pulverised wood-coals and pit-coals and draining it through a linin bag or W. Marrett's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> instrument for measuring altitude (RGO 14/45:240)</a>. The volume also contains several accounts of perpetual motion machines, for example J.C. Sander's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> self-regulating clock (RGO 14/45:274)</a>. There is also in this volume examples of multiple schemes coming all from one person attempting, presumably, to get funding for any or all of their ideas as the Board's concerns expanded. J. Tullock's correspondence starts in 1788 and in his first <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> letter (RGO 14/45:322)</a> seven schemes and inventions are suggested including a new scheme for discovering latitude when at sea or on land and a way to find the distance between any two celestial objects, the centre of the moon and a fix star, or the centre of the sun. The Board's Secretary at this time William Wales does not appear to have responded.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There are only a few examples of exchanges of correspondence taking place in this volume from any of the secretaries covering the period from 1784 onwards. However, there are several annotations on the corners of some of the letters which may be the organisational system of Board secretary Harold Parker. On the back of Mr B. Marston's 1791<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(217);return false;'> scheme for a new marine 'dronometer' (RGO 14/45:343v)</a> there is a little corner note, saying a further description of this instrument will be required before it can be taken into consideration followed by a small tick. These are most likely Parker's plans for a response, the tick implying that it had been sent out. One example of an exchange with Parker that did take place was with Henry Ould, who had a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> new scheme (RGO 14/45:263)</a> for an artificial horizon. He warned in a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> second letter (RGO 14/45:264)</a> that the inaction of the Board with regard to his instrument meant he had shown it to Admiral Barrington [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] on board the Barfleur [<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 Torbay, along with Admiral Jarvis and several other Captains and officers of the fleet. Ould claimed that these men 'gave their unanimous and decided opinion that the instrument as far as they could judge, would answer the purpose design'd and be of infinite use to navigation, and would be glad to give the instrument every encouragement in their power.' Eventually the instrument was sent straight out to sea, without ever being presented to the Board, with Mr Graham in the Salisbury on a voyage to Newfoundland.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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