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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Papers on the tides and trade winds

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This mixed volume of correspondence stretches from the 1780s to 1820s. It shows the range of projects that the Board of Longitude had, or was seen to have, jurisdiction after the longitude problem had been effectively 'solved' by the chronometer and lunar distance methods combined. Most are single letters. They hail from a surprising variety of people and places. Correspondents range from the Marquis of Buckingham, to Miss Eliza O'Shea writing on behalf of her ill brother Thomas, to an old sailor James Straycock who appears to be barely literate. The geographical spectrum includes Walter Forman in Bath, Lazarus Cohen in Exeter, Pat Leahy in Ireland, Vicente Tofino from the Observatory at Cadiz, and even Matthew Flinders [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] from a French prison on Mauritius. Forman makes an interesting comment in his letter. He states that he does not have access to the sorts of public library in Bath, to which his correspondent on the Board, the secretary Thomas Young (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> in the National Portrait Gallery), was accustomed in London.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The correspondence deals mostly with theories to explain tides and trade winds. Some correspondents appear again here, who sent proposals on other subjects that appear in other volumes. John Abram, for instance, here sends <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(256);return false;'> tide tables (RGO 14/51:119r)</a>, where in Volume 32 he sent <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00032/361'> cards (RGO 14/32:186r)</a> to help naval pupils to calculate longitude. Other topics include the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(394);return false;'> observations (RGO 14/51:193r)</a> of Captain Home Riggs Popham [<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 1786 from trials of Larcum Kendall [<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 chronometer around the East Coast of Africa; and extensive correspondence with B Bevan about sinking a well at Greenwich Hospital to measure high and low tides in the Thames. This last shows the wrangles that took place around the accounts which <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00020/449'> appear in Volume 20 (RGO 14/20:637r)</a>, and show that issues with builders not finishing on time are not new to the twenty-first century! <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(316);return false;'> Correspondence (RGO 14/51:150r)</a> with Matthew Adam regarding a method of taking artificial horizons with his newly invented instrument shows how the Board continued to order naval trials well into the 1820s. Indeed, in 1820, Captain WJ Owen wrote to the Board proposing a means of measuring differences of longitude on land. His <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(436);return false;'> proposal (RGO 14/51:212r)</a> for using rockets, effectively re-formulated what William Whiston and Humphrey Ditton had proposed over a century earlier, stimulating the <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00001/19'> 1714 Act (RGO 14/1:10r)</a> which brought the Board of Longitude into being.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The majority of the correspondents here are brief, polite and business like. Captain Walter Forman from Bath, however, was outraged at his treatment by the Board, and not afraid to articulate it. In 1822, he sent his theory of the tides based on the elasticity of fluids, which was rejected by the Commissioners. He sent repeated letters to Young complaining that the Board would not explain their rejection, and made a number of comments about the 'manners' of the Board. He <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(155);return false;'> wrote to Young (RGO 14/51:74r)</a>, 'As it is possible that my letter may have miscarried, I shall make no remarks upon your not answering … [but] I expect that you will at least have the politeness to acknowledge the receipt of this letter,' and later <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(163);return false;'> commented on (RGO 14/51:78r)</a> the Board's lack of 'common civility,' saying 'I have yet to learn that what is rude in a single person can alter its character when it becomes the combined act of a company.' In a final <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(179);return false;'> disgruntled letter (RGO 14/51:85r)</a> he concluded with heavy sarcasm that 'the Board of Longitude have privileges which only belong to kings and popes: they are infallible and can do no wrong.' We might, perhaps, assign his spleen to the same cause as T Colley, another correspondent, who <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(310);return false;'> commented poetically (RGO 14/51:146r)</a> in 1790 how 'cou'd I but once experience the least glimpse of Encouragement, wou'd enliven my drooping Muse to proceed with alacrity.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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