Papers of the Board of Longitude : Observations in the voyage of the Daedalus

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>The second of two volumes, the first being <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00062/1'>RGO 14/62</a>, that make up the journal kept by <a href='/search?keyword=William%20Gooch'>William Gooch</a> on board the supply ship <a href='/search?keyword=Daedalus'>Daedalus</a>. Gooch was a young astronomer who set sail on board the Daedalus in August 1791. The Board of Longitude sent him to rendezvous with <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20George%20Vancouver'>Captain George Vancouver</a> (see portrait [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>link</a>] at National Portrait Gallery) at <a href='/search?keyword=Nootka%20Sound'>Nootka Sound</a>. His aim was to join the mission to survey and chart the <a href='/search?keyword=north%20west%20coast%20of%20America'>north west coast of America</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . However, Gooch never made contact with Vancouver and the <a href='/search?keyword=Discovery'>Discovery</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . He died alongside the ship's Commander <a href='/search?keyword=Richard%20Hergest'>Richard Hergest</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=Manuel'>Manuel</a>, a Portuguese sailor, at <a href='/search?keyword=Waimea'>Waimea</a>, on the island of <a href='/search?keyword=Oahu'>Oahu</a> on 12 May 1792, after an encounter with the Hawaiian <i>Pahupu</i> (see a terrestrial floor globe [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] that records this incident).</p> <p>A range of drawings, astronomical calculations, translations, notes and letters make up most of these two volumes. They are characterised by the anthropologist Greg Dening as making up workbooks that the astronomer used 'to "fag" out his observations', as was the style in which he had had to communicate his knowledge in the formal examination proceedings at the <a href='/search?keyword=University%20of%20Cambridge'>University of Cambridge</a> (Greg Dening, The death of William Gooch: a history's anthropology [Melbourne, 1995], p. 53). Greg Dening also points out that some of the writing in this second volume appears to be in Greek but is actually English written with letters from the Greek alphabet. See, for example the note on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(183);return false;'>RGO 14/63:311</a> and the Greek alphabet with its corresponding English counterpart on the opposite page.</p> <p>It might be said that this process of veiling and unveiling thoughts through newly learnt languages appropriately describes the entirety of Gooch's marks in these notebooks. Gooch was a young astronomer who had only recently graduated from Cambridge. As such, he was still very much learning and practising the various procedures and techniques required of an astronomer on a voyage of discovery by the Astronomer Royal <a href='/search?keyword=Nevil%20Maskelyne'>Nevil Maskelyne</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . These included testing, calculating, and recording results from a whole host of expensive instruments lent by the Board of Longitude. A list of these instruments can be seen in <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00068/1'>RGO 14/68</a>. Maskelyne required astronomers to use these instruments according to an incredibly exact method. This was because they were very expensive and were frequently broken or damaged on such voyages. Alongside his cargo of instruments and many navigational and astronomical textbooks, Gooch was sent out with written instructions by the Astronomer Royal. Maskelyne hoped to impress upon him the routine expected of a successful astronomer. Gooch's young age and desire to perform as a good astronomer come across clearly throughout these two volumes. This is nicely demonstrated on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(267);return false;'>RGO 14/63:353</a>, where he has copied out Maskelyne's instructions for the method of finding the longitude by the ship's watches. We should be reminded here that the method of finding longitude by timekeepers in this period was neither guaranteed as a successful procedure by the Board of Longitude or <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a>, nor by those who attempted to practice it.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>

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