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National Maritime Museum Manuscripts : A description concerning such mechanism as will afford a nice, or True mensuration of time

Harrison, John

National Maritime Museum Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This document contains the manuscript of A description concerning such mechanism as will afford a nice, or True mensuration of time, written by the clockmaker John Harrison and subsequently printed in 1775 - just one year before his death, and two years after being awarded the full 'Longitude prize'. The story of Harrison has been well told, both in a wealth of material from the horological community, and particularly since the publication of Dava Sobel's 1996 bestseller, <i>Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time</i>. Harrison's story of his attempt to gain a reward from the Board of Longitude was certainly over-dramatised by Sobel, who (as made explicit in the title) was keen to present him as a 'lone genius' who was treated incredibly poorly by members of the Board of Longitude. Indeed, since then, the characterisation has been questioned, with people pointing out that, like all clock and watchmakers of his time, he heavily relied on an extensive and skilled system of subcontracting to help make some of the parts of his timekeepers, as well as receiving a lot more help from influential figures in the capital than is typically acknowledged. In addition, as can be seen from the whole range of concerns presented in the Board of Longitude archive, the problem of finding Longitude was certainly not 'solved' by Harrison, as his timekeepers were simply too expensive to make it the practical solution sought after by the Board of Longitude.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This work by Harrison can be thought of as occurring in two parts. The first, much shorter section, can be seen as a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'> summary by Harrison of his contribution to the development of timekeepers (ZAA0883: 1-76)</a> - both those relying on the 'nature of s pendulum' and those driven 'from the wheels of a clock'. The second much larger and perhaps more surprising section contains <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(83);return false;'> Harrison's work on the scales of music (ZAA0883: 77-143)</a> - drawing upon his ability as a mechanic and his knowledge of mathematics. Throughout his interaction with the Board of Longitude, Harrison was accused of not making clear enough the principles of his inventions or 'discoveries'. It is certain that even after receiving the Longitude prize, Harrison felt that he still had to make his case as the deserved recipient of the Longitude prize.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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