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Papers of the Board of Longitude : A proposal to determine our longitude

Squire, Jane, 1671?-1743

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Jane%20Squire'>Jane Squire</a> was the only woman to openly pursue the <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/view/ES-LON-00023'>longitude rewards of 1714</a>. Her book, published in two editions in 1742 and 1743, also provides some of the best surviving evidence for the dynamics which existed before the <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/view/ES-LON-00004'>Commissioners of Longitude</a> began to meet together communally - a period not covered by the surviving institutional records. The first communal meetings only occurred sporadically beginning in 1737, and then regularly from the 1760s on. Squire's efforts over at least twelve years, and her complex and educated if impractical scheme, drew much attention at the time from learned and influential individuals. These ranged from the female intellectuals known as 'bluestockings' to the Pope. Today her proposal is the single most common longitude treatise in libraries and collections worldwide.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Jane Squire, christened in York in 1686, was the second daughter of the affluent and well-connected Priscilla and Robert Squire Esq. By at least 1721, she had moved from York to fashionable London. Squire sued a long list of individuals the following year, including Edward Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer and Thomas Lord Harley, over marine salvage efforts in which she had invested and lost thousands of pounds. It was unusual for an early modern woman to engage in such high-stakes investments, but especially to lodge a detailed and vehement complaint against such powerful individuals. The main defendants countered in 1725 that Squire no longer had a right to be heard in court because she was a ‘Popish recusant convict' - i.e. she was Catholic, which at the time could bring severe penalties and persecution. An accusation of Catholic worship had indeed been recorded against Squire three years earlier but had been dismissed.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1726, Jane was committed to Fleet Prison because of her substantial debts. She was released after three difficult years, and soon dedicated herself to developing a new universal way of comprehending and communicating the celestial and terrestrial spheres. This was intended to facilitate the finding of longitude at sea and to obtain one of the large rewards of 1714, but also in a sense to <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(169);return false;'>move humanity closer</a> to the state which existed before the fall of the Tower of Babel. Such religious motivations were relatively common in the search for the longitude and in Georgian science at large, since religion was inextricably bound up in all aspects of early modern life.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Squire worked tirelessly during the 1730s, and again during the early 1740s after Parliament passed a <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/view/ES-LON-00023'>second Longitude Act</a>, to try to interest the Commissioners in her method of navigating without complex mathematics. It involved dividing the heavens into 1440 geometric ‘Cloves of Longitude' bisected by 720 parallel ‘Rings of Latitude'. This produced 1,036,800 segments called ‘cards', each centred on a constellation with a zenith point. This allowed sailors to take a precise reading as they navigated, with an astral clock to correct the difference between apparent and mean solar time. Once the meridian was reset to Bethlehem, ships that stayed true to their course could be piloted by matching the skies to specialist star cards which drew heavily from John Flamsteed's posthumous star catalogues.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Squire, like other learned Georgians, also invented a new 'universal' language and system of measurement to be used by the sailors employing her scheme. Further suggestions included synchronizing time in part by having it regularly announced from church steeples. Possibilities for recalibrating the measurement of the Earth from the Bethlehem meridian included deploying artificial sea creatures to act as regularly-spaced marine buoys to aid in mapping. While all of these details seem fantastical, they also reflect a familiarity with the scientific and intellectual activities of the age.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Squire was able to approach many luminaries about her scheme despite her stint in prison and open Catholicism, at least in part because of the high standing of her family and occasionally because of shared religion. For example, she was able to consult the Attorney General <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Sir Philip York'>Sir Philip York</a>, Commissioners such as the President of the Royal Society <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Hans%20Sloane'>Hans Sloane</a>, and European intellectuals such as the mathematician <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Abraham%20de%20Moivre'>Abraham de Moivre</a>. Many of their meetings took place in social settings - including at the house of Lady Howard, a staunch Catholic and Jacobite. However, Squire never managed to make direct contact with <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Edmond%20Halley'>Edmond Halley</a> who, as Astronomer Royal, was often cited as the leading longitude expert in Britain. This led her to send a printed copy of her proposal to each Commissioner and to de Moivre in August 1731, followed by additional letters.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Squire attributed her difficulties during the ensuing years in getting feedback from specific Commissioners to her being a woman who dared to address natural philosophy and mathematics. She wrote in 1733, ‘I do not remember any Play-thing, that does not appear to me a mathematical Instrument; nor any mathematical Instrument, that does not appear to me a Play-thing: I see not, therefore, why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice'. The founding Commissioner <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Sir%20Thomas%20Hanmer'>Sir Thomas Hanmer</a><a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(65);return false;'>ruefully agreed</a> in 1741 ‘that you are to expect to lye under some Prejudice upon account of your Sex'.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The Georgians sometimes viewed basic astronomy as an improving pastime for women. However, the longitude was a different matter despite its being considered an astronomical problem - with its confluence of mathematics, natural philosophy, and financial interests within a maritime context. Throughout the centuries, the pursuit of it remained an intensely masculine affair. One other woman anonymously published a pamphlet and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=%22elizabeth+johnson%22'>wrote to the Commissioners</a> - Mrs. <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Elizabeth%20Johnson'>Elizabeth Johnson</a> of Devon, pious sister of the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the 1780s. There was also limited female involvement in related endeavours, with <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=%22mary+edwards%22'>rare exceptions</a> being the long-serving <i>Nautical Almanac</i> ‘computer' (calculator of tables) <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=Mary%20Edwards'>Mary Edwards</a> of Ludlow and her daughter.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>However, it was not just gender which hindered Squire's efforts to obtain feedback. She and many other longitude projectors were also affected by the confusion and fragmentation brought about by the vague wording of the Act of 1714 and by the deaths of many of its original appointees. In 1732, Jane <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(51);return false;'>positively seethed</a> about 'this Commission, who in near twenty Years have never thought fit to meet as Commissioners' in a letter to Attorney General York. A year later, Hanmer <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'>explained</a> to her that due to the large volume of proposals, the Commissioners could only afford to meet together after a proposal had won expert support and succeeded in practical use - or as Jane <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(37);return false;'>interpreted it</a>, after a proposal had shown 'a likelihood of Success'. Like other projectors, from Robert Browne to John Harrison, Jane <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(38);return false;'>further objected</a> to the importance granted the Astronomer Royal. Since Greenwich Observatory had been established to improve the finding of longitude, the astronomer often worked on improving methods himself even as he judged those of other people - both as a Commissioner and as the best-known British expert on the longitude.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Jane's published correspondence <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(62);return false;'>resumed</a> in 1741, after a gap which may have been prompted by the difficulty she experienced in securing expert opinions and practical trials in response to Hanmer's advice. It is clear that she, like many people, was not then aware that an initial communal meeting of Commissioners had taken place in 1737 in order to extend a grant to Harrison. Squire ultimately became convinced that the well-known London clockmaker <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/search?keyword=George%20Graham'>George Graham</a> had <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(65);return false;'>stolen the idea</a> for her astral clock and, like many projectors before and after, turned from the largely-silent Commissioners to courting public opinion. She published an account of her method in both French and English in 1742, and then solely in English the following year.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Each book contained a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>summarizing chart</a> folded into the front, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(164);return false;'>table of contents</a>, Squire's <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(16);return false;'>original proposal</a> with corrections, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(28);return false;'>reprints of letters</a> exchanged from 1731 to 1742, a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(72);return false;'>much longer explanation</a>, and a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(169);return false;'>postscript</a>. She commissioned printing and binding which was unusually expensive for a longitude treatise. The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1);return false;'>leather and gilt binding</a> may have been the first in Britain to feature decorations specific to the books' contents, since it incorporated symbols invented by the author rather than generic images (such as fish on a book about fishing).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Squire's second edition met with both interest and confusion, but the author did not survive to see either, passing away in early 1743. However, her volume was winging its way to her spiritual home even as she was being memorialised in England as a well-educated and pious woman. Pope Benedict XIV asked the Bologna Academy of Sciences to consider it in Fall 1743, not knowing of its author's death. The Academy recommended that he tell Jane of his support for women in the mathematical sciences but not fund the scheme.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>It is clear that Squire herself believed in her proposal until the very end. Her will left large bequests to friends and family which were to be paid 'out of the premium or reward I look on my Self Intitled to for the Method for discovering the Longitude'. While such a reward never materialized, Squire’s dedication and unique insistence upon pursuing traditionally male subjects helped to preserve countless copies of her books - whose contents shed much light on the early history of the Board of Longitude.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Alexi Baker University of Cambridge</p>

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