Longitude - Page 5

Longitude - Page 5

Partly prompted by this incident, the British Government in 1714 decided to offer a prize of 20,000 (worth millions in today's money) if anyone could find way of solving the longitude problem. The newly set up Board of Longitude were flooded with crazy ideas, and obsessed inventors. 16 years after, a rural self-taught clockmaker from Lincolnshire turned up in London, claiming he could solve the problem. Maybe he would have seemed rather a simple sort of fellow, a country bumpkin even, to the sophisticated gentlemen of the Board of Longitude. But despite his rural Lincolnshire accent, he was sufficiently persuasive to be able to get the Board to take him seriously, and even to advance him a loan, while he started building his design for a clock that would keep accurate time at sea - a task which some people were beginning to suspect was impossible. His name was John Harrison.

John Harrison and the Marine Chronometer

It took John Harrison 5 years to build his promised chronometer, which came to be called H1, and when it was finished, the Admiralty arranged for Harrison to accompany it for a sea trial on a voyage to Lisbon. Harrison was horribly seasick the whole way. His one consolation was that the clock did perform quite well, although not well enough to win the prize. Ironically this trial was on the Centurion, but this was 6 years before her trials off Chile. It would have been handy to have had H1 aboard at that time!

John Harrison spent another 5 years on his second chronometer, before rejecting it. The third model took 19 years, and he was not happy with that one either!

His fourth chronometer, H4, was very small, a watch that you could hold in the palm of your hand. Many people thought that something so small could not be accurate. But Harrison was sure it would keep virtually perfect time, and a trial was set up. However the British Government needed to be sure that the watch was reproducible. Harrison was by now quite an old man, and it was no good if Harrison was the only person who could make the watch.

So the plans for H4 were given to another watchmaker, Larcum Kendall, who made an exact copy of H4. And this copy, which became known as K1, was sent on an epic journey around the world lasting 3 years, on board a collier called the Marquis of Granby. Or rather she had been called the Marquis of Granby when she was originally launched two years earlier in 1770. But when she sailed in 1772, she had been bought by the British Navy, and renamed HMS Resolution, under the command of Captain James Cook.


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