In 1735 Kendall was apprenticed to the London watchmaker John Jeffreys. Jeffreys knew John Harrison and created a pocket watch for him that incorporated Harrison's inventions. In 1765 Kendall was appointed as a member of the Board of Longitude. The commissioners of the Board asked Kendall to copy and develop John Harrison's ingenious fourth model of a clock (H4) useful for navigation at sea. The original, the first successful chronometer, had an astronomical price £400 in 1750, which was approximately 30% of the value of a ship.
The first model finished by Kendall in 1769 was an accurate copy of John Harrison's H4, cost £450, and is known today as K1. James Cook and William Wales (astronomer) tested the clock on Cook's second South Seas journey (HMS Resolution, 1772–75) were full of praise after initial skepticism. "Kendall's watch exceeded all expectations" he reported in 1775 to the admiralty. It was thus K1 which proved to a doubting scientific establishment that H4's success was no fluke.
Three other clocks, constructed by John Arnold, had not withstood the loads of the same journey. Although constructed like a watch, the chronometer had a diameter of 13 centimetres (5.1 in) and weighed 1.45 kilograms (3.20 lb).
K1 was used again by Cook for his third voyage (HMS Resolution 1776-80). In April 1779 off Kamkatcha K1 stopped. A seaman with watchmaking experience cleaned it and started it again but in June the balance spring broke and it could not be repaired. After its arrival in Britain in September 1780 it was returned to Kendall for repairs. K1 left England in May 1787 with the First Fleet voyaging to New South Wales in HMS Sirius. K1 was transferred to HMAT Supply in the Indian Ocean and arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. After some months ashore with Astronomer Lieutenant William Dawes K1 was returned to HMS Sirius and travelled to Cape Town to collect supplies for the colony. After the wreck of the Sirius at Norfolk Island in March 1790 K1 was put on board HMAT Supply which went to Batavia to collect more supplies and eventually took K1 back to England via Cape Horn arriving in Plymouth in April 1792. K1 went to sea with Admiral Sir John Jervis in 1793. He took it to the West Indies and the Mediterranean and it was on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. It was finally 'pensioned off' to Greenwich in 1802.
K1 was described by John Gilbert, Master of the Resolution on Cook's second voyage as "The greatest piece of mechanism the world has ever seen".
Kendall assured the Board that he would be able to build a similar but simpler clock for around £200. He received the order and presented K2 in 1771. It was given in 1773 to John Phipps for its expedition for the search of a Northwest passage, then it was assigned in North America. It worked less exactly than the original. William Bligh 1787 in his log of HMS Bounty, recorded a daily inaccuracy of between 1.1 and three seconds and that it had varied irregularly. The Mitchell Library in Sydney holds many items related to William Bligh.
The chronometer attained fame because of the mutiny on the Bounty. It returned to England many years later after an odyssey. The American ship's captain Mayhew Folger rediscovered Pitcairn Island in 1808 and was given the chronometer by the one remaining mutineer there. The Spanish governor of Juan Fernandez Island confiscated the watch. The chronometer was later purchased by a Spaniard named Castillo. When he died, his family conveyed it to Captain Herbert of HMS Calliope, who gave it to the British Museum around 1840. It is currently held by the National Maritime Museum. An audio presentation about the history of K2 is available on the National Maritime Museum website.
Kendall's third and last watch K3 cost £100 in 1774, but did not have the required accuracy. James Cook used K3 on his Third Voyage on board HMS Discovery. It was also used again by George Vancouver (HMS Discovery) from 1791 to 1795 during which time he charted the south-west coast of Australia and did detailed surveys of the coast of North America. After Matthew Flinders' astronomer John Crossley became sick and left HMS Investigator in Cape Town, K3 was given to replacement astronomer James Inman in late 1802 to take to Australia for Flinders. Flinders mainly used the two new Earnshaw’s #520 and # 546. His other chronometers, Arnold’s older #82 and #176, both stopped early in the voyage. K3 was only used by Flinders to chart Wreck Reef. It was taken back to England by Inman.
All three of Kendall's chronometers had been to Australia by August 1788, one of them twice.
More Recent Travels In 1978 K3 was taken to Canada to be part of 'Discovery 1778', an exhibition at the Vancouver Centennial Museum. In 1988 K1 went to Sydney for Australia's Bicentenary and spent some months in Sydney's Powerhouse Museum. In the same year K3 went to Australia for Brisbane's Expo and an exhibition at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. K2 went to Sydney to be part of the Bligh and Mutiny on the Bounty exhibition at the Mitchell Library in1991. In 2007 K1 went to the USA for the 'Maps' exhibition in Chicago. These are the only recorded occasions on which these important instruments have left London. Kendall was a first-class craftsman but not a technical designer. After K3 Kendall built chronometers to the design of John Arnold.
The three watches now
K1, and K3 are kept in the The old Royal Observatory at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England. The K2 is held by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England having previously being held by the Royal United Service Institution's Museum and transferred to National Maritime Museum in the 1960s.
- Watchmakers & Clockmakers of the World by G.H.Baillie
- 'The Travels of the Timekeepers' by Peter Poland, published in Sydney, Australia, February 1991
- This tells the story of Larcum Kendall's three chronometers which spent 32 years travelling the Pacific. Two of them were at Hawaii when Captain Cook was killed, one came to Australia with the First Fleet and another was at the Mutiny on the Bounty. They all helped solve the problem of finding longitude accurately at sea and to chart vast ares of ocean and thousands of miles of coast line.
- F.J. Britten (1902). Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers (2nd ed.). Batsford.
- Wales, William. "Log book of HMS 'Resolution'". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Correspondence, Daniel Southwell, Midshipman HMS Sirius, 12 July 1788. Cited in Bladen, F. M., ed. (1978). Historical records of New South Wales. Vol. 2. Grose and Paterson, 1793-1795. Lansdown Slattery & Co. p. 685. ISBN 0868330035.
- Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme: plaque to Larcum Kendall in Charlbury, with biography
- Mayhew Folger's account of meeting the Bounty descendants
- Book by Nordoff and Hall which includes Folger's account of the rediscovery
- Another link to Nordoff and Hall's book
- The Larcum Kendall Bounty Watch in the National Maritime Museum
- Kendall's marine timekeeper K2 in Royal Museums Greenwich collection