Talk:Board of Longitude

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Material in wrong place[edit]

Frankly, much of the material in this article repeats material that would more properly (and probably is) found in the article on Harrison. I think I'll trim it down a bit in the future, but not now.Unschool 00:37, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

Review by Board of Longitude project at University of Cambridge and NMM[edit]

I am not editing this entry myself, because it would be a conflict of interest since I was a researcher on the five-year Board of Longitude project at the University of Cambridge and the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. But - in addition to there being some factual errors in this article which need to be addressed - we have made many valuable discoveries about the subject which should be mentioned as well. While our project book isn't yet published, we currently have articles on the university website about the Commissioners of Longitude (i.e. Board of Longitude) and about the legislation that helped redefine their mission over the 114 years of their existence. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • It would be good to use the term "reward" rather than "prize" throughout the article if possible, because they were called rewards at the time, and the two terms had slightly different meanings in the eighteenth century.
  • With respect to the first sentence of the article, the Commissioners of Longitude (later the communal Board of Longitude) were established to oversee funding as well as large rewards for improving methods of finding longitude at sea. Over the years, this mission expanded to include funding and rewarding improvements to navigation at large and early modern "science" and technology as well. The Board appears to have become the first British science and technology funding body. It became an influential institutional participant and authority in activities as diverse as improving technology (such as the invention of the sextant and the advancement of precision dividing), voyages of exploration like those of Captain Cook and polar exploration, and the foundation of the Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. It often collaborated with institutions such as the Royal Society and the Admiralty, and sometimes with foreign counterparts.
  • It would be valuable to note in the first sentence of the Origins section that Europeans had been looking for a better way of finding longitude at sea for centuries.
  • With respect to the second sentence of the Origins sections, there is not actually any evidence that people in the eighteenth century commonly attributed the Cloudesley Shovell disaster in the Isles of Scilly to longitude. Only William Whiston and Humphry Ditton, who were seeking the establishment of a longitude reward, vaguely suggested a connection.
  • The first paragraph of the Origins section is correct that the first known communal meeting of some of the Commissioners took place in 1737 in order to give initial funding to John Harrison, whose timekeepers were generating much public and expert and institutional interest. However, it should be mentioned that individual Commissioners and especially the Astronomer Royal were active even before then in passing judgement on proposals and in some cases in participating in sea trials of inventions or new methods, and much individual activity and passing of judgement would continue to take place even alongside the communal meetings. (The Astronomer Royal was often treated as the premier longitude expert because it was long considered an astronomical problem, as navigation was still largely astronomical, and because the position and Greenwich Observatory had been founded in 1675 specifically to make observations to aid in the search for the longitude.)
  • Communal meetings of the Commissioners took place sporadically from 1737 on. The Commissioners only began meeting regularly and adopted some of the other trappings of a sitting body beginning in the 1760's, such as a Secretary to oversee institutional papers and travel refunds for the more distant of the officials in 1762. My own research and that of my colleagues suggests that this was when a sitting body known as the Board of Longitude actually institutionalized out of the independent experts named in 1714, and that it wasn't just a matter of the officials having "failed" in their mission up to that point, as it the common modern view. The term "Commissioner" which was employed throughout the Act of 1714 did not in the eighteenth century always indicate membership in a body nor in a standing body. The Act also did not provide the Commissioners with any of the normal trappings of a standing body including a communal title ("board" was never mentioned), staff, an official meeting place, existing funds, and provisions for either salaries or reimbursements. 18th-century publications did not regularly refer to a standing Board of Longitude by that title until the 1760's, either. A small number of reward-seekers including Jane Squire (active in the 1730's and 1740's) publicly complained about there not having been a standing Board from 1714 on. However, individual Commissioners including Thomas Hanmer pointed out that it was not logistically possible for them to meet communally to review every one of the multitude of longitude proposals produced, versus just the most promising. Isaac Newton commented that it only would have been possible for the Commissioners to review every proposal if they had done so from the very beginning. (In part that and other communal activity may not have occurred in 1714 because of the political turmoil which followed Queen Anne's death right after the passage of the Longitude Act.)
  • It might be good to list the 24 officials and specific individuals who were named as Commissioners of Longitude in 1714, if only at the end of the article. There is also no mention of the fact that later longitude acts added new Commissioners, initially after many of the original officials had died and later to alter the nature of the Board. See for example the third paragraph in the section "Early meetings 1737-1760" and the fourth paragraph in the section "The decades after John Harrison".
  • The description of the three staggered rewards is incomplete, and could also be linked to the actual text of the Act of 1714. First five or more of the Commissioners of Longitude needed to decide that a proposal seemed promising-enough to go into official testing, in which case they could direct that the Commissioners of the Navy have their Treasurer issue up to £2000 to conduct the trials. After the experiments were made, the Commissioners or "the major part of them" had to decide whether the proposal was "Practicable, and to what Degree of Exactness". There was a reward of £10,000 for a method that could find longitude to one degree of a great circle or 60 geographical miles, £15,000 for two-thirds of that distance, and £20,000 for half of that distance. Half of a reward would be paid when the Commissioners of major part of them agreed the method in question would work within 80 miles of shore. (This reflected concerns about the dangerous waters near coasts, although in reality those dangers had to do with far more than just longitude.) The other half of a reward would be issued when the method in question had been successfully tried on a voyage to the West Indies, which was an important trading route. Lesser rewards could also be given for methods or inventions which, while they did not the requirements for one of the three largest rewards, were still "found of considerable Use to the Publick".
  • The list in the Origins section of rewards and funding granted is a bit random and also very incomplete and skewed towards the earlier decades. The Board of Longitude continued issuing funding and rewards until its dissolution / transformation in 1828 for advances in longitude, navigation, science and technology. And most of this activity actually took place during the decades after the John Harrison years, which are essentially ignored in the Wikipedia article.
  • The rest of the article and the section "End of the Board's mandate" really doesn't say anything about the 114-year history of the Board, and ignores the tons of activities that took place post-Harrison from the 1770's to 1828. It also doesn't accurately and fully explain what happened in 1828, which might be more accurately described as the Board having been transformed into a new body to address similar concerns, rather than it having been completely abolished because the longitude problem had finally been deemed "solved".
  • The section "End of the Board's mandate" also inaccurately represents chronometers as a "solution" to the longitude problem, and the Board's not having given one of its three largest rewards to Harrison or someone else as their having failed in their mission. In fact, Harrison's own timekeepers were too expensive and complex to be reproduced for use across the Naval and mercantile fleets, which was a big part of why many Commissioners thought they couldn't necessarily justify giving him one of the rewards for "solving" the problem, even if his individual timekeepers yielded good trial results. (It was the Commissioners who suggested to Harrison that he alternatively ask Parliament for a large reward in light of his years of work, which had been well-funded by the Commissioners, and his advanced age.) Besides this, any chronometer would have still needed to be used in conjunction with astronomical methods, so they were never a self-contained "solution" per se. Astronomy and technology went hand and hand in this way until at least the advent of GPS in the late twentieth century. Chronometers also didn't truly come into their own as a technology until well into the nineteenth century. As a result, the Board continued to pursue other approaches during the ensuing decades even as they funded further chronometer development by different makers.
I don't see any conflict of interest; as far as I am concerned any contribution you can make in improving the article would be very welcome. . . Mean as custard (talk) 15:13, 15 April 2015 (UTC)