MOON VERSUS MACHINE

Compared with that of Banks, Mr. Green’s equipment was comparatively modest. On May 5th, 1768, at a meeting of Council of the Royal Society it was resolved that the instruments for the use of the Observers of the South Latitudes be the following:

Two [2] reflecting telescopes of two [2] foot focus…[1] brass Hadley’s sextant, [1] barometer bespoke of Mr Ramsden, [1] Journeyman’s Clock bespoke by Mr Skelton, two [2] Thermometers of Mr Bird, [1] Stand for Bird’s Quadrant, [1] dipping needle bespoke by Mr Ramsden’. H.C. Cameron, Sir Joseph Banks, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1966

Mr. Charles Green, former Assistant to James Bradley and Nathaniel Bliss, Astronomer Royals of Greenwich Observatory, was engaged by the Royal Society to represent them and assist Lieutenant James Cook RN observe and record the Transit of Venus due to take place at Tahiti on 3rd June 1769

‘John Harrison, the man who solved longitude in 1759’. Peter Ackroyd, Macmillan, London, 2016

Here two (2) of a plethora of questions must be asked. Who was Mr. Green and why was John Harrison’s marine chronometer – H-4 – not among his equipment when he set out for Tahiti aboard HMS Endeavour with Lieutenant James Cook to observe the Transit of Venus? See: Captain Cook, John Harrison, Charles Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked Into A Bar

‘H-4 [was] bolted to a window seat in the Observatory’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, London, 1998

No doubt H-4 sat there under the watchful eye of Rev. Nevil Maskelyne. The fifth Astronomer Royal Maskelyne was elected on the death of Bliss and held a conservative stranglehold over the post from 1765 to 1811.                                                                                                   

‘How elaborate his [Joseph Banks] preparations were we may gather from a letter from John Ellis, Fellow Royal Society to Linneaus: ‘No people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purpose of Natural History”. John Ellis, cited H.C. Cameron, Sir Joseph Banks, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1966

1769 – 3 June, Tahiti: The Ellis letter referred to the voyage of HMS Endeavour and James Cook charged, at the behest of England’s prestigious Royal Society, with conveying Joseph Banks to Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus.

‘The Transit was more than just an astronomical curio, it was the key to a wealth of information about the universe, information that would be seized upon by the intensely curious men of science who characterised the age’. Vanessa Collingridge, Captain Cook, The Life, Death and Legacy of History’s Greatest Explorer, Random House, London, 2003

England sent other ‘men of science’ – William Wales and John Dymond to the icy north to observe the Transit from Hudson’s Bay. Tahiti in the southern hemisphere was a logical choice from where to observe and record the event if, as predicted by Edmond Halley, planet Venus did indeed pass across the face of the sun on 3 June 1769.

After the Transit Cook was to open ‘secret Admiralty orders’ and sail Endeavour south in search of the Great South Land with the Bank’s party of botanists, naturalists, artists and servants, ten (10) in all. Only four (4) of Bank’s people, including Joseph Banks himself, survived the second phase of the voyage.

THE BACK STORY

As early as 1716 Edmond Halley of comet fame postulated there would be two (2) such transits in the decade 1760, furthermore Halley predicted another century would pass before such a phenomenon would be seen again.

Halley’s imagination had been fired on observing;‘a more common transit of Mercury from St Helena a century earlier in 1677’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, 1998

Here intersect the reigns of three (3) English Kings –  Charles I (1625-1649) Charles II (1660-1685) and George III (1760-1820).

1649 – 30 January, London: In 1649 King Charles I of England and Scotland was beheaded in Whitehall.

1649 – 19 May, Westminster: An Act of Parliament passed in May of that same year declared England a Commonwealth of nations – England Ireland and Scotland.

1653: Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth in 1653 a position he held until his death in 1658.

‘During his five-year reign, Oliver Cromwell had done what no other ruler in English history had done. He had secured the British Isles as a single state including Scotland and Ireland, and secured England’s future as a colonial trading empire.

 Above all he had built an English navy which in number and quality of ships, in its finances and administration, in its officers and men, and in its global reach was superior to any in the world’. Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves, Houghton & Stoughton, London, 2005

1655: During Cromwell’s rule Jews, driven out by King Edward I in 1290, were formally readmitted to invigorate England’s flagging economy.

1658 – 3 September: Cromwell ‘mighty general [of] The Parliamentary Revolution who, in 1649 drove the beheading of Charles I, died of natural causes in September 1658. His own macabre dead-beheading however had yet to come.

The King’s son Prince Charles, following his father’s beheading, escaped his enemies and fled to the continent. He lived in exile for nine (9) years firstly in France then, when the French sided with Cromwell, moved to the Netherlands.

1659 – 60: On Cromwell’s death and, the failure of Richard his son to maintain Britain as a Commonwealth under The Protectorate, Prince Charles was invited to return to England and restore the Monarchy.

1660 – February, Holland: Samuel Pepys the celebrated diarist sailed with his uncle Edward Montague to Holland. Both ardent Royalists their mission was to retrieve the now thirty (30) year old Prince Charles.

1660: Antagonist and protagonist passed each other on the high seas, Charles on his way to a triumphant entry into London, Richard Cromwell fleeing to a long exile in France.

Captain Robert Holmes who arranged the retrieval voyage went on to snatch New York (New Amsterdam) from the Dutch. Montague, later as first Earl of Sandwich, made marines an integral arm of the Naval Service. He was killed in a sea battle during the third Dutch war.

Samuel Pepys, according to Arthur Herman author of To Rule the Waves, became ‘a skilled bureaucrat who could subdue critics with a relentless barrage of facts and figures’. Pepys is regarded as the father of Britain’s modern Royal Navy.

1660 – May, Westminster: Charles II, with all ‘pomp and circumstance’ was crowned King of England and of Scotland the land of his father’s birth in May 1660.

France, like England a maritime nation, had particular interest in the ‘The Art of Navigation’. In the 1660s King Louis XIV established the French Royal Observatory and Royal Academy of Sciences.

King Charles II, having spent considerable time in France, was well aware the French king continued to pour immense resources into the sciences.

1674: The newly-minted King, after the turmoil of  Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate, was forced to play catch-up. To that end in 1674 he commissioned Christopher Wren the celebrated architect and astronomer plan a Royal Observatory.

Fresh from designing the rebuild of St Paul’s Cathedral, destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London, Wren was a perfect choice and ruined Greenwich Castle perfectly placed ‘for perfecting the Art of Navigation’.

The Castle had been destroyed by Cromwell’s Model Army during the Civil War but its solid foundations were intact. As with St. Pauls, on the the  Observatory build, Wren had the valued collaboration of Robert Hooke on whose expertise in surveying he had relied in 1666.

1675: Construction of the Observatory began in July 1675 and remarkably in just one (1) year the Royal Greenwich Observatory was up and running.

1676: Charles II appointed Rev. John Flamsteed Britain’s first Astronomer Royal. He held that exalted position for forty-five (45) years until his death in 1720.

However his long tenure was plagued by bitter controversy centred on his life’s work – lunar tables and a catalogue of upwards of 3000 stars. Flamsteed, a perfectionist, refused to publish until absolutely satisfied of the accuracy of his Tables on which so many lives depended.

Two (2) personages whose stars remain luminous in today’s world of science – Sir Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley purloined Flamsteed’s writings had them printed and published un-attributed for profit.

Not until after his death were Flamsteed’s writings published under his own name. To add insult to injury, although Flamsteed could not have known, King George I appointed Halley succeed him as Astronomer Royal.

 1720–42: Halley’s tenure of twenty-two (22) years was coloured by continuing accusations over the double-dealing and plagiarism linked to his and Newton’s nefarious dealings with Flamsteed.

These two (2) men faced the same problem as had Flamsteed the accurate determination of longitude when ships were at sea beyond sight of land. Both set a face against new technology – the ‘watch’ – and hitched their wagon to the stars.

Half a century earlier Robert Hooke (1635-1703) the celebrated polymath of his day who, aside from surveying and astronomy, saw the clock offered ‘a certain way of determining longitude’ and spent much energy in an attempt to conquer time-keeping.

As early as 1655 Hooke introduced English clock-makers to an improved pendulum. In a further effort to make a time-keeper that could achieve the Holy Grail, determining longitude at sea, Hooke produced the ‘balance spring’.

In Paris Christiaan Huygens of Holland, now in the employ of King Louis XIV, was making similar progress.

Is it not ironic then that a century later, in 1768 as HMS Endeavour was being made ready for Tahiti and the southern oceans, the robust jealousies and in-fighting among scientists of Flamsteed and Newton’s day were still centred Lunar Tables and Star Catalogues versus a reliable time-keeper.

‘With his marine clocks, John Harrison tested the waters of space-time….He wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket-watch’. Dava Sobel. ibid.

In addition Maskelyne persecuted John Harrison the artisan whose marine chronometer, the H-I, had shown as early as 1736-7 on a voyage to Lisbon in HMS Centurian it was capable of determining a ship’s position in relation to the land.

Nevil Maskelyne, remove the N and you have the measure of the man. See: Malicious Maskelyne  and  Lotto and Longitude 

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