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

Here two (2) of a plethora of questions must be asked. Who was Mr. Green and why did HMS Endeavour sail on such an important voyage without Mr. John Harrison’s H-4 chronometer?

Mr. Charles Green, former Assistant to James Bradley Nathaniel Bliss, Astronomer Royals of Greenwich Observatory, was engaged by the Royal Society to represent them and assist Lieutenant James Cook RN 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, 2016.

So where was Cook’s marine chronometer, Harrison’s H-4 that, ten (10) years prior to the Endeavour voyage had; ‘solved the problem of longitude’?

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

 No doubt H-4 sat under the watchful eye of Rev. Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal who 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.

And then, on ‘secret Admiralty orders’, Cook was to 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.

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.

 ‘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, 2003

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

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

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 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.

‘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, 2005

1655: During Cromwell’s rule English Jews, driven out by King Edward I in 1290, were formally readmitted to invigorate a 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-heading had yet to come.

Prince Charles, after 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: Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – son of King Charles Iwas invited to return to England and restore the Monarchy following the failure of Richard, Oliver Cromwell’s son, to maintain Britain as a Commonwealth under The Protectorate.

1660 – February, Holland:  Ardent Royalists Samuel Pepys the celebrated diarist sailed with his uncle Edward Montague to Holland, their mission retrieve ‘the man who was born to be king’.

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

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’, history regards him as father of the modern British Navy.

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

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

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 aware the French king continued to pour immense resources into the sciences.

1674: After the turmoil of  Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate Charles II was forced to play catch-up. To that end in 1674 the king 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 destroyed by Cromwell’s Model Army during the Civil War retained solid foundations. With the  Observatory build Wren had, as with St Paul’s, the valued collaboration of Robert Hooke on whose expertise in surveying he relied upon in 1666.

1675: Construction began in July 1675 and remarkably in just one (1) year 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.

A perfectionist Flamsteed 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.

1720: Not until after Flamsteed’s death were his 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 polymath of his day, 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, in the employ of King Louis XIV, made similar progress.

Is it not then ironic that, 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 sea-going time-keeper.

In addition Maskelyne persecuted John Harrison the artisan whose H-I chronometer had shown as early as 1736-7 on a voyage to Lisbon in HMS Centurian to accurately determine, when beyond sight of land, a ship’s position at sea.

‘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.

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

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