Posts Tagged ‘Astronomer Royal’


Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

‘He [Dawes] was the scholar of the [First Fleet] expedition, man of letters and man of science, explorer, mapmaker, student of language of anthropology, teacher and philanthropist’. Professor G.A. Wood, Lieutenant William Dawes and Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, Vol. 19, Part 1, 1924


While Indigenous Australia knows of Marine Lieutenant William Dawes non-indigenous Australia ‘and from all the lands on earth we come’ know almost nothing of Dawes or of the ‘eternal flame’ and the remarkable role it played in the invasion of New Holland and the dispossession of its First Peoples?

Harrison H-4 Chronometer

‘English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping…invented a clock that would carry the true time from the home port, like an eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, 1998

It fetched up at one particular ‘remote corner of the world’  aboard HMS Supply one (1) of  eleven (11) ‘First Fleet’ ships.

Warranne – Sydney Cove: 26 January 1788:  K I – a faithful replica of John  Harrison’s  H-4 a ‘sea-going pocket watch’, was given into Dawe’s care by Britain’s Astronomer Royal Rev. Nevil Maskelyne

‘When leaving Botany Bay [for Sydney Cove 25 January 1788] Phillip noticed [La Perouse with] two French ships in the  offing….there would seem to be “some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenks, History of the Australian Colonies, cited H.E. Egerton, A short History of British Colonial Policy, Methuen, London 1928

1788 – Norfolk Island, 14 February:  Three (3) weeks later K-1 left Sydney in HMS Supply to occupy Norfolk Island, in order to prevent La Perouse, ‘hanging around at Botany Bay’ claiming it for France.

1788 – Africa,  2 October on Sirius sailed to Cape Town for food.

1789 – Sydney, 8 May Sirius returned with 127,000 lbs. of flour; ‘after an absence of 219 days of which lay in Table Bay Cape of Good Hope, so that, although during the voyage we had fairly gone around the world, we had only been 168 days in describing that circles…makes it [Port Jackson] an important Post should it ever be necessary to carry…war in those seas…Coast of Chile and Peru’. [John] Hunter, Journal Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island. ????? 

1790 – Norfolk Island, 6 March on Sirius to Norfolk Island with 50% of Sydney’s starving population.

1790 – 17 March: K-1 was removed from Sirius before she sank after striking a submerged reef off Norfolk Island.

1790 -Sydney,  6 April returned to Sydney on HMS Supply.

1790 – Jakarta, 17 April on Supply sailed to Batavia.

1790 – Sydney, 17 October arrived in Sydney on Supply from Jakarta where Lieutenant Ball had chartered a Dutch ship Waaksamheyd to bring tonnes of supplies to Sydney as soon as possible.

1790 – Sydney, 16 December Waaksamheyd arrived from Jakarta

Together ‘the man of science’ and the ‘pocket-watch’ that ‘wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars’ can play a pivotal role in revealing the how ,why and wherefore of the ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’ Britain waged against Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples

‘The decision to colonise New South Wales cannot be isolated from the strategic imperatives of the world’s first global struggle, the Seven Years’ War (1757-1763). . Jeffrey Grey, A Military History of Australia, Third ed. Cambridge University Press, 2008



Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017


‘He [John Harrison] wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, London, 1998

Harrison H-4 Chronometer

Since earliest times Europe’s sea-faring nations England, Portugal, France, Spain, the Netherlands vied with each other to solve – the Holy Grail of Navigation – longitude – calculating with precision a ship’s position at sea while beyond sight of land.

1707 – Cornwell:  In heavy weather six (6) of Admiral Clowdisley Shovell’s ships lost their bearings off the Cornish coast and dashed to pieces against the Scilly Isles with the loss of 1500 lives.

1714  – Westminster: An enquiry into England’s first recorded 18th century maritime disaster resulted in legislation- The Act of Longitude 1714.

A Board of Longitude was established under the Act. Its task to invite submissions, evaluate their worth and award a prize of £20,000 to whom-so-ever solved the problem of determining longitude at sea.

The contest developed into a naked grab for cash to the detriment of the world’s seafarers.  A king’s ransom, reckoned now at more than £400,000,000, did much to delay recognition of the solution at the cost of countless lives.  See: Lotto and Longitude

‘John Harrison, the man who solved longitude in 1759’. Peter Ackroyd, Revolution, Macmillan, London, 2016 See: Lieutenant William Dawes & ‘The Eternal Flame’

In truth there were only two (2) viable contenders for the Longitude Prize. The Nautical Almanac of Astronomer Royal Rev. Nevil Maskelyne a system of  Luna Tables  and Star Cataglog. A method favoured by a succession of Astronomer Royals.

‘The Board of Longitude was top-heavy with astronomers, mathematicians and navigators…the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne the fifth astronomer royal, who contested his [Harrison’s] claim to the [Longitude] prize money and whose [Maskelyne’s] tactics at certain junctions can only be described as foul-play’. Dava Sobel. ibid.

The other was a sea-going ‘pocket-watch’ the invention of an artisan, John Harrison a Yorkshire carpenter.



Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

‘The grim roll-call broke his [Cook’s) heart…the death of the astronomer Charles Green marked a wave of those who ‘departed this life’….By the end of January [1771] they had barely enough men to man the ship [HMS Endeavour]’. Vanesssa Collingridge, Captain Cook, The Life, Death and Legacy of History’s Greatest Explorer, Ebury Press, 2002

1734 – Yorkshire: Charles Green son of ‘a prosperous’ free-hold farmer was born in Swinton towards the end of 1734. He received a broad education with a strong emphasis on science.

London: John his elder brother took Holy Orders and established a school in Soho, London.  There Charles found his ‘heavenly passion’ astronomy. After graduating he stayed on to teach mathematics.

1760 – Greenwich Observatory: In 1760 Charles applied successfully for the position of Assistant Astronomer at Greenwich Observatory. He went on to serve as Chief Assistant to three (3) Astronomer Royals, James Bradley, Nathaniel Bliss and briefly Reverend Nevil Maskelyn.



Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

‘But by reason of the motion of the Ship, the Variation of Heat and Cold, Wet and Dry, and the Difference of Gravity in different Latitudes, such a watch hath not yet been made”. And not likely to be, either, he implied’.  Isaac Newton cited, Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, London, 1998

‘And not likely to be’: Yet in 1736-7, just ten (10) years after Newton’s death in 1727 an early model of John Harrison’s marine clock, H-1, proved to be a reliable time-keeper aboard HMS Centurian  on its inaugural  voyage under Captain Proctor RN who unfortunately died as his ship reached home port and before he had brought his report up to date the

a supervised timed voyage – England to Lisbon.

Its acceptance however was  beset with difficulties.Mischievous tales  woven around H-1s1736  London to Lisbon voyage that included were typical of John Harrison’s long struggle for recognition. (more…)