THE THIRD MAN – CHARLES GREEN

‘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

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

John his elder brother took Holy Orders and established a school in Soho, London where Charles found his ‘heavenly passion’ astronomy. He stayed and taught mathematics after graduating.

In 1760 Charles Green 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, Nathenial Bliss and briefly Reverend Nevil Maskelyne.

In 1675 King Charles II engaged Sir Christopher Wren to design a National Observatory. Wren considered the ruins of Greenwich Castle a perfect site. For although Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead Model Army had destroyed its buildings during The Protectorate Interregnum (1653-59) its foundations were intact.

In 1676, Rev. John Flamsteed, England’s inaugural Astronomer Royal, took up residence in the newly minted Greenwich Observatory. He remained in the role until his death in 1720.

Edmond Halley of comet fame succeeded Flamsteed holding  the post for twenty-two (22) years until his death in 1742.

Rev. James Bradley followed Halley. His tenure too was lengthy 1742-1762. Bradley is celebrated principally for his work on the speed of light. In 1728 he estimated light moved at the speed of 295,000 km (183,000 miles) per second. Three (3) centuries later Bradley’s calculations were amended slightly to 299,790 km (186,290 miles) per second

Had Bradley stuck to light and left longitude to Mr. John Harrison inventor of an accurate marine chronometer – a sea-going ‘pocket-watch’ – many a sea-farer would not have met a watery end.

 

In 1762 James Bradley died and Rev. Nathaniel Bliss succeeded. However owing to ill-health, aside from occasional visits to the Observatory, Bliss remained in Oxford.

In his absence Charles Green faithfully fulfilled the onerous role of principal astronomer at the Observatory. He continued in that role for   more than six (6) months after Bliss’ death in September 1764.

On 8 February 1765 King George III appointed Reverend Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal. Maskelyne held the position in a strangle-hold for just on half a century, until his death in 1811. See: Malicious Maskelyne

 LONGITUDE – THE BACK STORY

‘On the day before reliable time-keeping, the skies were used as a giant clock’. Collingridge. ibid. Random House, 2003

‘Admiral Shovell’s disastrous multishipwreck [1707] on the Scilly Isles after the turn of the eighteenth century intensified the pressure to solve the longitude problem’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, The Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Fourth Estate, London 1996  ibid.

London: In 1714 Parliament passed the Longitude Act offering a prize of £20,000 for the elusive ‘solution’. A Board of Longitude was established to adjudicate; ‘to prove worthy….a clock had to find longitude within half a degree’.    

‘When John Harrison arrived in London in the summer of 1730 the Board of Longitude was nowhere to be found. Although the august body had been in existence for more than fifteen years, it occupied no official headquarters. In fact, it had never met. Sobel. ibid.

John Flamsteed, James Bradley, Nathaniel Bliss and Nevil Maskelyne, consecrated men of the Church had a lot in common, all remained wedded to old technology the heavens.

Luna Tables and Star Catalog listing three thousand (3000) stars were the work of Rev. John Flamsteed the first Astronomer Royal appointed by King Charles II in 1675.

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

Nevil Maskelyne however continued to extol  celestial navigation ‘The Lunars‘ as the only reliable solution to the problem of determining longitude.

‘Maskelyne’s Method’ depended on measuring with a sextant the angular distance between moon, sun and seven (7) selected stars. On a moonless night on a pitching weather deck many said it was a task ‘much too difficult for ordinary sailors’.

‘The [Nautical] Almanac represents Maskelyne’s enduring contribution to navigation – and the perfect task for him, too, as it embodied an abundance of excruciating detail’. Dava Sobel. ibid.

‘The [Longitude] board [had] concluded in its final report in August 1762 “the Experiments already made of the [Harrison] Watch have not been sufficient to determine the Longitude at Sea”. H- 4 must needs submit to a new trial, under stricter scrutiny’. Sobel. ibid.

In mid March 1765, a month or so after Maskelyne’s appointment as Astronomer Royal, Charles Green walked away from Greenwich Observatory.

Maskelyne and Green had history. In 1764, with Bliss too ill to travel, Green had been tasked to team up with Maskelyne and sail to Barbados to represent the Board of Longitude and oversee ‘a new trial’ yet another assessment of John Harrison’s H-4 marine chronometer.

Maskelyne and Green were to shadow William, John Harrison’s son and Thomas Wyatt, who were making for Barbados aboard HMS Tartar with John’s elderly father’s ‘pocket watch’.

For the Board of Longitude this was to be it – failure or success. Maskelyne’s Almanac versus John Harrison’s H-4 ‘pocket-watch’ chronometer. The sacred versus the secular for a king’s ransom £20,000, roughly £400 millions in 2019.

As Dava Sobel says; ‘The Board of Longitude was top-heavy with astronomers’. One Nevil Maskelyne had began intensive work on a Nautical Almanac in 1761.

Now with his work nearing completion Maskelyne was determined to scuttle Harrison and his ‘watch‘ once and for all. If Harrison’s invention was discredited fame and fortune would be his.

To put all doubt to rest the Board tasked Sir John Lindsay, Tartar’s captain, to supply the required ‘stricter scrutiny’.

When in May 1764  Tarter with William Harrison and H-4 reached Barbados they found Green and Maskelyne, who had sailed to Barbados in the Princess Louise, already ensconced in the local Observatory.

However for Maskelyne his early arrival proved to be counter-productive. He aired to anyone who would listen unwavering allegiance to ‘his lunar distance method…boast[ing] he was sure he’d clinched the case and secured the prize’. Sobel. ibid.

Sir John Lindsay quietly gathered evidence. Harrison’s team; ‘challenged Maskelyne’s fitness to judge H-4 impartially [Maskelyne] was outraged by their  accusations…in his disquieted condition, he botched the astronomical observations – even though all those present recalled there wasn’t a cloud in the sky’. Sobel. ibid.

H-4 performed flawlessly. There could be not doubt it would supply accurate time-keeping, the essential ingredient required for determining longitude at sea. Charles Green’s epiphany was complete.

‘The Watch proved to tell the longitude within ten miles – three times more accurately than the terms of the Longitude Act demanded! [however] the Board of Longitude allowed months to pass without saying a word…[finally] they were “unanimously of the opinion that the said time-keeper has kept its time with sufficient correctness”. Sobel .ibid.

From then on it should have been plain sailing for John Harrison and his ‘pocketwatch’ but that was not to be.

1765 – 15 March: Charles Green logged his final official Observations on 15 of March 1765 and left Greenwich not long afterwards. It is reasonable to speculate irreconcilable differences between himself and Maskelyne, centred on the H-4, were responsible for Green’s departure.

1765 – 25 March: Rev. Nevil Maskelyne appointed by King George III in February 1765 assumed the role of Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal in March 1765. He immediately opened up a second front in the fight against John Harrison and H-4. See: Three Yorkshire-men – James Cook, John Harrison, Charles Green  Walked Into A Bar – Maskelyne

Due in large part to Maskelyne’s obstinate scientific pride and avarice, his long tenure at Greenwich was characterised by the unnecessary loss of thousands upon thousands of Royal Naval men in both offensive and defensive mode. An unknown number of merchant seamen  sank without trace along with cargo and booty worth untold billions. See: Lotto and Longitude

‘Shortly before Cook sailed [for Tahiti] Maskelyne published his Nautical Almanac’. Dava Sobel. ibid.

Maskelyne was not yet finished with John Harrison and Charles Green.

‘Compared with that of (Joseph) Banks, Mr Green’s equipment was comparatively modest’. H.C. Cameron, Sir Joseph Banks, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1966.

Although Cook was supplied a ‘nautical clock’ it was not Harrison’s H-4 ‘pocket watch’. See: Captain Cook Caught Short

1769: In April 1769 Lieutenant James Cook RN sailed HMS Endeavour to Tahiti in order to observe the Transit of Venus. The Transit had been predicted by Edmond Halley of comet fame, to occur on 3 June 1769. Charles Green was engaged by the Royal Society to act as Assistant Observer to Cook.

Having recorded the Transit of Venus at Tahiti Lieutenant Cook RN was then required to open ‘secret Admiralty Instructions’ ordering him sail Endeavour deep into the southern oceans in search of the fabled Great South Land.

‘John Harrison had perfected the chronometer some years before but it is the character that authorities who for a great many years had withheld half of the prize for his achievement should also decline to make an instrument available to Cook’. A.W. Beazley, Fellowship of Three – John Hunter Surgeon, James Cook Navigator, Joseph Banks Naturalist, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1987

James Cook had not been Maskeyne first choice to lead the Transit if Venus expedition. The Astronomer Royal had recommended Alexander Dalrymple to the Admiralty.

A wealthy Fellow of the Royal Society Dalrymple was held by that august body, as Cameron has it, ‘a proper person to be sent to the South Seas’.

Dalrymple had never forgiven Cook for replacing him in the command of he expedition….Of the many charges which he made against Cook perhaps the most ridiculous was that the grounding of the Endeavour on the coral reef was due to the Captain’s misconduct in not anchoring’. Cameron. ibid.

And Maskelyne the scientist who persecuted John Harrison the carpenter-artisan ‘had never forgiven’ the Admiralty for choosing lowly James Cook, at that time a mere warrant officer, over Dalrymple.

Maskelyne withheld H – 4 from the newly commissioned Lieutenant James Cook RN. It is highly likely if Cook had known with greater certainty HMS Endeavour’s position while in uncharted waters he may not have spent three (3) months getting to New Zealand.

‘The great Captain Cook observed and calculated more than six hundred lunar distances to obtain the longitude of Strip Cove in New Zealand’. Gavin Menzies, 1421, Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2008

Strip Cove: Consider then the time taken to observe and calculate New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Captain Cook did not leave the area until February 1770.

On 29 April 1770 HMS Endeavour anchored in Botany Bay on the south-eastern coast of New Holland.

Time: Although much is rightly made of Cook’s success in warding off scurvy nevertheless, home-ward bound at Batavia, one-half of Endeavour’s starving debilitated crew succumbed to malaria and dysentery.

Of Joseph Banks’ party of ten (10) only four (4) survived including Banks himself. Earlier two (2) men, both Bank’s personnel servants, froze to death on Terra del Fuego. Alexander Buchan an artist died at Tahiti following an epileptic fit.

Charles Green died not long after Endeavour left Batavia on the return passage to England via Cape Town. Perhaps not from drunkenness, as an Australian author of a recent ‘Cook’ book so glibly assigns for Green’s bizarre behaviour, but from cerebral malaria.

1771 – 13 July – Spithead:  ‘In justice to the Ships Company I must say that no men ever behaved better than they have done on this occasion’. Cook’s Endeavour Journal.

Once on home soil Cook ‘wr[o]te to the families of all those who had died in his care [including] the loved ones of Mr Green [and] George Monkhouse of Cumberland who had entrusted his sons with Cook’. Collingridge. ibid.

William Monkhouse was Endeavour’s surgeon. The ‘occasion’ Jonothan, William’s midshipman brother, was the young sailor who saved Endeavour from complete destruction.

On the 13 July 1770 in the upper northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, while edging cautiously towards land, the ship struck coral that ripped her hull apart.

On a previous voyage sailing from Virginia to London Jonothan, then in the merchant navy, had witnessed ‘fothering‘. The procedure was a tricky manoeuvre where a canvas sling was passed under a damaged hull then pulled taut over the breach.to reduce flooding.

EPILOGUE

John Harrison’s earliest marine chronometer H-1 had shown, as early as 1736-37 on a timed voyage London, England to Lisbon, Portugal in HMS Centurian, to be capable of, when ships at sea were beyond sight of land, supplying time-keeping sufficient to establish longitude.

Post the Seven Years’ War (1767-63) the race to claim ‘time’ heated up. In 1763 Ferdinand Berthoud the Swiss born clockmaker, whose interests included the marine chronometer had, at the behest of the French King, visited John Harrison in London.

In early October of 1764 Berthoud took a French chronometer to sea for a timed trial but it seems no results of that trial have been discovered.

It is not known for certain if Antoine de Bougainville, a mathematician of note and member of Britain’s Royal Society, took a chronometer with him on France’s first successful voyage of circumnavigation, November 1766 to March 1769. The intriguing question remains open to speculation.

In 1766 Berthoud tried without success, to have Harrison divulge the essential elements of H-4. However Thomas Mudge a prominent London watchmaker who, from time to time serviced H-4, did discuss its intricacies with Berthoad.

‘As it turned out, Berthoud and the other continental clock-makers did not steal Harrison’s designs in the construction of their own marine timekeepers’. Sobel. ibid.

‘Joseph-Jerome Lalande; self-styled most famous astronomer in the universe…visited the Greenwich Observatory, exchanged pleasantries with King George III and helped smuggle out the first description of Harrison’s famous chronometer designed to determine longitude at sea’. Ken Alder, The Measure of All Things, The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2002

POSTSCRIPT

Harrison’s chronometer was useful but not essential in mapping the world’. Gavin Menzies. ibid.

John Harrison’s chronometer was ‘essential’ in saving sailors’ lives and their loved ones grief and destitution.

‘From the publication of Regiomantanus ephemis tables in 1474 Europeans for the first time calculated Latitude and Longitude…Regiomantanus’s tables were improved by Nevil Maskelyne.

They were published in 1767 and remained in use by Royal Navy captains and navigators well after Harrison’s chronometer was introduced. Menzies, 1421. op.cit.

Not only did English seamen suffer and die due to Maskelyne’s intransigence in sabotaging and actively discouraging the use of Harrison’s chronometers the damage spread across the entire maritime world with the needless loss of thousands upon thousands lives. See: Malicious Maskelyne

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply