THE THIRD MAN – CHARLES GREEN & LONGITUDE

‘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.

1675 – King Charles II, in 1675, engaged Sir Christopher Wren to design a National Observatory. Wren considered the ruins of Greenwich Castle an ideal site.

After the beheading of King Charles the First in 1649, during England’s Republican Protectorate Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, soldiers of The New Model Army – Roundheads -destroyed the castle’s buildings but had left its foundations intact.

1676:  Within a year Greenwich Observatory was up and running. Rev. John Flamsteed, Britain’s inaugural Astronomer Royal, took up residence in the newly minted Observatory in 1676. He remained in the role until his death in 1719.

1720:  Edmond Halley of comet fame succeeded Flamsteed in 1720. He held the post for twenty-two (22) years until his death in 1742.

1742-1762 Halley was followed by Rev. James Bradley whose tenure too was lengthy he died in 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.

Not until three (3) centuries later were his calculations amended to 299,790 km (186,290 miles) per second. Arguably had Bradley stuck to light and left longitude to Mr. John Harrison inventor of the H-4 sea-going ‘pocket-watch’ many a sea-farer may not have met a watery end.

1762 – 1764: The Rev. Nathaniel Bliss succeeded Bradley in 1762 But owing to ill-health, aside from an occasional visit to the Observatory, Bliss remained in Oxford. He died in September 1764.

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During Bliss’ 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.

1765 – 1811: King George III appointed Reverend Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal in February 1765. Maskelyne held the position in a heavenly 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 multi ship wreck [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.

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

1730:  ‘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.

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

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

Luna Tables and the Star Catalog listing three thousand (3000) stars were the work of Rev. John Flamsteed Britain’s first Astronomer Royal (1676-1711)

A century later, in 1765, despite John Harrison’s ‘solution’ Maskelyne continued to extol celestial navigation. He held ‘The Lunars‘ were the only solution to the problem of determining ‘longitude at sea’.

‘Maskelyne’s Method’ depended on four (4) men with a sextant measuring – checking and re-checking – the angular distance between moon, sun and seven (7) selected stars.

On a moonless night on a pitching weather deck many experienced seaman held 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.

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‘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.

1764 – Barbados:  With Nathaniel Bliss too ill to travel, in 1764, Charles Green was tasked to team up with Nevil Maskelyne to sail to Barbados and represent the Board of Longitude in this ‘new trial’ of the H-4.

Maskelyne had skin in this game. After three (3) years of intensive work his Nautical Almanac was nearing completion and he was determined once and for all to scuttle Harrison and his ‘watch‘.

The stakes were high – ‘Almanac’ versus ‘pocket-watch’. The sacred versus the secular for a king’s ransom £20,000, today roughly £400 millions.

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The Board of Longitude’s men, Green and Maskelyne, were to shadow William, John Harrison’s son and his referee Thomas Wyatt, who sailed to Barbados aboard HMS Tartar with John’s elderly father’s ‘pocket watch’.

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

When Tarter reached Barbardos in May 1764 Lindsay reported that Green and Maskelyne, who had sailed to Barbados in the Princess Louise, were already ensconced in the local Observatory.

Their early arrival however proved to be counter-productive. Maskelyne aired an unwavering allegiance to ‘his lunar distance method…boast[ing] he was sure he’d clinched the case and secured the prize’. Sobel. ibid.

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.

Meantime Sir John Lindsay quietly observed and gathered evidence.

‘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.

H-4 had performed flawlessly. It delivered ‘true time’ the essential ingredient required for determining longitude at sea. From then on it should have been plain sailing for John Harrison and his ‘time-keeper’ but that was not to be.

As Dava Sobel has it; ‘The Board of Longitude was top-heavy with astronomers’.

‘The watch’ Charles Green’s epiphany was complete. He returned to Greenwich and continued on as surrogate Chief Astronomer.

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1765 – March : Not one to give up easily Maskelyne was further encouraged when, in February 1765,King George III selected him to succeed Bliss. He assumed the role of Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal in March of 1765.

1765: Charles Green logged his final official Observations on 15 of March 1765 and left the Observatory soon afterwards.

It is reasonable to speculate irreconcilable differences between Maskelyne and Green,centred on the H-4, were responsible for Green’s departure.

1765 – Greenwich: As Astnomer Royal Maskelyne immediately opened up a second front in his the fight against John Harrison’ ‘eternal flame’  the 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 – war and peace.

Together with an unknown number of merchant seamen, thousands of chattel slaves who sank without trace, along with cargo and booty worth untold billions. See: The Zong – & Britain’s Economic Addiction to Chattel Slavery (pending)

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

1769 -Tahiti: In April 1769 Lieutenant James Cook RN sailed HMS Endeavour to Tahiti in order to observe the Transit of Venus. Years earlier Edmond Halley had predicted the transit would occur on 3 June 1769

South Seas: After recording the Transit Cook  RN was required to open ‘secret Admiralty Instructions’. He was ordered to sail Endeavour deep into the southern oceans in search of the fabled Great South Land.

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

Maskelyne was not yet finished with John Harrison and Charles Green. Although Cook was supplied a ‘nautical [pendulum] clock’ along with assorted ‘time-keepers’ H-4  Harrison’s  pocket watch’ was not among them. See: Captain Cook Caught Short

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Dalrymple had never forgiven Cook for replacing him in the command of the 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.

Similarly nor could Maskelyn, the astronomer who persecuted John Harrison the lowly carpenter-artisan, forgive Charles Green’s defection to the ‘pocket watch’.

Alexander Dalrymple, a wealthy Fellow of the Royal Society, was held by that august body and by Nevil Maskelyne ‘a proper person to be sent to the South Seas’.

The trouble was Dalrymple wanted to be top-dog and run the whole show. This the Admiralty would not allow.    of Commodore George  stacked as it was with  officers of flag-rank

‘Dalrymple had ‘never forgiven Cook’ for depriving him of the ‘South Seas’ show. This was especially galling as Joseph Banks, England’s pre-eminent botanist, was travelling on the Endeavour voyage with a party of ten (10).

It was to Banks that government turned, in 1783 after Britain lost her thirteen (13) American colonies to George Washington’s riff-raff Patriot militia, to explain the reasons why New Holland  was perfectly place for invasion.

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‘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

Strip Cove:  Consider the time it took the newly commissioned Lieutenant James Cook RN to chart New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

When; ‘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

Captain Cook did not leave New Zealand waters until February 1770.

1770 – 29 April, Botany Bay:  HMS Endeavour anchored in Botany Bay on the south-eastern coast of New Holland at the end of April 1770.

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1771 – January, Jakarta: Although much is rightly made of Cook’s success in warding off scurvy nevertheless at Batavia, present-day Jakarta, one-half of Endeavour’s starving debilitated crew succumbed to malaria and dysentery.

Of Joseph Banks’ party of ten (10) only four (4) survived Endeavour’s voyage including Banks himself.

Earlier, on Terra del Fuego, two (2) of  Bank’s servants froze to death . Alexander Buchan an artist died at Tahiti following an epileptic fit. The rest fell prey to sickness at Batavia.

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

‘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.

With the ship’s doctor already dead Green’s affliction went undiagnosed. It may well have been cerebral malaria.

1771 – England, 13 July:   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 [William & Jonathan] his sons with Cook’. Collingridge. ibid.

William Monkhouse was HMS Endeavour’s surgeon. Jonathan his midshipman brother distinguished himself saving Endeavouor by applying ‘fothering’ a technique he learned while in the merchant navy sailing from Virginia to London.

Great Barrier Reef:  On the 13 July 1770 while sailing the upper northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, while edging cautiously towards land, Endeavour had struck sharp coral that penetrated her hull.

The crew successfully applied the tricky ‘fothering’ manoeuvre. A tarred canvas sling was passed under the hull and pulled taut over the breach.

The patch allowed Cook time to reach land where her timbers were repaired and the hull strengthened.

EPILOGUE

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

London: Post the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) the race to claim ‘true 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.

Brest: In early October of 1764 Berthoud took a French chronometer to sea on a timed trial but it seems no record of the results 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.

Given the number of chronometers Jean -Francois La Perouse carried with him to Botany Bay (1788) that intriguing question remains open to speculation.

London:  Again in 1766 Berthoud tried without success, to have Harrison divulge the essential elements of H-4.

However it is possible Thomas Mudge a prominent London watchmaker who, from time to time serviced H-4, may have discussed 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.

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‘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.

Be that as it may – John Harrison’s chronometer was ‘essential’ in saving sailors’ lives and their loved ones grief and destitution. See: Lieutenant William Dawes & The ‘Eternal Flame’.

‘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 [Maskelyne’s] 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.

Due to the intransigence of Maskelyne in favouring his Almanac, while simultaneously actively discouraging the use of Harrison’s chronometers because of cost the damage spread across the entire maritime world contributing to the needless loss of thousands upon thousands of lives. See: Malicious Maskelyne

Not until 1825 was H-4 technology routinely supplied on the  ‘king’s ships’.  The Royal Navy’s mean-minded parsimony in delaying their use cost innumerable lives.

But deserves be included in an overall examination of the why and wherefore of the toxic environment that pervaded the Royal Nay. An environment that included the execution of Admiral John Byng on a charge of ‘failure to do his utmost’  at The Battle of Minorca the first sea-battle of the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

The execution of Admiral John Byng brought devastating effects to ‘The Aborigines of New Holland….Still it is impossible that the [ H.M.] government should forget that the original aggression was ours’. Lord John Russell to Sir George Gipps, 21 December 1838, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1. Vol. XX

Sir Joseph Banks became President of the Royal Society, in 1778.  A position n he held for forty-one (41) years) until his death in 1820.

 

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