‘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 Greatest Explorer, Ebury Press, 2002

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

John his elder brother having taken Holy Orders established a school in Soho, London. Charles found his ‘heavenly passion’ astronomy. After he graduated Charles staying on for a time to assist John with the teaching of mathematics.

In 1760 Charles applied successfully for the position of Assistant Astronomer at Greenwich Observatory. He served three (3) Astronomer Royals in that capacity.

James Bradley first of these men had, in 1742, succeeded Edmond Halley of comet fame who held the post of Astronomer Royal for twenty-two (22) years from 1720-1742.

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 – 2017 – Bradley’s calculations were amended to 299,790 km (186,290 miles) per second.

If only Bradley had stuck to light and left time and longitude to Mr. John Harrison inventor of the sea-going ‘pocket-watch’ – an accurate marine chronometer – many a sea-farer would not have met a watery end. Bradley’s tenure lasted twenty (20) years he died in 1762.

In 1762 Reverend Nathaniel Bliss was appointed Britain’s fourth Astronomer Royal. His short tenure two (2) years from 1762 to 1764 was marked by ill-health.

Bliss remained at Oxford University and died in September 1764 without taking up residence at Greenwich Observatory.

During the period 1762-64 and, for more than six (6) months following the death of Bliss, Charles Green faithfully fulfilled the onerous role of principal astronomer at Greenwich.

On 8 February 1765 King George III appointed Reverend Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal, a position he was to keep in a strangle-hold for nearly half a century, until his death in 1811. See: Malicious Maskelyne

Bradley, Bliss and Maskelyne had a lot in common. All were wedded to old technology the lunars’ that dated from the previous century.

‘On the day before reliable time-keeping, the skies were used as a giant clock’. Vanessa Collingridge, Captain Cook, The Life, Death and Legacy of History’s Greatest Explorer, Random House, 2003

Luna Tables and a Star catalog. of three thousand (3000) stars began as the work of John Flamsteed appointed by King Charles II in 1675 as Britain’s first Astronomer Royal.

In 1676 Flamsteed took up residence in the newly minted Greenwich Observatory designed by Sir Christopher Wren and erected on the ruins of Greenwich Castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s Model Army during England’s Civil Wars.

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

Why then in 1765 did Nevil Maskelyne publish the first edition of his Nautical Almanac that extolled celestial navigation as the only solution to the problem of Longitude?

‘Maskelyne’s Method’ of determining longitude depended on measuring with a sextant the angular distance between the moon, sun and seven (7) selected stars. See: Lotto and Longitude

‘The 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, Longitude, Fourth Estate, London, 1998

Charles Green and Nevil Maskelyne had history.

In 1764, with Bliss too ill to travel, Green was instructed to team up with Maskelyne and sail to Barbados to represent the Board of Longitude and oversee yet another assessment of John Harrison’s marine chronometer the H-4.

[Because] the board concluded in its final report in August 1762 “the Experiments already made of the 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.

Green and Maskelyne were to shadow William, John Harrison’s son and Thomas Wyatt, who were making for Barbados aboard HMS Tartar with the ‘watch’ H-4.

For the Board of Longitude this was to be it – failure or success for the marine chronometer. With Maskelyne’s Almanac versus John Harrison’s  marine chronometer there was a lot at stake – a king’s ransom £20,000, in terms of 2017, roughly £400 millions.

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

But as Dava Sobel comments; ‘The Board of Longitude was top-heavy with astronomers’ and Maskelyne  the Astronomer Royal was determined to scuttle Harrison and his ‘watch’ once and for all.

In 1761 Maskelyne began work on his Nautical Almanac and, if Harrison’s invention was discredited, with the Nautical Almanac on the cusp of publication fame and fortune would be his.

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

However for Maskelyne this early arrival proved counter-productive. He aired to anyone who would listen unwavering allegiance to ‘his lunar distance method…boast[ing]’ that, with his soon to be published Almanac (1765), ‘he was sure he’d clinched the case and secured the prize’. Sobel. ibid.

Sir John Lindsay quietly gathered damming evidence. Supported by Lindsay the Harrison 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 had performed flawlessly at Barbados in the summer of 1764. As for Charles Green his epiphany was complete. Without doubt H-4 supplied accurate time – the essential ingredient required for determining longitude at sea.

‘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 the Watch; but it was not to be.

1765 – 15 March: Charles Green logged his final official Observations and left Greenwich on 15th May 1765. It is possible to speculate irreconcilable differences between the two (2) men were responsible for Green’s departure.

1765 – 25 March: Nevil Maskelyne assumed the role of Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal on 25 March 1765. He immediately opened up a second front in the fight against John Harrison and his marine chronometer. 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 naval fighting men in both offensive and defensive mode, as well as a multitude of merchant seamen who sank without trace along with cargo worth millions.

Maskelyne was not yet finished with Cook, Harrison and Green. See: Captain Cook Caught Short

1769: Lieutenant James Cook RN sailed HMS Endeavour from England to Tahiti in order to observe the Transit of Venus predicted to occur on 3 June 1769. Charles Green was to act as Assistant Observer to Cook.

‘Compared with that of (Joseph) Banks, Mr Green’s equipment was comparatively modest’. Cameron. ibid.

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

So why then was HMS Endeavour not equipped with a Harrison chronometer ‘that’ as Peter Ackroyd has it ‘solved the problem of longitude in 1759’?

James Cook had not been Nevil Maskelyne’s first choice for the Transit expedition. He had recommended Alexander Dalrymple to the Admiralty. Dalrymple, a wealthy Fellow of the Royal Society was, 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 [Dalrymple] 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.

Maskelyne never forgave the Admiralty for choosing Cook. Maskelyne, the scientist who  persecuted John Harrison the artisan, withheld H – 4 from Cook who was a mere warrant officer when chosen over Dalrymple.

It is highly likely if Cook had known with certainty HMS Endeavour’s position while in uncharted waters he would not have spent three (3) months getting to New Zealand. Nor might it have taken Cook so much time charting New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Cook did not leave the area until February 1770.

As it was, home-ward bound, one-half of Endeavour’s debilitated crew succumbed at Batavia to malaria and dysentery.

Of Joseph Banks’ party of ten (10) only four (4) survived including Banks himself. Two (2) had been lost earlier when they froze to death on Tierra del Fuego and Alexander Buchan an artist died at Tahiti following an epileptic fit.

Charles Green died possibly from cerebral malaria and was buried at sea not long after Endeavour sailed from Batavia for England via Cape Town.

1771 – 13 July – Spithead: Cook, when again on home soil began to; ‘write 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, Endeavour’s surgeon and his brother Jonothan who saved Endeavour from complete destruction after she ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef by ‘fothering‘ – a tricky manoeuvre young Jonothan had picked up on a previous voyage.


John Harrison’s marine chronometer H-1 had shown, as early as 1736-37 on a timed voyage London, England to Lisbon, Portugal in HMS Centurian, it was capable of accurate time-keeping sufficient to establish longitude at sea.

In 1763 Ferdinand Berthoud the Swiss born clockmaker, whose interest also included marine chronometers, visited John Harrison in London at the behest of the French king.

In early October of 1764 Berthoud took his own chronometer to sea for a timed trial but no results of that trial remain.

Nor has mention been made that Antoine de Bougainville took a marine chronometer with him on France’s first voyage of circumnavigation, November 1766 to March 1769.

In 1766 Berthoud tried, again without success, to have Harrison divulge the essential elements of H-4. However Thomas Mudge the prominent 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.

Still Ken Alder has it:

‘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

Not only England’s seamen suffered and died due to Maskelyne’s intransigence in actively discouraging the use of Harrison’s chronometer the damage was spread world-wide.

Nevil Maskelyne – drop the N and you have the man. See: Malicious Maskelyne


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