Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    From the Scillies to lunars and cooks
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2007 Oct 03, 01:55 -0400

    I'm not done with Shovell (decided to give that another pause), but there's 
    another Scillonian shipwreck anniversary this year, a 100th anniversary. And 
    this one leads --well, "leads" in an amusingly roundabout way-- all the way 
    to lunar observations and even James Cook in Hawaii. 
    "There is no history in the Scillies except shipwrecks", r so some sage once 
    said. Of course, we know the story of Admiral Shovell's shipwreck in the 
    Association. The 300th anniversary is just a few weeks away. But there's 
    another interesting shipwreck with an anniversary a few weeks after that. 
    It's the wreck of the world's one and only seven-masted schooner. 
    The Thomas W. Lawson was the last great hope of the true believers in sail 
    in the US over a century ago. It was a 400-foot long monster with SEVEN 
    towering masts, all schooner-rigged (which leads to the question, "whaddaya 
    call all them masts??" --there are many answers). But it was no throw-back. 
    Its hull was steel. It had electric lights and automatic winches. 
    Unfortunately, it was "too much, too late". It was difficult to find cargos 
    suited to its vast capacity in ports able to handle its large size. The 
    Thomas W. Lawson was soon converted into a bulk crude oil carrier --an early 
    oil tanker. In December of 1907 (as promised, the 100th anniversary is 
    coming up), the Thomas W. Lawson crossed the Atlantic carrying crude and, 
    like so many other ships including Shovell's Association, she was wrecked in 
    bad weather on the reefs of Scilly. And that was the end of the seven-masted 
    The Thomas W. Lawson is the link that I'm going to use to connect us back to 
    the history of lunars and back to Captain Cook. The Lawson was designed by a 
    respected designer, Bowdoin B. Crowninshield, a member of one of the oldest 
    New England families, and one with extensive maritime interests. In fact, 
    his great gandfather was Benjamin Williams Crowninshield who was US 
    Secretary of the Navy from 1814 to 1819. And here's where things get fun; 
    Benjamin W. Crowninshield's brother, George Crownshield Jr., was near the 
    center of one of the most frequently told stories in the history of lunars. 
    George Jr. was the owner of the first famous yacht in American history, a 
    yacht which he named "Cleopatra's Barge". 
    Jumping to its eventual demise, Cleopatra's Barge was wrecked some years 
    later in Hanalei Bay in Hawaii after becoming the royal yacht of King 
    Kamehameha II of Hawaii. Now that might be connection enough to Cook who was 
    killed in Hawaii just a few decades earlier, but there's another way to get 
    to Cook, and its by way of a cook. Now back to the early days of 
    "Cleopatra's Barge"... 
    George Crowninshield Jr. inherited a vast fortune from his father who was 
    one of those early Salem mariners who sailed to the Indies and returned as 
    wealthy as kings. The younger George was less serious than his father and 
    decided in 1816 to build himself an ocean-going yacht (he was a great 
    admirer of Napoleon and there were rumors that he intended to rescue the 
    former Emperor from Saint Helena). He spent an estimated $100,000 --an 
    astronomical sum back then-- building Cleopatra's Barge. It was a small 
    brigantine, some 83 feet on the waterline, 23 feet beam. And it was 
    outfitted with every luxury that money could buy and then some. The interior 
    woodwork is still famous in Salem. George Jr. was a man with strange tastes. 
    He had the starboard side of the vessel painted with a rainbow stripe in 
    multiple colors. The port side was painted with a peculiar herring-bone 
    pattern. Cleopatra's Barge was designed for entertaining, and it had a 
    kitchen better-equipped than most on land and stocked with fine wine. 
    Naturally his crew were taken from the best in New England and included 
    hired musicians and a skilled chef as well. 
    Crowninshield set sail for Europe aboard Cleopatra's Barge in March 1817. 
    His tour of the Mediterranean attracted thousands of sightseers in every 
    port he visited. During their stop in Genoa, the vessel was visited by a 
    famous early 19th century astronomer and an avid lunarian (we're getting 
    closer!), Baron Franz Xaver von Zach. And here it's time to let Zach speak 
    for himself. He wrote of his experiences aboard Cleopatra's Barge a few 
    years later:
    "  How does it happen that the Commanders of French vessels, with 
    thirty-four schools of Hydrography established in the Kingdom, either know 
    not, or do not wish to know, how to calculate the longitude of their vessels 
    by Lunar distances, while even the cooks and negroes of American vessels 
    understand it? "
     I will now relate what I once witnessed on board an American vessel, the 
    Cleopatra's Barge, which arrived in the month of July, 1817, at the port of 
    Genoa from Salem, one of the handsomest Towns in the State of Massachusetts, 
    U. S. A., Lat. 42� 35' 20" N., Long. 73� 9' 30" W. All the city crowded to 
    see this magnificent palace of Neptune; more than 20,000 persons had visited 
    this superb floating palace, and were astonished at its beauty, luxury and 
    magnificence. I went among others. The owner was on board; he was a 
    gentleman of fortune of Salem, who had amassed great riches during the late 
    war with Great Britain. He was brother to the Secretary of the Navy of the 
    United States. "
     This elegant vessel was built for his own amusement, after his own ideas, 
    upon a plan and model new in very many respects, and was considered the 
    swiftest sailer in America. He had traveled or sailed for his pleasure in 
    this costly jewel that appeared more the model of a cabinet of curiosities 
    than a real vessel. He had left America in this charming shell for the 
    purpose of visiting Europe and making the tour of the Mediterranean & had 
    already touched at the ports of Spain, France, Italy, the Archipelago, 
    Dardanelles, coasts of Asia, Africa, etc. We have since heard of the death 
    of this gentleman, a short time after his return to Salem. His name was 
    George Crowninshield--he was of German origin--his ancestor was a Saxon 
    officer who, having the misfortune to kill his adversary in a duel, sought 
    refuge in America. The captain of this beautiful vessel was a lively old 
    gentleman, a cousin to Mr. Crowninshield--his son, a young man, was also on 
    board. I shall not here enter into detail concerning the remarkable 
    construction of this vessel, still less her splendor--the public journals 
    have already noticed them. "
     In making some enquiries respecting my friends and correspondents in 
    Philadelphia and Boston, among others I mentioned Dr. Bowditch. ' He is the 
    friend of our family, and our neighbor in Salem,' replied the old Captain. 
    'My son, whom you see there, was his pupil; it is properly he, and not 
    myself, that navigates this vessel; question him and see if he has profited 
    by his instructions.' "
     I observed to this young man, 'you have had so excellent a teacher in 
    Hydrography that you cannot fail of being well acquainted with the science. 
    In making Gibralter what was the error in your longitude?' The young man 
    replied, 'Six miles.' 'Your calculations were then very correct; how did you 
    keep your ship's accounts?' 'By chronometers and by Lunar observations.' 
    'You then can ascertain your Longitude by Lunar distances?' "
     Here my young captain appearing to be offended with my question, replied 
    with some warmth, 'What! I know how to calculate Lunar distances! Our cook 
    can do that!' 'Your cook!' Here Mr. Crowninshield and the old Captain 
    assured me, that the cook on board could calculate Longitude quite well; 
    that his taste for it frequently led him to do it. 'That is he,' said the 
    young man, pointing to a Negro in the after part of the vessel, with a white 
    apron about his waist, a fowl in one hand, and a carving knife in the other. 
     Come here, John,' said the old Captain to him, 'this gentleman is surprised 
    that you understand Lunar observations. Answer his questions.' I asked, 'By 
    what method do you calculate Lunar distances?' The cook answered, ' It is 
    immaterial-- I use some time the method of Maskelyne, Lyons, or Bowditch, but 
    I prefer that of Dunthorne, as I am more accustomed to it.' I could hardly 
    express my surprise at hearing that black-face answer in such a manner, with 
    a bloody fowl and carving knife in his hands. "' Go,' said Mr. 
    Crowninshield,' lay aside your fowl and bring your books and journal and 
    show your calculations to the gentleman.' The cook returned with his books 
    under his arms, consisting of Bowditch's Practical Navigator, Maskelyne's 
    Requisite Tables, Dutton's Logarithms and the Nautical Almanack, abridged 
    from the Greenwich Edition. I saw all the calculations this Negro had made 
    on his passage, of Latitude, Longitude, Apparent Time, etc. He replied to 
    all my questions with admirable precision, not merely in the phrases of a 
    cook, but in correct nautical language. " 
    Baron von Zach' surprise at this man's navigational skill clearly has some 
    racism in it, but it also must have arisen in part from the fact that he 
    could not bring himself to understand that a "cook" on this sailing yacht 
    was in fact a skilled chef and a man of considerable education. To me, the 
    most relevant bit of this story for those of us who are interested in lunars 
    today is the casual way in which "John" tells us not to worry about the 
    method that is used for clearing lunars. "It is immaterial", he says. Use 
    Bowditch's Method, or Lyons's, or Maskelyne's or Dunthorne's; it doesn't 
    really matter. Now I've seen this particular quotation many times before, 
    but there's always been a little something that bothered me about it. If he 
    learned his lunars from Bowditch, either the man or the book, then how does 
    he find himself most comfortable using Dunthorne's method. That method was 
    NEVER included in Bowditch's Navigator. Sure, you can find it in the 
    Requisite Tables, but how would he have learned it and become more 
    comfortable using it when the distinctly easier methods in Bowditch were 
    widely used at this time? The answer is in the next paragraph in Baron von 
    Zach's account which is not always included when this story is re-told. Zach 
    "  This cook had sailed as cabin-boy with Captain Cook in his last voyage 
    round the world and was acquainted with several facts relative to the 
    assassination of the celebrated navigator at Owhyhee, February, 1779. 'The 
    greatest part of the seamen on board the Barge,' said Mr. Crowninshield, 
    'can use the sextant and make nautical calculations.' "
     Indeed Mr. Crowninshield had with him many instructors. At Genoa he had 
    taken one acquainted with Italian--he had also on board an instructor in the 
    French language, a young man who had lost his fingers in the Russian 
    campaign. What instruction! what order! what correctness! what magnificence 
    was to be observed in this Barge; I could relate many more interesting 
    particulars concerning this true Barque of Cleopatra." 
    So there you have it. This famous "John" has usually been used as a foil for 
    suggesting that anybody could do lunars --if he could do them, then anyone 
    should be able to. But he was actually a man with a long history on the 
    oceans. He had sailed with James Cook himself and may have learned lunars a 
    decade or more before Bowditch first published his book. This would surely 
    explain his familiarity with Dunthorne's method which otherwise seems very 
    strange. It would be fascinating to know what John had done in his life 
    between his time as a cabin boy with Cook to his days as a cook, more 
    accurately, a world-class chef, aboard Cleopatra's Barge. 
    As promised, I took you from the 100th anniversary of a  shipwreck in the 
    Scillies to James Cook in the Pacific in six easy steps. ;-> 
    To post to this group, send email to NavList@fer3.com
    To unsubscribe, send email to NavList-unsubscribe@fer3.com

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site