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    Re: How Many Chronometers?
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2009 May 7, 21:40 +0100

    Jim Wison asked:
    
    With all of those qualifications, how did John Harrison's creation give
    England the supremacy of the seas by virtue of having the "Secret of
    longitude?"
    
    ===============
    
    No question, that the Briish did maintain "the supremacy of the seas", over
    more than a century. But Jim's question presupposes that it rested on the
    invention of the chronometer. I invite him to show us that it did, and tell
    us over what period he claims that it did so. In my own view the matter has
    been greatly overblown, especially by Sobel, whose book implied that the
    lunar distance method for longitude became immediately obsolete from the
    invention of the chronometer.
    
    After Harrison's invention had been approved, there was a period of
    technical development as new and simpler designs became standardised,
    production-lines developed, and a chronometer industry built up.Until that
    happened, possession of a chronometer was rare, though Admiralty vessels
    sailing to distant waters would get priority. Trading craft, particularly
    the smaller vessels, would continue using lunar distances, well into the
    eighteen-hundreds.
    
    But Britain's superiority over her local competitors (France and Holland,
    mostly) depended on dominance of local waters, English Channel, North Sea,
    Atlantic coast, in which astronomical longitude played only a minor role.
    The chronometer eventually played a major part in the build-up of trade
    links with the Colonies, it's true. The French had also developed successful
    designs of chronometer, particularly by Berthoud, but never realised the
    sort of mass-production that Arnold and Earnshaw would achieve, in England.
    
    For anyone interested in the development of the chronometer, I recommend
    Rupert Gould's "The Marine Chronometer", first published in 1923, but with
    many later reprints. This book is now rare, and expensive .I don't recommend
    my own edition, by the Holland Press, 1978, as its plates are already coming
    adrift.  Also, "The Quest for Longitude", ed. William J H Andrewes,
    published by Harvard in 1996, the proceedings of a fascinating symposium in
    1993, with many authors. Also getting expensive, now.
    
    George.
    
    contact George Huxtable, at  george{at}hux.me.uk
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    George.
    
    
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