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    Re: How did Sumner navigate in 1837?
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2003 May 23, 22:26 +0100

    Thanks to Herbert Prinz for perceptive responses to two matters I had raised.
    I would like to take a bit further the second of these, the question of how
    common it was, by Sumner's time (around 1840), for ordinary ocean mariners
    to establish their longitudes by lunars or chronometers, and whether many
    remained content with the old methods of latitude sailing.
    I think we would agree that naval vessels and the prestigious vessels of,
    for example, the East India company, and explorers on sea and on land,
    would adopt the modern longitude techiques early on, but what about the
    ordinary merchantmen that plied the World's oceans?
    Though my bookshelves hold many accounts of the naval and exploratory
    voyages of the period, few accounts of ordinary trading got into print.
    A couple of years ago I was loaned a book on an American voyage to China,
    with the unlikely aim of establishing a trade in US-grown ginseng (talk
    about carrying coals to Newcastle...) The Chinese weren't impressed by its
    quality and the project failed. I can not now remember the name of the
    vessel or the book, or the exact date of the voyage, but I think it was in
    the 1830s or 1840s. She was a new, Boston-built, well-found square rigger.
    The point is that the book contained a rather full copy of the ship's log,
    and it was clear from reading that log that the voyage from New York to
    China, and back, was made entirely by latitude sailing, with no measurement
    of longitude anywhere. Longitude estimates came from dead-reckoning, and
    there were several cases of the ship deliberately sighting oceanic islands
    (such as the Cape Verdes) to obtain a longitude, but that's all. It was a
    real eye-opener to me, that navigation could be so backward, so late on. .
    On the other hand, compare that with the experience of the "Sea-Serpent",
    only 189 tons burthen, a pilot-schooner out of New York, bound for Lima
    with cargo to run Cochran's British blockade there.
    Aiming for the Horn, in the South Atlantic, in 1822, she fell in with
    whalers Herald and Amazon, of Fair Haven, Mass. Here's what Sea-Serpents
    captain said-
    "The captain of the Herald came on board to ascertain his longitude; he
    said that they had seen no land for the last two months, and had been too
    busy to pay much attention to the course of the ship; that he knew nothing
    of lunar observations, and had no chronometer; he was therefore desirous to
    ascertain the present position of his ship. I had an excellent chronometer
    on board, and as the lunar observation taken that day agreed with it, I
    told him there was no doubt I could give him the exact latitude and
    So there we have an unpretentious American vessel carrying the tools for
    modern navigation, and putting them to good use, and two other American
    vessels wandering the seas in sublime ignorance of their longitude. Truly
    it was a period of transition.
    The author was George Coggeshall, "Journeys to various parts of the world",
    reprint of 3rd ed., 1858. His book is a good clear account of 36 voyages,
    selected from his 80 made over 58 years.
    In 1812, Pease, of the American whaler/sealer "Nanina", 132 tons, on
    passage from the Cape Verdes to the Falklands, wrote, for 3 July 1812, "Lat
    in 16? 32m Long in 27? by Loonars."
    (from "Marooned", ed. Bertha S Dodge, 1986, appendix A)
    A conclusion to be drawn from these accounts might be that the measurement
    of longitude, by lunars or chronometers, was common at that period, but by
    no means universal.
    George Huxtable
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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