A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Position-Finding
From: Wolfgang Köberer
Date: 2018 Jan 7, 03:56 -0800
the answer to question of who is „the true father of modern lunar distances“ is meaningless and prone to fall victim to the Sobel fallacy. As historians of science – and especially historians of navigational science – now are convincingly arguing, “lone genius” tales are distorting the history involved – especially the history of the solution to the longitude problem. As several seafaring nations (England, the Netherlands, Spain and France) needed a solution in order to reach their colonialist goals, research was going on in all of these nations. But the point is that there was an (mostly) open exchange between the scientists regardless of their nationality: Mayer relied on Newton’s theory, was in discussion with Euler and used Lemonnier’s lunar tables; Maskelyne was using and championing Mayer’s work, he took Lacaille’s ephemeris on his voyage to St. Helena in 1761, Lalande used the work of Maskelyne’s computers to complete French ephemerides etc. etc.
In other words: the creation of the lunar distance method was a multi-national endeavor involving different scientists that were in communication with each other. So there was no “true father” but a field that was tended by a multitude of gardeners. You can read about this in “Navigational Enterprises in Europe and Its Empires, 1730-1850”, edited by Rebekah Higgitt and Richard Dunn (Basingstoke 2016).