A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Geoffrey Kolbe
Date: 2020 Mar 25, 23:13 -0700
A bit of perspective to Wolfgang's comments about Isaac Newton's preference for a mathematical solution to the Longitude Problem. The Longitude Prize (more properly called the Longitude Rewards) was offered by the British Government through an Act of Parliament in 1714. Newton had been a leading witness and advisor during the debates in Parliament on the longitude problem that led up to this Act. So Newton's views would date from the very start of the 18th century, when it would be another 60 years before Harrison finally made the sea-going clock which we would recognise as the first marine chronometer. At the start of the 18th century, accurate clocks were still in their infancy and they were pendulum clocks - the first accurate pendulum clock which even had a second hand, let alone was accurate to a few seconds a day, had only been built a few decades earlier in the 1680s. So it is unfair to say that Newton was wrong not to think that sea-going clocks were the way ahead for solving the longitude problem. He was commenting on the state of horology of the day.
On Maskelyne, little has been written about his organisational skills in producing the tables that went into the first Nautical Almanacs. 'Computers' had to be organised to calculate and check the table entries so that they were correct and error free. This is one of the first good examples of 'systems engineering', which is so important in today's world. Having had to organise the computation and checking of the tables in my own Long Term Almanac, I have some feeling for Maskelyne's genius in this regard, working without the benefit of electronic calculational tools.