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    Re: Maskelyne and Harrison
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2008 Sep 10, 15:31 +0100

    Paul Hirose has quoted a revised link to Maskelyne's account to Parliament
    about the performance of Harrison's watch on its voyage to Barbados at-
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1911Obs....34..391
    
    About that account, I wrote-
     "But he wasn't writing it to persuade his critics. He was giving evidence,
    | to Parliament, on a technical matter, and from his account was bending
    over
    | backwards to be scrupulously fair to Harrison, in every respect. It may
    be,
    | perhaps, that being written by Maskelyne's himself, it was a self-serving
    | account to make him look reasonable, but his words to Parliament were on
    | public record."
    
    and Frank Reed responded-
    | LOL. Of course it was self-serving. :-) What else would it be?
    
    Perhaps it was simply the behaviour of a principled public servant. Not
    everyone is driven by base motives. Has Frank compared his words with the
    official record? (I haven't).
    
    And:I added- "It's impossible, from that account, to read into those words
    any bias or hostility toward Harrison; but that doesn't exclude bias and
    hostility being shown elsewhere on other occasions."
    
    Frank picked out these words-
    
    "but that doesn't exclude bias and hostility being shown elsewhere on other
    occasions."
    
    commenting-
    | I'm glad that's clear.
    
    Frank should not read more into my words than I wrote. I haven't admitted
    bias and hostility being shown on other occasions; it may, it may not. All I
    have pointed out is that no trace of any such conduct occurred in
    Maskelyne's evidence to Parliament.
    
    Frank continued-
    | There were many people who were Maskelyne's
    | CONTEMPORARIES who believed that he was biased.
    
    Yes, of course. That's where the "self-serving" question is most relevant.
    There was a lot of cash at stake, and the participants had much to gain or
    lose. Not Maskelyne, however, who as a public servant made no claims on the
    longitude prize. He was making a technical judgment about the merits of
    different techniques for navigation. Both methods were new, and far from
    perfect, at that time. Lunars were to stand mariners in good stead for the
    next century, and were available, almost there-and-then. Chronometers would
    not be a practical proposition for general navigation until they could be
    mass-produced at reasonable cost; at that moment, Harrison's chronometer was
    a one-off trade secret. Without hindsight, nobody could claim that his
    preference was an unreasonable view to hold, at that time.
    
    Giving evidence to Parliament, he tells us "I was asked if I did not think
    both methods put together  would not greatly assist each other? I answered
    that I thought it probable that if both were put together they might in a
    manner generally determine the longitude at sea very nearly". Which was
    exactly the conclusion Cook came to on his second circumnavigation, using
    chronometer and lunars in conjunction.
    
    | There is a remaining interesting question in all of this. What would have
    | happened differently if Maskelyne, and Halley, e.g., before him, had been
    | more charitable to the 'mechanics' (the name used to describe the
    advocates
    | of the time-keepers in historical accounts)?
    
    "Charitable" is an odd word, in the circumstances. Frank cites the behaviour
    of two Astronomer-Royals, Halley and Maskelyne. I've been reminded that it
    was Halley, who Harrison approached for help when he first visited London,
    who made the crucial introduction to the clockmaker George Graham, which was
    so crucial to Harrison's success. And it was Maskelyne who, just a month
    before that Parliamentary grilling, had recommended Harrison's membership of
    the Royal Society. These were public servants, who behaved as gentlemen.
    Sobel painted Maskelyne as a villain, but that was necessary to turn the
    Harrison story into the romance that she made of it. Frank may buy into
    that, but not me.
    
    George.
    
    contact George Huxtable at george@huxtable.u-net.com
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    
    
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