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    Re: Sumner and the Smalls lighthouse.
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2006 Apr 4, 23:34 +0100

    I had written, about Sumner's Sun observation-
    |" The altitude, date and time of that Sun
    | sight would have been written into a permanent log, not just on a slate. As this
    | event was Sumner's proudest achievement, is it likely that he neglected to
    | retain that log, or at least transcribe a copy?"
    and Frank replied-
    | I think I understand the  source of your misunderstanding now. It is simply
    | incorrect to state that a  navigator would have recorded the "altitude, date,
    | and time" of every Sun sight.  That DID NOT HAPPEN. Only in rare cases in 19th
    | century logbooks are the  complete details of sights recorded. More generally,
    | only the final result is  recorded in the logbook (for example, "Lat by Sun
    | at Meridian: 31d 22' "). You  can check this out for yourself by examining any
    | of the logbooks from that era  that are available online at
    | schooner.mysticseaport.org (the G.W. Blunt-White  Library at Mystic Seaport). Once in a while,
    | you will find whole sights worked  up from the initial observation, but this
    | usually only happens on the back of a  page in a logbook, often from an entirely
    | different voyage (this would happen  when the slate or the navigation
    | notebook has gone missing presumably). Even  with lunar distances, it's rare for a
    | navigator to include all the details  required to analyze the observations after
    | the fact. Very rarely, a "navigation  notebook", like the one from the voyage
    | of the Morgan in 1896-97 that we  discussed recently, will survive. But these
    | were literally nothing more than  "scratch pads", and their survival, though
    | wonderful from our viewpoint today,  is due to some descendant's packrat
    | habits, rather their intrinsic worth. They  were not considered worth keeping in
    | the era.
    I accept that Frank is probably right about that, and not just as far as his 
    special interest (American whaling logs) is concerned.
    | In his  History of Marine Navigation, W.E. May notes that the position of the
    | lighthouse  was plotted incorrectly by about five miles and then displays his
    | own plot. No  noise about falsification.
     I quoted from May on Feb 17, and posted a copy of his pages to the Nav-l 
    blackboard. May says "some miles", not "about five miles".
    May draws three "calculated positions" in his sketch. The only consequence 
    that May deduces from Sumner's misplotting of Smalls
    light is that it would then place the "calculated second position" to seaward 
    of the light, rather than to landward as May drew it.
    Did he appreciate the significance of the fact that in such thick weather 
    Sumner could not have seen that light, in its true
    position? He doesn't mention it. So perhaps it's no surprise that he made "no noise about falsification".
    I wrote, in my earlier note, that I disagreed with some of May's analysis. 
    Perhaps this is a good opportunity to explore what he got
    Sumner himself was inconsistent about his calculated positions, between which 
    he would interpolate a position line. In his
    calculation on page 15 he takes two assumed latitudes, at 51deg and 52deg, and 
    plots those on his chart at A and A' respectively. So
    just two calculated positions, 1 degree apart in latitude.
    In his descriptive text, on page 38, he explains what he did quite 
    differently. First, he says he assumed his latitude by dead
    reckoning (presumably 51deg 37') and calculated his long. Then he tried a 
    latitude 10' further North and calculated again. And then
    he tried a latitude another10' further North. So in this part of his account 
    there were three calculated points, spanning 20' of
    latitude. And this is where he states that the three were all in a straight line.
    May states that Sumner "plotted these three positions on the chart" and adds, 
    about the second of the three positions, that it was
    close inshore of Smalls light. In a footnote, May states that "Sumner shows it 
    to seaward...". However, Sumner's sketch-chart shows
    nothing of the sort. It doesn't show those three positions at all; just A and 
    A', miles away. So I don't know where May got that
    duff information from. Perhaps not from the original Sumner account and chart, 
    but from a secondhand retelling, maybe one of those
    in Bowditch that have misled Nav-l members. Anyway, May got that quite wrong.
    Frank continued-
    | The basis of his "claim to fame" was the discovery and publication  of a
    | navigational technique that was decades ahead of its time and would one day  come
    | to dominate the world of celestial navigation. The specific events on that
    | day in late 1837 are a fascinating background to that discovery, but if we knew
    | nothing more of him than that story from that one morning, Sumner's name
    | would  be forgotten.
    The story, it seems to me, was dramatised, to emphasise the point he was 
    trying to make, at the expense of the literal truth. It
    doesn't detract from the importance of his discovery. But it diminishes the 
    stature of the man, in my eyes and perhaps in the eyes
    of others.
    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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