A wonderful online resource!

If you’re even vaguely interested in the history of navigation, this is one website you’ve got to visit! http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/longitude.

And here’s just one image taken from it, almost at random – it’s a page of observations taken aboard Captain Cook’s ship Resolution at Dusky Bay in New Zealand during his second great voyage of discovery in the 1770s.  It illustrates the huge amount of work carried out every day to fix the ship’s latitude and longitude, to the check on the magnetic variation and ‘dip’ and so on.  William Wales, the official astronomer, must have been a  very busy man!

But there’s so much more – in fact ALL the papers accumulated by the Board of Longitude over a period of more than 100 years have been digitised.  Among the crucial developments covered are: the work of the brilliant but irascible watchmaker, John Harrison;  the appearance of Tobias Mayer’s tables of the moon’s motions – which enabled navigators to determine the time (and thereby their longitude) by the ‘lunar distance’ method; and the development of the Nautical Almanac by the great astronomer, Nevil Maskelyne.

Have fun exploring this amazing online archive – and be thankful to the dedicated team who have made it available to us, with a great deal of expert commentary!


2 thoughts on “A wonderful online resource!

  1. Dear David, Time to reply and feedback on your ‘blogs/updates’ or whatever. Firstly, I was driving to Southampton Airport the first Monday in March listening to Radio 4 and lo and behold you came up being interviewed about Sextant – so interesting and well considered answers that I sat in the car and listened to the end of the interviews once I had parked – but still just made the plane on time. Well Done!

    Secondly, I was going to France to see an old girlfriend who was at St. George’s with us – Rosie Duckworth as she then was. She had also heard it, hadn’t realised the connection, and was very surprised – especially as she found it really interesting (I now have to send her a copy) – even though she’s never sailed.

    Thirdly, the chap I’m working for is an academic bibliophile, and as such frequently has highly specialised auction catalogs from all over the world. I found one – Christies on April 10th – the theme : Travel, Science and Natural History. You may or may not know about it, but there is a copy of the minutes of the Courts Martial which Bligh et al had to attend on their final return to the UK, plus his official accounts of the Mutiny and subsequent voyage, Pontings’ photos of the Scott Antarctic Expedition, a first edition of Vancouver’s report on his exploration and survey and the Nootka Convention, Quadrants, Astrolabes, 16th Century maps of the Americas and a great deal more . . . you might find it rather interesting to see (Viewing Days: April 5 – 9th)

    And Finally, I’m now going through ‘Sextant’ for the second time and keep looking at the box on the windowsill which contains my Octant . . . oh, you are so right saying that if you stop practising or using one it becomes increasingly difficult to remember how!

    Best wishes, hope all is going a great success.


  2. Thanks very much Terry. So pleased you enjoyed the book – and the interview! I hope Rosie likes it too. Thanks also for the tip about the auction which certainly sounds interesting. Do get your octant out again! Hope to see you again soon. All the best David

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