John Harrison's genius as a practical engineer was finally recognised in the award of £20,000 despite the academic community doing their best to thwart his success.



Several unfortunate disasters at sea, caused ostensibly by poor navigation, prompted A Petition by sailors that persuaded the British government to create a Board of Longitude, who were empowered to award £20,000 to the first man to solve the navigational problem to develop a means with which longitude could be calculated within half a degree at the end of a voyage to the West Indies.

John Harrison, the son of a carpenter and a mechanic born in March 1693 at Foulby in Yorkshire, became interested in constructing an accurate chronometer in 1728. He was a mechanic and horologist who had constructed several clocks in wood.

Harrison completed his first chronometer in 1735 and submitted it for the prize. He then built three more instruments, each smaller and more accurate than its predecessor. In 1762 Harrison’s famous No. 4 marine chronometer was found to be in error by only five seconds (1 1/4′ longitude) after a voyage to Jamaica.



The H4 prize winning marine chronometer the size of a large pocket watch.


The H4 marine chronometer, as perfected by John Harrison many years before his death in 1776. It was the size of a large pocket watch.



Although his chronometers all met the standards set up by the Board of Longitude, he was not awarded any money until 1763, when he received £5,000, and not until 1773 was he paid in full.


The only feature of his chronometers retained by later manufacturers was a device that keeps the clock running while it is being wound.

John died on March 24 1776 in London. He only received his prize money after petitioning the King, without the intervention of King George III, John would never have been paid - three years before his death.


Why? because academic boards invariably shy away from an obvious solution, forgetting the urgency that triggered the need so that they might pursue a utopian technology dream that might be hundreds of years away, for the sake of conforming.







A collection of beautifully crafted marine chronometers from various makers in London, all in wooden boxes with gimbal mounts. These wonderful instruments provided the solution that sailors all over the world were looking for. They are on display at the London Science Museum and Greenwich Maritime Museum.



Marine chronometer from HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin


SOLUTIONS - The chronometer was vital to the ability to create charts and safely navigate the world. The first chronometers were invented by a carpenter's son: John Harrison.

A Marine Chronometer is a clock that is precise and accurate enough to be used as a portable time standard; it can therefore be used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage is necessary for navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids. The first true chronometer was the work of one man, John Harrison, spanning 31 years of persistent experimentation and testing that revolutionized ocean navigation, so enabling the Age of Discovery to accelerate.

The Board of Longitude, charged with finding a solution to this navigation problem, failed to recognise when they had found what they were looking for. This is a frequent problem for experts who only want to recognise solutions that fit within their understanding of current knowledge - not accepting anything that does not conform. They would rather deny a solution. The marine world thought otherwise, gratefully accepting these timepieces as essential navigation aids. This included the Royal Navy's Captain James Cook (HMS Endeavour, Discovery & Resolution) and Captain Robert Fitzroy (HMS Beagle) 1763-1779.


This gimbaled Marine Chronometer seen above was one on H.M.S. Beagle during its second voyage (1831-1836) with Charles Darwin onboard. It sailed to the coast of South America, across the South Pacific towards the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand and Australia, in order to help establish a chain of reliable navigational co-ordinates around the globe.



SEXTANT - The principle of the sextant was first implemented around 1731 by John Hadley (1682–1744) and Thomas Godfrey (1704–1749). A sextant is a doubly reflecting navigation instrument that measures the angular distance between two visible objects. The primary use of a sextant is to measure the angle between an astronomical object and the horizon for the purposes of celestial navigation.






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