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Etymology:  < Greek χρόνος time + -meter comb. form2. Compare French chronomètre (1701).


 1. Chronometer

 a. An instrument for measuring time; spec. applied to time-keepers adjusted to keep accurate time in all variations of temperature. They differ from watches in having a more perfect escapement and a compensation balance, and are used for determining longitude at sea, and for other exact observation.

Some watches are named half-chronometers.


1714   W. Derham Physico-theol. (ed. 2) i. iv. 28   According to my own Observations made with..a very accurate Pendulum Chronometer.
1780   J. Arnold (title) ,   Account..of a Pocket Chronometer, made on a new construction.
1786   J. Bonnycastle Introd. Astron. 155   Method for finding the longitude of places..by means of a chronometer.
1812   R. Woodhouse Elem. Treat. Astron. viii. 49   The time of the transit is to be marked by a clock or chronometer.
1855   R. W. Emerson Fort. Repub. in Wks. (1906) III. 387   The sailors sail by chronometers that do not lose two or three seconds in a year.



 b. transf. and fig. ‘Time-measurer’.

1836   N. Wiseman 12 Lect. Sci. & Relig. I. vi. 360   Deluc was the first..to observe and collect such data, to which he gave the name of Chronometers.
1872   J. Yeats Techn. Hist. Commerce 190   Sun and stars, whose rising and setting formed the grand chronometer of Nature.


2. Music. An instrument for indicating the time or movement of a composition; a metronome v.

1837   Penny Cycl. VII. 135/2   The musical chronometer is by no means a modern contrivance.



The first section of this article will briefly discuss the Longitude Act and the reasons for its creation in 1714. Two initial proposals for  chronometers to be used to measuring longitude, but not requiring a very accurate timekeeper will be shown. This will be followed by a short explanation of why the ability to measure time accurately at sea is a potential solution to the longitude problem and highlighting the contributions of three world respected mathematicians to the debate. Finally a section will be devoted to the unstinting efforts of John Harrison who designed and manufactured a series of chronometers in his attempt to win the Longitude prize.


 The second section will consider extracts about  chronometers in the eighteenth century from:

          Criminal Trials and Confessions from the Old Bailey,

          The  Burney Collection of Newspapers,

          Eighteenth-Century Journals,

          Historical Texts,    

,         Literature Online

          EN330 texts including the Longitude problem and

          Chronometers on Noah's Arc



1. The Longitude Act


One of the reasons for the introduction of the Longitude Act in 1714 was the shipwreck of four of the navy's ships close to the Isles of Scilly on 22 October 1707. (see the image below) The fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir Cloudisly Shovel were returning from naval operations in the Mediterranean heading for Plymouth when a combination of bad weather, inaccurate charts and moderate navigational skills meant that they were close to the outlying rocks of the Isles of Scilly and not , as they thought, in the safety of the English Channel.  Shovel's flagship the Association struck the Outer Gilstone Rock and sank with the loss of all the crew. The news of his death provoked national mourning and Shovel was buried in Westminster Abbey.   



  Sir Cloudisly Shovel in the Association, Lost on the Rocks of Scilly [Image 1]



Another reason for the Longitude Act was the immense value of the cargoes being shipped around the world. Losses at sea occurred for a variety of reasons other than poor navigational skills and inadequate equipment and it is difficult to extract reliable statistics on the benefits of improving the measurement of longitude. However, some data from Dunn & Higgitt (page 17) gives an indication of the size of the potential losses. In 1695 the East India Company lost five ships to privateers at a cost estimated at 1.5 million pounds. These enormous loses were incurred despite the fact that, according to Samuel Pepys:


     the East Indies masters are the most knowing men in their navigations, as being from the consideration of

     their rich cargoes, and the length of their sailing more careful than others.... E.Chappell (p. 127-128) 


Following the Longitude Act gaining royal assent in 1714 the details of the prize were quickly circulated to the general public, primarily in London, by means of newspaper articles, periodicals and flyers; the following image is a typical abstract. 



A summary of the 1714 Longitude Act  [Image 2]


A summary of the 1714 Longitude Act is in the Dutch National Maritime Museum Amsterdam

 (Het Scheepvaarrtmuseum A.1476(546)) 


An Abstract of the Act of Parliament concerning the Discovery of the Longitude, And other Improvements of Navigation 


The people authorized to vet the applicant's proposals were chosen from high ranking officials in government, the navy, the church,eminent members of society, fellows of the Royal Society.


The following two passages have been extracted from the Cambridge Digital Library on the Longitude Act: 


A) ‘ An Act for Providing a Publick Reward [RGO 14/1:10] for such Person or Persons as shall Discover the Longitude at Sea’ in July 1714. The authors of the Act cited the importance of finding the longitude for the ‘Safety and Quickness of Voyages, the Preservation of Ships and the Lives of Men’, the ‘Trade of Great Britain’ and ‘the Honour of [the] Kingdom’.


B) The Act set up a three-tiered reward system for methods which were deemed successful, with: £10,000 to be given to the inventor of a method which could find the longitude ‘to One Degree of a great Circle, or Sixty Geographical Miles’; £15,000 if the method could find the longitude to two-thirds of that distance; and £20,000 if it found the longitude to half of the same distance. [Longitude Act]


2. Several Proposals to solve the Longitude Problem without a Clock


Shortly after the passing of the Longitude Act (Act 12 Anne C.15) there were several solutions proposed to solve this problem. In a paper of 1714 titled The Longitude Examin’d   Jeremy Thacker described a machine that he believed would be a success. This proposal is important, not because of the technical robustness of the solution, but because he used the term chronometer to describe what would previously have been called a marine timekeeper. The solution he proposed was a 'clock in a vacuum to protect it from external influences.' (Dunn & Higgitt, 73) In the Epistle to his text he claims ‘I have try’d all my Experiments at Land, with defir’d Succefs, and as foon as the Bookfeller has paid me, I’l go to Sea;’ A figure of his invention is on page 16 of his paper and is shown below:

Jeremy Thacker's proposed longitude timekeeper [Image 3]


One year later J.Clarke had published, in London, a book titled The Mercurial Chronometer Improved  in which a ‘Method is humbly propos’d for Meafuring equal TIME with the utmoft Exactnefs; without the Neceffity of being confin’d to Clocks, Watches, or any other HOROLOGICAL MOVEMENTS; in order to difcover the LONGITUDE at SEA.’ The front-piece of his document together with a diagram, page 24 of his text, are shown below which indicates the complexity of his solution.


J. Clarke The Mercurial Chronometer Improved [Image 4]




J. Clarke The Mercurial Thermometer Improved [Image 5] 


3. Theoretical basis for a solution to the Longitude Problem using an accurate Time Piece


     3A)   Gemma Frisius



Gemma Frisius [Image 6]


The possibility of using an accurate timekeeper to measure longitude at sea was first proposed by the Dutch mathematician, Gemma Frisius, in 1530.    

 In 1530 he published his book De Principiis Astronomiae Cosmographicae. The full Latin title of Frisius'  work translates to On the Principles of Astronomy and Cosmography, with Instruction for the Use of Globes, and Information on the World and on Islands and Other Places Recently Discovered. Chapter 19 of this work describes, for the first time, how the longitude of a place may be found using a clock to determine the difference in local and absolute times. He says (see A Pogo, pp. 469-485)):-

... it is with the help of these clocks and the following methods that longitude is found. ... observe exactly the time at the place from which we are making our journey. ... When we have completed a journey ... wait until the hand of our clock exactly touches the point of an hour and, at the same moment by means of an astrolabe... find out the time of the place we now find ourselves. ... In this way I would be able to find the longitude of places, even if I was dragged off unawares across a thousand miles.

Aware of the difficulties of keeping exact time he writes:-

... it must be a very finely made clock which does not vary with change of air.

In a second edition of the work three years later(Frisius) added some notes about finding the longitude at sea, the first time anyone had attacked the problem. It is worth noting that although there were many methods of finding longitude proposed in the 250 years following Gemma Frisius' work, ultimately the methods he proposed were to become the solution to finding the longitude at sea.


     3B) Sir Isaac Newton


In 1714 Sir Isaac Newton was President of the Royal Society and he was involved in advising a parliamentary committee on possible solutions to the Longitude problem. The images shown below are his submissions and they are summarized in Dunn & Higgitt (p 39) as follows:


     One is by a Watch to keep Time exactly. But by reason of the motion of the ship, the variation of heat & cold, & the difference of gravity

     in different Latitudes, such a Watch hath not yet been made.


     Another is by the Eclipses of Jupiter's Satellites. But by the reason of the length of Telescopes requisite to observe them & the motion

     of a ship at sea, those Eclipses cannot yet be there observed.


     A third is by the place of the Moon. But her theory is not yet exact enough for this purpose. It is exact enough to determine her Longitude

     within two or three degrees, but not within one degree.


     A Fourth is Mr Ditton's project.


Newton indicated that the first three methods were potential solutions to the problem of finding Longitude. 'All were a means of carrying or finding a reference time against which to compare observations of local time on board ship.' In respect of the first solution Newton said that two such watches would be needed, and that any watch would have to be checked against astronomical observations. Below are two of Newton's submissions  containing copies of his hand written material.



Sir Isaac Newton Report to the Lords of the Admiralty [Image7]  




Sir Isaac Newton Report to the Lords of the Admiralty [Image 8] 


     3C) Leonhard Euler


The eminent Swiss mathematician and philosopher Leonhard Euler also believed theoretically that a solution to the longitude problem could be achieved by means of an accurate timepiece. During the years 1760 to 1762 he wrote over two hundred letters to  Friederike Charlotte and her younger sister Louise Henriette daughters of Frederick Heinrick von Brandenburg-Schwedt. In Letter XLVIII, image 9 shown below, he describes the 'Second Method of Determining the Longitude by Means of an exact Time-Piece.'  This Letter was written in September 1761 and even at that late date Euler appears still to be supposing that a time-piece with sufficient accuracy has not been invented. He seems to be unaware, or skeptical, of the significant developments that were taking place in England by John Harrison.  



Euler's letter XLVIII to a German Princess [Image 9]



Euler's letter LI to a German Princess [Image 10]


 In Letter LI it is interesting that Euler, like Newton forty years earlier is still a strong advocate of finding longitude by  observing the eclipses of the satellites of Jupiter reinforcing the point made previously about his lack of confidence in the manufacture of a precise timekeeper. In his letter he uses the example of using a (Parasol) to shade us from the sun's rays. 




Cometh the Hour Cometh the Man


Although there were many schemes proposed and reviewed by individual members of the Board of Longitude, little progress on a solution was achieved in the first decade. Eventually, 'a scheme emerged with sufficient credibility for the Commissioners to consider a reward. The game changer was a clockmaker from Lincolnshire.' (Dunn and Higgitt, p 77)  Initially, Harrison and his brother James' grandfather clocks were  constructed almost entirely out of wood, and although they were examples of excellent craftsmanship they were no more accurate than other models. It was not until the middle of the 1720s that Harrison became aware of the Longitude Prize. By this time this had been a hot topic in the Coffee Houses and the literary and social circles of London for more than ten years.   


By this time Harrison had developed clocks with much better time keeping than anything that had been achieved previously and improved reliability. These improvements were achieved by his design of a grasshopper escapement, to reduce friction; use of the tropical hardwood lignum vitae to eliminate the use of oil; and the introduction of the gridiron pendulum, using rods of two different metals so that different rates of expansion would enable the pendulum's effective length to remain constant. (Dunn and Higgitt, p77)


There seems to be some doubt about the timing of Harrison's next move. According to Dunn and Higgitt, Harrison came to London around 1727-28 trying to gain support for his ideas. He met Edmond Halley, the Astronomer Royal, and the famous clockmaker George Graham F.R.S., the latter to be a constant supporter of his efforts to develop a portable clock for use at sea.


Conversely, Quill reports that it was not until 1730 that Harrison made 'probably his first visit' to London. (Quill, p8) In his Monograph, Quill has a copy of the last page of a document, dated June 10, 1730 (see image 11 below) that Harrison took to London in an attempt to secure financial sponsorship. This document includes plans for his "Sea Clock" which he claimed will not vary by more than four or five seconds a month when at sea in a ship. He suggests that this degree of accuracy can be checked by placing some of his long case regulator clocks at key overseas locations.   





Final page of John Harrison's 'Sea Clock' document[Image 11]




Both accounts mention the support offered to Harrison by Graham. However, further research has failed to uncover the nature of this support. If any money was given to Harrison no details are available; the help mentioned in Dunn and Higgitt (p 77)  is confined to advice, introducing him to useful contacts and providing him with access to books to assist in his design and manufacture of his chronometer. With no apparent financial assistance it must have been a struggle for Harrison and his brother to continue with the project.

After 5 or 7 years effort the first Harrison chronometer, H1, was now available to be shown to several members of the Royal Society including Edmund Halley and George Graham.  His chronometer was well received and the members provided him with a certificate validating its accuracy and this resulted in a recommendation that it should be the subject of some sea trials.

In his instructions to the captain of the Centurion, in May 1736, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Charles Wager said:


     The Instrument .... has been approved by all the mathematicians in Town that have seen it, (and few have not) to be the Best that has been made for measuring

     Time; how it will succeed at Sea, you will partly be a Judge.   (Dunn and Higgitt, p 77) See images 12 and 13.. 



Sir Charles Wager letter to Captain Proctor [Image 12]




Captain Procter's reply to Sir Charles Wager [Image 13]


Below is Harrison's H1 chronometer that Captain Proctor thought was attempting the impossible.




Harrison's Chronometer H1 [Image14]



          'H1', is unaffected by the motion of a ship owing to its two interconnected swinging balances. It compensates for changes in temperature and thanks to extensive anti-friction devices, runs without any lubrication. It was the first relatively successful marine timekeeper of any kind and it is one of the great milestones in clock-making history.

          It is large almost three feet high, wide and deep. It has over 1440 parts.


          The dials are arranged as follows:               minutes                       hours




Although the trial was a reasonable success, Harrison was not entirely satisfied. The sea trial initiated a meeting of the Commissioners to review the results and they approved a payment of 500 pounds to be paid in two equal installments on the understanding that Harrison would produce an improved prototype in the next two years.  

Harrison's second model, H2, is shown below.  Made between 1737 and 1739, this is a larger and more solidly built version of H1 with the additional refinement of a remontoire - a device to ensure that the drive to the two balances is as uniform as possible. It is probable that Harrison, who had moved to London by this time, had some help in making parts of H2. Because he discovered a design fault with its balances, Harrison never allowed H2 to be tested at sea. It is interesting to note that H2 was made for his majesty George The IInd. Nothing in the research has mentioned George II being involved at any stage in the process.



Harrison's Chronometer H2 [Image15]


Harrison was not downhearted by this set back and he set to work on his next chronometer - H3. Short of funds in 1741 he turned again to the Royal Society for their support. In their testimonial it was their opinion '....that Mr. Harrison's machines, even in their present Degree of Exactness, will be of great and Excellent Use; as well for determining the Longitude at Sea.' (Quill, p12)  This endorsement persuaded the Commissioners to grant him a further 500 pounds to continue development work.  He had by this time gained the respect of other makers of scientific equipment who were recognized throughout the world for their excellent craftsmanship.  


Unfortunately H3 suffered the same fate as his previous two attempts. The literature suggests that he spent the next 17-19 years on this project without solving the longitude problem. An image of H3 is shown below.


Harrison's Chronometer H3 [Image16]



However, in 1749 Harrison was awarded the Copley Medal, the Royal Society's most prestigious award 'On account of those very curious instruments, invented and made by him, for the exact mensuration of time.' (Copley) The medal is awarded annually for outstanding achievements in any branch of science.  Image 17 below shows the Royal Society's Copley Medal.





The Copley Medal awarded to John Harrison I 1749 [Image 17]




Around the time of his sixtieth birthday, in 1753, Harrison was thinking about a radical departure in design from his previous three efforts. Rather than the large clocks he had previously designed he experimented with a large pocket watch with a radically new type of balance and a mechanism to regulate changes in temperature. Before he manufactured his new chronometer, H4, he departed from his independent mode of working and asked a competent clockmaker, John Jefferys  to manufacture this watch based on his design.


In the portrait shown below, John Harrison is sitting with his watch in his hand and behind him on the left is an image of H3 and on the right a long case regulator that he manufactured.





John Harrison by Thomas King c.1765-66 [Image 18]



An image of his fourth chronometer , H4,is presented below. Its diameter is just over 5 inches which is approximately the size shown.



John and William Harrison's Marine Timekeeper [Image 19] 






The success of Harrison's design concept  was validated when Captain James Cook took a chronometer of his design, but manufactured by Larcum Kendall,K1, on his voyage to the South Seas in his ship Resolution. The measurement of longitude on the voyage was an outstanding success.


Larcum Kendal Marine Timekeeper K1 [Image 20]


Harrison had one final successful attempt at designing  a new chronometer,H5 (see image 21 below). Because of his constant battle with the Board of Longitude to secure the total prize money that he believed he was due, he decided to try and secure the backing of the king, George III. He wrote to the king's private astronomer, Stephen Demainbury, who was in charge of the observatory at Kew and asked if a private trial of his instrument could be performed. Harrison was delighted to learn that the king was to be involved in the trial which was conducted over a ten week period between 19 May and 29 July, 1772.  Again there seems to be some discrepancy between the two sources. Quill (p19)  notes that the chronometer had gained only 4.5 seconds in the ten weeks whilst,  in Dunn and Higgitt (p 121), the difference is less than a third of a second per day. The outcome of this backing from the king was that Harrison was awarded 8750 pounds 'for the great benefit he had conferred to Trade and Navigation.' (Quill, p19)      



John Harrison's Marine Timekeeper H5 [Image 21]


The interlinking of the story of the invention of the chronometer, the man with unlimited determination to succeed and a government sponsored Longitude prize gives some interesting insights into eighteenth century England. Shipping was extremely important to the wealth creation of the nation and its desire to expand its colonial base. As a result of lobbying the Longitude Act was passed in 1714 with a enormous prize of 20000 pounds for the person who produced a credible method of measuring longitude at sea. This is an early example of state sponsorship to solve a very difficult technical problem.

The initial action is London centered and an extraordinary number of schemes, mainly unworkable, were suggested. The gossip in the Coffee Houses was one of the means of circulating the latest news in addition to leaflets, pamphlets and books on the subject. Inevitably this generates a degree of satirical comments and several examples of this will be discussed later.   

It is almost fifteen years later before John Harrison becomes aware of the prize, reflecting the remoteness of most areas of the country and the inadequate means of communication at that time. In 1730 he comes to London with his idea for a 'Sea Clock.' As with most inventions the science supporting the idea predates the practical solution and his idea gains some credibility with some members of the Royal Society. However, except for support from George Graham, a famous clockmaker, he returns home with little financial support to work on his first chronometer. With the size of the prize offered by the state, the poor state of navigational methods leading to lost of life and trade and the endorsement of the most famous scientific body in the country, and probably the world, you might have expected him to return with a reasonable level of sponsorship.   

By any objective measure John Harrison was a very successful 'self made' man. From humble beginnings he died rich with contacts right up to the monarch George III. However, in all the research undertaken no evidence was found to suggest he was a typical entrepreneur. No visits to the Royal Exchange are mentioned where possible funds to support his enterprise might have been raised. His circle of friends and associates seem to have been prominent scientists and fellow clock / watch makers but no one willing to support his venture with some risk capital. The association of madness and the seemingly impossible task of solving the longitude problem are famously depicted in Hogarth's Plate VIII from A Rake's Progress. (see image 22 below) One of the inmates is sketching on the wall which shows a globe of the world with lines of longitude and latitude. It is possible that this negative image deterred some potential investors.  

Even when he secures the patronage of the monarch there is no attempt to use this prestigious commendation to set up a manufacturing facility to produce chronometers in larger quantities enabling the price to fall. This move was left to  John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw to develop  growth in the business. This is highlighted in some of the extracts from the 17th and 18th Burney Collection Newspapers discussed below. 

Harrison seemed content with the prestige of knowing that he solved one of the greatest technical problems of the eighteenth century.    




Plate VIII of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress [Image 22] 


5)  Criminal Trials and Confesstions from the Old Bailey


The first time chronometer is mentioned in the proceedings of the Old Bailey is in the trial of Jonathan Layton in January 1796. From the following extract from a transcript of the trial it is clear that there is some confusion about what to call the object in question.   


Q. What is the name by which it is called? - A. A  chronometer, or a time-keeper.

Q. Is there a distinct name for it? - A. It is generally called a small  chronometer.

Q. Has it any other name? - A. No; it is a small  chronometer.

Q. Suppose you were to order any person to bring it to you, what would you call it? - A. A small  chronometer, I should call it.

Mr. Knapp. Q. Did you ever hear it called a time-piece? - A. Yes; I have heard it called either the one or the other.

Court. Q. Look at it again? - A. This is the  chronometer that was taken from the Rockingham, it is the same number.


Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 04 March 2015), January 1796, trial of JONATHAN LAYTON (t17960113-33).


However, by the time of the trial of George Hall in December 1826 it is clear that a better understanding exists of what a chronometer is and its important function in determining longitude at sea. The extract is as follows: 


On Monday, the 6th of November, I received information from the housekeeper, and upon searching the house, missed a  chronometer, which had been kept in a drawer in my bed-room, with my confidential papers - the drawer was locked as usual - I missed nothing else; the box of the  chronometer was left; it is worth fifty guineas; it was made on purpose for me - I had not been to the drawer for a month, therefore had not seen it for that time - I am certain the one produced is the same; I have had it ten years, as a Captain in the Navy, to ascertain the longitude; I know the number and the maker's name, Earnshaw - the key which is now to it is mine, but not the ribbon.


Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 04 March 2015), December 1826, trial of GEORGE HALL (t18261207-25).


Up until December 1830 there were only nine cases at the Old Bailey where the crimes include stealing chronometers. Prices are available for eight of these chronometers with a range between 10l to 65l and an average price of 35l. Nine defendants were found guilty and six of them were sentenced to death, two were found not guilty and two were sentenced to transportation. The youngest person was George Hall who was sentenced to death on 7 December 1826 aged 18 years. The value of the chronometer in this case was 50l.


In contrast to the above statistics, for the first three decades of the nineteenth century the number of Old Bailey trials that involved stolen silver watches was 345 and stolen gold watches was 100. (Styles, p343) Compared to watches, chronometers are still quite rare commodities in the early part of the nineteenth century.  


6) Burney Collection of Newspapers 


The first time chronometer is mentioned in the Newspaper collection is not until  August 1777 in the Daily Advertiser. A small advert for THE

UNIVERSAL MAGAZINE of Knowledge and Pleasure includes a representation of a new Lamp Chronometer.

In January 1782 the London Evening Post reported that a letter was published, price 2s. 6d., to the Honourable Commissioners of the Board of Longitude containing information on the accounts given of a new pendulum clock set up at the Elector of Palatine's observatory at Manheim and of a pocket chronometer at Greenwich. Both instruments were made by Mr. John Arnold.

In the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser of 24 January 1785 the following advert was displayed -
' The Chronometer, or Musical Time Beater, is an instrument which has long been wanting to ascertain and measure accurately the different beats, or portions of time into which musical compositions are divided, and the great utility of such an invention in assisting and enabling young practitioners in that science to play in time, cannot be doubted. The Chronometer has met the general approbation of the most eminent professors of music, and many other gentlemen who have been pleased to inspect it;
The Chronometer will be neatly finished in a small compass, so as to stand upon a harpsichord, pianoforte,  and be portable in the pocket. The price [of the Chronometer] will be from three to five guineas and upwards, according to the elegance of the finishing, agreeable to the desire of the subscriber.'
It is interesting to note the conditions relating to the purchase of the Chronometer. A deposit of one half of the purchase price is required at the point of raising the order; the remaining half to be paid on delivery of the Chronometer. In addition, the Chronometers will be delivered to subscribers consistent with the time when the order was received but no deliveries will be made until at least one hundred orders have been received. The inventor of this instrument was a Mr. W. Pridgin, a Watch-maker from York.

John Arnold was one of the first and best designers of chronometers and between 1780 and 1782  a variety of newspapers report on some of his models. A pocket Chronometer is mentioned and an account of its workings is published with the permission of the Board of Longitude.

A Mr. Edward Everard compiles a daily comparison with his regulator and is very complementary on the chronometer's performance whilst he travels on horseback or in a post chaise.

In 1792 the Morning Chronicle reports that a Chronometer was to be sold at auction as part of a selection of very sophisticated astronomical machines. It is clamed that this chronometer only finishes a perfect Revolution in 8000 years. 

The  Whitehall Evening Post included a report of a case heard at the Court of the King's Bench on the 14 February 1797 where a Mr. Keane, silversmith, of 135 Fleet Street acquired a pocket chronometer in exchange for a gold watch, valued at 18 guineas, and a sum of 30 guineas.

The client asked for 10 guineas more but this request was declined. It was subsequently established that the chronometer was stolen and this fact probably persuaded the customer to accept the lower sum. Mr. Keane subsequently sold the chronometer to a Mr. Molesworth for 75 guineas. The large difference in price between the gold watch and the chronometer indicates that only those with substantial means would be able to own such an item.      

By May 1799 the chronometer has become a desirable item. The Courier and Evening Gazette report that the Duke of Gotha has four English chronometers by Arnold, Emery, Mudge and one other. Major von Zach has one by Emery. A comparison was made with pendulum clocks which proved that they were all fit to be used  to determine longitude.

By the early nineteenth century the ownership of a chronometer as a status symbol seems secure. On Friday November 21, 1800 the Sun reports that a gold chronometer is to be included in an auction sale to be  held by Mr. Harry Phillips at the Great Room in his premises in New Bond Street. The catalogue states that all the items are the property of a NOBLEMAN and have been removed from his Mansion in the vicinity of Portland Place.


Burney Collection of Newspapers OnLine (http://find.galegroup.com/bncn/start.do?prodid=BBCN&userGROUPNAME=warwick)



7) Eighteenth  Century Journals


The following is a selection of information extracted from the Eighteenth Century Journals. The interesting information relates to sales in India  which include chronometers. Interesting, all the records are from India with no records from the Caribbean or North America.


1. Calcutta Gazette 1792

Dring, Rothman, and Co. Beg leave to inform the Public, that they are receiving for Sale on Commission

The Investments of Europe Goods brought out by

Captain Applegarth of the Europa;

Mr. J Lambe, Second Officer of the Valentine; and

Mr. W. Rutherford, Chief Officer of the Melville Castle consisting of .....

A gold Chronometer


2. Calcutta Gazette 1792

To be sold by Public Auction by Dring, Rothman & Co.

The Effects of the Late Mr. Reuben Burrow, Mathematician, Consisting, among other things

A Chronometer, by Arnold

A gold Pocket Time-Piece, by ditto,


3. Bombay Courier 1798

On Wednesday, the 25th instant, at Twelve o'clock, will be raffled for

A Box Chronometer by Earnshaw,

Chosen from three, compared Three Months at Greenwich 


4. Bombay Courier 1797

For Sale, At the Commission Warehouse, No. 19, Meadows' Street, By L. Jaques

a Capital Chronometer, by Smith, at 450Rupees


Eighteenth-Century Journals ( http://0-www.18thcjournals.amdigital.co.uk.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/index.aspx)


8) Literature OnLine


In Literature Online, chronometer is only mentioned once in the eighteenth century. The following quote is from a 1779 comedy by Hannah Cowley titled 'Who's the Dupe? A FARCE As it is acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane'


....In which I have formed a new Chronometer, to prove that Confucius and Zoroaster were the same persons, ..... and that the pyramids are not so ancient, by two hundred years, as the world believes.

The character that speaks the line is a scholar, Gradus. Cowley seems to be using him to satirize pointless learning. Here, the chronometer is connected to obscure scholarship and theories of time which is clearly outside the scope of any chronometer. The quotation points to suggestions that an eighteenth century audience might see something strange about the development of the chronometer and the science on which it depends.

It is necessary to go beyond the end of the long eighteenth century to find  initial references to chronometers in literature. In the decade 1830-1840 there are five prose entries and three of them are discussed below.


The first is from Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allan Poe where;


     Punctually every sixty minutes was I aroused by my trusty chronometer.


The second is from Inklings of Adventure by Nathaniel Parker Willis, which describes:


     A bulge just over his  lowest rib gave token of the ship's chronometer, and, in obedience to the new fashion of a guard, a fine chain  of      the softest auburn hair---(doubtless his wife's, and, I would have wagered my passage money, as pretty a woman as he would seen in      v'yage,) a chain, I say,  braided of silken blond ringlets passed around his neck, and drew its glossy line over his broad-breasted white       (waistcoat)---the dew drop on the lion's mane not more  entitled to be astonished.


And thirdly, a sentence from Catherine  by William Makepeace Thackeray:


     As you wind up a hundred-guinea chronometer with a twopenny watch-key ---as by means of a dirty wooden plug you set all the waters      of Versailles a raging, and splashing, and storming--- in like manner, and by like humble agents, were Mrs. Catherine's tumultuous      passions set going.


The three quotes offer an interesting picture of how the chronometer has been integrated into the lives of citizens in the middle of the nineteenth century. The obsessive behavior of the character in Poe's tale mirrors, in a way, the hourly details offered in  Thomas Legg's Low-Life. Also the chronometer is a trusted device giving precise information every hour. The value of these items is high but it is ironic that it needs winding and that can be achieved by a cheap watch-key.

Finally, the chronometer's place as a navigational tool seems secure. The seaman keeps it with him at all times, perhaps to minimize the risk of theft. Also, he has it attached to a chain of his wife's hair and  placed in a pocket of his white waistcoat in line with the latest fashion.  


9) EN330 Quotes on Longitude


None of the texts studied in the Eighteenth Century Literature Module mentioned chronometers direct. Two texts include some reference to the Longitude problem and from that it is possible to gain some insight into the public attitude on the feasibility of a solution using a very accurate time piece.

In Dunn & Higgitt, page 76, the following passage from Gulliver’s Travels is cited: ‘I should then see the Discovery of the Longitude, the perpetual Motion, the Universal Medicine, and many other great Inventions brought to the utmost Perfection.’ (Swift, p 196)  In order for Gulliver to see these inventions he would have ‘to come into the World a Struldbrug.’(i.e. immortal) This statement from Gulliver suggests that the Longitude problem is as intractable as perpetual motion and the search for ‘the elixir of life which would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely.’ (Swift,p 338) It seems that Swift, like many of the influencial members of society thought that the project was, if not insoluble, then very difficult and thus any investment would be a risk.


The other reference is from the play by Susanna Centivre A Bold Stroke for a Wife. In act III scene i, the Colonel and Periwinkle are discussing women and the colonel insists that it is only for the benefit of mankind that he will have any dealings with them. When pressed to declare the benefits he says that the lady in question


is to bear me a son, who shall restore the art of embalming and the old Roman manner of burying their dead, and, for the benefit of posterity, he is to discover the longitude, so long sought for in vain.  


This is another example of the insignificant value placed on solving the longitude problem. It is only, in the colonel's eyes equivalent to returning to the old way the Roman’s embalm and bury their dead.


10)  Chronometer on Noah's Arc


In Chapter XII titled Of the Menfuration of Time within the Ark, of Butler's Bibliotheca Biblia it is suggested, that Noah would have need of some kind of chronometer to understand his location because he would not have been able observe the heavens. The supposition is that Noah must have been as good a Mathematician and Astronomer as any that now claim that profession at the time of writing his thesis. Also, Noah ‘muft have had neffisarily a Chronometer of one Kind or other, which did exactly anfwer to the Motions of the Heavens.'

 Another interesting quote is ‘ though indeed the invention of moft of our prefent Horological machines, and particularly of the Pendulum-Watch (the moft exact Corrector of Time) be very Modern; yet it does not hence follow, but that the fame or other equivalent Pieces of Art might in the former Ages have been perfectly know to fome Great Men.  And as for Pendulums to Watch-work, should Mr. Hugens be the Inventor of them in thefe parts of the World, or any Other, yet more than probable it is there was a Pendulum-Clock made many years before at Florence, by the direction of the Great Galileo;' This logic traces back through centuries mentioning all the great mathematicians and astronomers and concluding that Noah would have the assistance of a chronometer of some description.

Perhaps Harrison was not the first person to invent a very accurate sea clock.


11) Annotated Bibliography



Centilivre, Susanna.  A Bold Stroke for a Wife: From: The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth-Century Drama,

                                                                             gen. ed. J. Douglas Canfield (Peterborough, Ont: Broadview,2001) Print               

            The passage from the play is consistent with the lack of value placed in women. The colonel will only be involved with women for the           purpose of procreation. He has no feelings for the woman as a person. Should she present him with a son he seems dismissive of the           role he will play in advancing human knowledge.  


Cowley Hannah. Who's the Dupe? A FARCE: As it is Acted at the THEATRE-ROYAL IN DRURY-LANE.

                                   1769 Literature OnLine. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015

          I  found the reference to chronometers in the text difficult to understand and I needed to ask for some clarification of the context of the           quote. It seems to reinforce the skeptical attitude of the public to new technologies. 




Dunn Richard & Rebekah Higgit. Ships, Clocks & Stars The Quest for Longitude: Glasgow, HarperCollins, 2014. Print

          An excellent book published in conjunction with the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum titled Ships, Clocks & Stars:

          THE QUEST for LONGITUDE exhibition. I would like to return to the exhibition now that I have spent some time researching the


Legg, Thomas.  Low-life: or One Half of the World,  Knows not how The Other Half Live: London, printed for John Lever, 1764.Print

               I found this book problematical. Sometimes it was interesting to trace the events as they unfolded during the night and day.

             On other occasions I found the text very repetitive. 


Parker, Samuel. Bibliotheca Biblica being a Commentary Upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament:

                            Oxford, printer at the Theatre for William and John Innys, 1720-1735 Historical Texts. Web Thurs. 12 Mar 2015.

          The very small section of this book that I read  relating to chronometers was fascinating. The author  had a genuine belief that Noah

           had the capability to navigate the sea better than the methods available at the time he wrote the text. Faith clearly played a very strong           part in his life. Also he was very informed about the great scientists of the past and had faith in their capabilities


Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, volume 2 (1840)  Literature OnLine. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.

          Interesting comment on using a chronometer as an alarm clock. I suspect that was not the direction that Harrison expected for his           invention.



Quill H. John Harrison Copley Medallist and the 20,000 pounds Longitude Prize: Wadhurst, The Antiquarian Horological                Society, 1976. Print

          A very interesting monologue published to commemorate the bicentenary of John Harrison's death on 24 March 1776. It is full of           interesting facts about his inventions, struggles and his ultimate triumph in solving the problem of  measuring longitude at sea.


Styles, John. The Dress of the People:  London, Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

             Another interesting book about all aspects of dress in the eighteenth century. The big disappointment was that the section on                           watches / time was quite small. 


Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’sTravels: Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

          For the first time I was able  to concentrate on one aspect of the eighteenth century attitude to science expressed by Gulliver. It seems           that Swift was an interested observer with a healthy skeptical attitude to modern advances due to science.


Thackeray, William Makepeace. Catherine (1839) Literature OnLine. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.

          It seems to be left to Thackeray to provide an insight to the value of these items - one hundred guineas. I think there was a slight           degree of irony in his comment that the chronometer could be wound up by a twopenny watch key.



Willis, Nathaniel Parker.  Inklings of Adventure, Volume 2 (1836) Literature OnLine. Web 8 Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.

          The description of the guard on the ship with his chronometer attached by a chain of his wife's hair, and in his pocket,  was a special           moment. It signified the acceptance of chronometers as a means of navigation as Harrison predicted. Also, it signaled the fashion of           carrying the chronometer in a pocket of a waistcoat.  




12) Secondary Sources


E Chappell (ed.) The Tangier Papers of Samuel Pepys. London, 1935 Print.

          This text was not accessed but the content was used from the primary source. 


A Pogo, Gemma Frisius, his method of determining longitude, Isis 22 (1935), i-xix, 469-485. Print.

          This source was quoted in the prime source but not accessed.


13) Images


1) Sir Cloudisly Shovel in the Association with the Eagle, Rumney and the Firebrand, Lost on the Rocks of Scilly, October22, 1707

                          (NMM PAH0710) London National Maritime Museum.  Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.



2) Dunn, Richard & Rebekah Higgit. Ships, Clocks & Stars The Quest for Longitude: p68 Photograph Wed 11 Mar. 2015.


3) Jeremy Thacker. The Longitude Examin'd London,1714.  Historical Texts. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


4) J. Clarke The Mercurial Chronometer Improved  London, 1714. Historical Texts. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


5) J. Clarke The Mercurial Chronometer Improved London, 1714. Historical Texts. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


6) O'Connor, J and Robertson, Gemma Frisius St Andrews 2002 Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


7) Sir Isaac Newton. Report to the Lords of the Admiralty on the Different Projects for Determining the Longitude at Sea,

                                    Cambridge,  Newton Papers. Web Sun 8 Mar. 2015.


8) Sir Isaac Newton. Report to the Lords of the Admiralty on the Different Projects for Determining the Longitude at Sea,

                                   Cambridge,  Newton Papers. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


9)  Hunter, Henry. Letters of Euler on Different Subjects in Physics and Philosophy addressed to a German Princess:

                               London, Murray and Highley, 1802. Web Wed. 11 Mar 2015.


10)  Hunter, Henry. Letters of Euler on Different Subjects in Physics and Philosophy addressed to a German Princess:

                               London, Murray and Highley, 1802. Web Wed. 11 Mar 2015.


11) John Harrison1693-1776 , Clockmaker's company, Guildhall : MS 6026/1 Photograph Wed. 11 Mar. 2015. 

Great Britain: Eighteenth Century: Private Papers John Harrison1693-1776 , Clockmaker's company, Guildhall : MS 6026/1 (East Ardsley: Micro Methods, [n.d.]). Call Number: [microfilm] 3359 Notes: Issued by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers Abstract: Untitled manuscript of the original design for the grid iron pendulum sea clock (longitude) by John Harrison, June 10 1730. Warwick Archive.


12) John Harrison. An account of the Proceedings, in Order to the Discovery of the Longitude  London,1763 p.17  Historical Texts. Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.


13) John Harrison. An account of the Proceedings, in Order to the Discovery of the Longitude  London,1763 p.17  Historical Texts. Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.


14) John Harrison's Chronometer H1 1735 (NMM/MoD ZAA0034) London National Maritime Museum.  Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.


15) John Harrison's Chronometer H2 1737-39 (NMM/MoD ZAA0035) London  National Maritime Museum. Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.


16) John Harrison's Chronometer H3 1740-1759 (NMM/MoD ZAA0036) London National Maritime Museum. Web Sun.8 Mar 2015.


17) Copley Medal (NMM ZBA2361) London  National Maritime Museum.  Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015.


18) John Harrison's portrait in oils painted by Thomas King c1766 Photograph  Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


19) John and William Harrison's Chronometer H4 1755-1759 (NMM/MoD ZAA0037) London National Maritime Museum. 

          Web Sun. 8 Mar 2015. 


20) Larcum Kendal's Chronometer K1 1769 (NMM/MoD ZAA0038) London National Maritime Museum. Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


21) John Harrison's Chronometer H5 1770 Racklever at en.wikipedia Photograph Web Sun. 8 Mar. 2015.


22) Hogarth, William. via Wikimedia Commons.  A Rake's Progress 1735 (printed) Photograph Web Thurs. 12 Mar 2015.  



Comments (3)

Thomas William Johnston said

at 8:18 pm on Jan 1, 2015

According to the OED a Chronometer is - An instrument for measuring time; specially applied to time-keepers adjusted to keep accurate time in all variations of temperature. They [chronometers] ..... are used for determining longitude at sea, and for other exact observation.

Thomas William Johnston said

at 8:59 pm on Jan 1, 2015

This term was first used by Jeremy Thacker in 1714. Chronometers are also known as longitude watches, sea-watches and time keepers.

The first section of this article will concentrate on the development of the Chronometer as a method of measuring longitude and John Harrison's efforts to secure the Longitude prize. This will be followed by discussions on extracts on chronometers from Criminal Trials and Confessions from the Old Bailey, the Burney Collection Newspapers, Eighteenth-Century Journals and Empire Online.

In the 'Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser' of 24 January 1785 the following advert was displayed -
' The Chronometer, or Musical Time Beater, is an instrument which has long been wanting

Thomas William Johnston said

at 12:38 am on Jan 2, 2015

to ascertain and measure accurately the different beats, or portions of time into which musical compositions are divided, and the great utility of such an invention in assisting and enabling young practitioners in that science to play in time, cannot be doubted. The Chronometer has met the general approbation of the most eminent professors of music, and many other gentlemen who have been pleased to inspect it;
The Chronometer will be neatly finished in a small compass, so as to stand upon a harpsichord piano-forte, etc and be portable in the pocket.
The price [of the Chronometer] will be from three to five guineas and upwards, according to the elegance of the finishing, agreeable to the desire of the subscriber.'
It is interesting to note the conditions relating to the purchase of the Chronometer. A deposit of one half of the purchase price is require at the point of raising the order; the remaining half to be paid on delivery of the Chronometer.
In addition, the Chronometers will be delivered to subscribers consistent with the time when the order was received but no deliveries will be made until at least one hundred orders have been received.
The inventor of this instrument was a Mr. W. Pridgin, a Watch-maker from York.

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