Men of Invention and Industry/Chapter III

Men of Invention and Industry
by Samuel Smiles
(Chapter III:[1] John Harrison: Inventor of the Marine Chronometer)
29594Men of Invention and Industry — (Chapter III:[1] John Harrison: Inventor of the Marine Chronometer)Samuel Smiles

No man knows who invented the mariner's compass, or who first hollowed out a canoe from a log. The power to observe accurately the sun, moon, and planets, so as to fix a vessel's actual position when far out of sight of land, enabling long voyages to be safely made; the marvellous improvements in ship-building, which shortened passages by sailing vessels, and vastly reduced freights even before steam gave an independent force to the carrier — each and all were done by small advances, which together contributed to the general movement of mankind.... Each owes all to the others. The forgotten inventors live for ever in the usefulness of the work they have done and the progress they have striven for." — H. M. Hyndman.

One of the most extraordinary things connected with Applied Science is the method by which the Navigator is enabled to find the exact spot of sea on which his ship rides. There may be nothing but water and sky within his view; he may be in the midst of the ocean, or gradually nearing the land; the curvature of the globe baffles the search of his telescope; but if he have a correct chronometer, and can make an astronomical observation, he may readily ascertain his longitude, and know his approximate position — how far he is from home, as well as from his intended destination. He is even enabled, at some special place, to send down his grappling-irons into the sea, and pick up an electrical cable for examination and repair.

This is the result of a knowledge of Practical Astronomy. "Place an astronomer," says Mr. Newcomb, "on board a ship; blindfold him; carry him by any route to any ocean on the globe, whether under the tropics or in one of the frigid zones; land him on the wildest rock that can be found; remove his bandage, and give him a chronometer regulated to Greenwich or Washington time, a transit instrument with the proper appliances, and the necessary books and tables, and in a single clear night he can tell his position within a hundred yards by observations of the stars. This, from a utilitarian point of view, is one of the most important operations of Practical Astronomy." [2]

The Marine Chronometer was the outcome of the crying want of the sixteenth century for an instrument that should assist the navigator to find his longitude on the pathless ocean. Spain was then the principal naval power; she was the most potent monarchy in Europe, and held half America under her sway. Philip III. offered 100,000 crowns for any discovery by means of which the longitude might be determined by a better method than by the log, which was found very defective. Holland next became a great naval power, and followed the example of Spain in offering 30,000 florins for a similar discovery. But though some efforts were made, nothing practical was done, principally through the defective state of astronomical instruments. England succeeded Spain and Holland as a naval power; and when Charles II. established the Greenwich Observatory, it was made a special point that Flamsteed, the Astronomer-Royal, should direct his best energies to the perfecting of a method for finding the longitude by astronomical observations. But though Flamsteed, together with Halley and Newton, made some progress, they were prevented from obtaining ultimate success by the want of efficient chronometers and the defective nature of astronomical instruments.

Nothing was done until the reign of Queen Anne, when a petition was presented to the Legislature on the 25th of May, 1714, by "several captains of Her Majesty's ships, merchants in London, and commanders of merchantmen, in behalf of themselves, and of all others concerned in the navigation of Great Britain," setting forth the importance of the accurate discovery of the longitude, and the inconvenience and danger to which ships were subjected from the want of some suitable method of discovering it. The petition was referred to a committee, which took evidence on the subject. It appears that Sir Isaac Newton, with his extraordinary sagacity, hit the mark in his report. "One is," he said, "by a watch to keep time exactly; but, by reason of the motion of a ship, and the variation of heat and cold, wet and dry, and the difference of gravity in different latitudes, such a watch hath not yet been made."

An Act was however passed in the Session of 1714, offering a very large public reward to inventors: 10,000L. to any one who should discover a method of determining the longitude to one degree of a great circle, or 60 geographical miles; 15,000L. if it determined the same to two-thirds of that distance, or 40 geographical miles; and 20,000L. if it determined the same to one-half of the same distance, or 30 geographical miles. Commissioners were appointed by the same Act, who were instructed that "one moiety or half part of such reward shall be due and paid when the said commissioners, or the major part of them, do agree that any such method extends to the security of ships within 80 geographical miles of the shore, which are places of the greatest danger; and the other moiety or half part when a ship, by the appointment of the said commissioners, or the major part of them, shall actually sail over the ocean, from Great Britain to any such port in the West Indies as those commissioners, or the major part of them, shall choose or nominate for the experiment, without losing the longitude beyond the limits before mentioned."

The terms of this offer indicate how great must have been the risk and inconvenience which it was desired to remedy. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable that a reward so great could be held out for a method which would merely afford security within eighty geographical miles!

This splendid reward for a method of discovering the longitude was offered to the world — to inventors and scientific men of all countries — without restriction of race, or nation, or language. As might naturally be expected, the prospect of obtaining it stimulated many ingenious men to make suggestions and contrive experiments; but for many years the successful construction of a marine time-keeper seemed almost hopeless. At length, to the surprise of every one, the prize was won by a village carpenter — a person of no school, or university, or college whatever.

Even so distinguished an artist and philosopher as Sir Christopher Wren was engaged, as late in his life as the year 1720, in attempting to solve this important problem. As has been observed, in the memoir of him contained in the 'Biographia Britannica,'[3] "This noble invention, like some others of the most useful ones to human life, seems to be reserved for the peculiar glory of an ordinary mechanic, who, by indefatigable industry, under the guidance of no ordinary sagacity, hath seemingly at last surmounted all difficulties, and brought it to a most unexpected degree of perfection." Where learning and science failed, natural genius seems to have triumphed.

The truth is, that the great mechanic, like the great poet, is born, not made; and John Harrison, the winner of the famous prize, was a born mechanic. He did not, however, accomplish his object without the exercise of the greatest skill, patience, and perseverance. His efforts were long, laborious, and sometimes apparently hopeless. Indeed, his life, so far as we can ascertain the facts, affords one of the finest examples of difficulties encountered and triumphantly overcome, and of undaunted perseverance eventually crowned by success, which is to be found in the whole range of biography.

No complete narrative of Harrison's career was ever written. Only a short notice of him appears in the 'Biographia Britannica,' published in 1766, during his lifetime' — the facts of which were obtained from himself. A few notices of him appear in the 'Annual Register,' also published during his lifetime. The final notice appeared in the volume published in 1777, the year after his death. No Life of him has since appeared. Had he been a destructive hero, and fought battles by land or sea, we should have had biographies of him without end. But he pursued a more peaceful and industrious course. His discovery conferred an incalculable advantage on navigation, and enabled innumerable lives to be saved at sea; it also added to the domains of science by its more exact measurement of time. But his memory has been suffered to pass silently away, without any record being left for the benefit and advantage of those who have succeeded him. The following memoir includes nearly all that is known of the life and labours of John Harrison.

He was born at Foulby, in the parish of Wragby, near Pontefract, Yorkshire, in March, 1693. His father, Henry Harrison, was carpenter and joiner to Sir Rowland Winn, owner of the Nostell Priory estate. The present house was built by the baronet on the site of the ancient priory. Henry Harrison was a sort of retainer of the family, and long continued in their Service.

Little is known of the boy's education. It was certainly of a very inferior description. Like George Stephenson, Harrison always had a great difficulty in making himself understood, either by speech or writing. Indeed, every board-school boy now receives a better education than John Harrison did a hundred and eighty years ago. But education does not altogether come by reading and writing. The boy was possessed of vigorous natural abilities. He was especially attracted by every machine that moved upon wheels. The boy was 'father to the man.' When six years old, and lying sick of small-pox, a going watch was placed upon his pillow, which afforded him infinite delight.

When seven years old he was taken by his father to Barrow, near Barton-on-Humber, where Sir Rowland Winn had another residence and estate. Henry Harrison was still acting as the baronet's carpenter and joiner. In course of time young Harrison joined his father in the workshop, and proved of great use to him. His opportunities for acquiring knowledge were still very few, but he applied his powers of observation and his workmanship upon the things which were nearest him. He worked in wood, and to wood he first turned his attention.

He was still fond of machines going upon wheels. He had enjoyed the sight of the big watch going upon brass wheels when he was a boy; but, now that he was a workman in wood, he proposed to make an eight-day clock, with wheels of this material. He made the clock in 1713, when he was twenty years old,[4]so that he must have made diligent use of his opportunities. He had of course difficulties to encounter, and nothing can be accomplished without them; for it is difficulties that train the habits of application and perseverance. But he succeeded in making an effective clock, which counted the time with regularity. This clock is still in existence. It is to be seen at the Museum of Patents, South Kensington; and when we visited it a few months ago it was going, and still marking the moments as they passed. It is contained in a case about six feet high, with a glass front, showing a pendulum and two weights. Over the clock is the following inscription:

"This clock was made at Barrow, Lincolnshire, in the year 1715, by John Harrison, celebrated as the inventor of a nautical timepiece, or chronometer, which gained the reward of 20,000L., offered by the Board of Longitude, A.D. 1767.

"This clock strikes the hour, indicates the day of the month, and with one exception (the escapement) the wheels are entirely made of wood."

This, however, was only a beginning. Harrison proceeded to make better clocks; and then he found it necessary to introduce metal, which was more lasting. He made pivots of brass, which moved more conveniently in sockets of wood with the use of oil. He also caused the teeth of his wheels to run against cylindrical rollers of wood, fixed by brass pins, at a proper distance from the axis of the pinions; and thus to a considerable extent removed the inconveniences of friction.

In the meantime Harrison eagerly improved every incident from which he might derive further information. There was a clergyman who came every Sunday to the village to officiate in the neighbourhood; and having heard of the sedulous application of the young carpenter, he lent him a manuscript copy of Professor Saunderson's discourses. That blind professor had prepared several lectures on natural philosophy for the use of his students, though they were not intended for publication. Young Harrison now proceeded to copy them out, together with the diagrams. Sometimes, indeed, he spent the greater part of the night in writing or drawing.

As part of his business, he undertook to survey land, and to repair clocks and watches, besides carrying on his trade of a carpenter. He soon obtained a considerable knowledge of what had been done in clocks and watches, and was able to do not only what the best professional workers had done, but to strike out entirely new lights in the clock and watch-making business. He found out a method of diminishing friction by adding a joint to the pallets of the pendulum, whereby they were made to work in the nature of rollers of a large radius, without any sliding, as usual, upon the teeth of the wheel. He constructed a clock on the recoiling principle, which went perfectly, and never lost a minute within fourteen years. Sir Edmund Denison Beckett says that he invented this method in order to save himself the trouble of going so frequently to oil the escapement of a turret clock, of which he had charge; though there were other influences at work besides this.

But his most important invention, at this early period of his life, was his compensation pendulum. Every one knows that metals expand with heat and contract by cold. The pendulum of the clock therefore expanded in summer and contracted in winter, thereby interfering with the regular going of the clock. Huygens had by his cylindrical checks removed the great irregularity arising from the unequal lengths of the oscillations; but the pendulum was affected by the tossing of a ship at sea, and was also subject to a variation in weight, depending on the parallel of latitude. Graham, the well-known clock-maker, invented the mercurial compensation pendulum, consisting of a glass or iron jar filled with quicksilver and fixed to the end of the pendulum rod. When the rod was lengthened by heat, the quicksilver and the jar which contained it were simultaneously expanded and elevated, and the centre of oscillation was thus continued at the same distance from the point of suspension.

But the difficulty, to a certain extent, remained unconquered until Harrison took the matter in hand. He observed that all rods of metal do not alter their lengths equally by heat, or, on the contrary, become shorter by cold, but some more sensibly than others. After innumerable experiments Harrison at length composed a frame somewhat resembling a gridiron, in which the alternate bars were of steel and of brass, and so arranged that those which expanded the most were counteracted by those which expanded the least. By this means the pendulum contained the power of equalising its own action, and the centre of oscillation continued at the same absolute distance from the point of suspension through all the variations of heat and cold during the year.[5]

Thus by the year 1726, when he was only thirty-three years old, Harrison had furnished himself with two compensation clocks, in which all the irregularities to which these machines were subject, were either removed or so happily balanced, one metal against the other, that the two clocks kept time together in different parts of his house, without the variation of more than a single second in the month. One of them, indeed, which he kept by him for his own use, and constantly compared with a fixed star, did not vary so much as one whole minute during the ten years that he continued in the country after finishing the machine.[6]

Living, as he did, not far from the sea, Harrison next endeavoured to arrange his timekeeper for purposes of navigation. He tried his clock in a vessel belonging to Barton-on-Humber; but his compensating pendulum could there be of comparatively little use; for it was liable to be tossed hither or thither by the sudden motions of the ship. He found it necessary, therefore, to mount a chronometer, or portable timekeeper, which might be taken from place to place, and subjected to the violent and irregular motion of a ship at sea, without affecting its rate of going. It was evident to him that the first mover must be changed from a weight and pendulum to a spring wound up and a compensating balance.

He now applied his genius in this direction. After pondering over the subject, he proceeded to London in 1728, and exhibited his drawings to Dr. Halley, then Astronomer-Royal. The Doctor referred him to Mr. George Graham, the distinguished horologer, inventor of the dead-beat escapement and the mercurial pendulum. After examining the drawings and holding some converse with Harrison, Graham perceived him to be a man of uncommon merit, and gave him every encouragement. He recommended him, however, to make his machine before again applying to the Board of Longitude. Harrison returned home to Barrow to complete his task, and many years elapsed before he again appeared in London to present his first chronometer.

The remarkable success which Harrison had achieved in his compensating pendulum could not but urge him on to further experiments. He was no doubt to a certain extent influenced by the reward of 20,000L. which the English Government had offered for an instrument that should enable the longitude to be more accurately determined by navigators at sea than was then possible; and it was with the object of obtaining pecuniary assistance to assist him in completing his chronometer that Harrison had, in 1728, made his first visit to London to exhibit his drawings.

The Act of Parliament offering this superb reward was passed in 1714, fourteen years before, but no attempt had been made to claim it. It was right that England, then rapidly advancing to the first position as a commercial nation, should make every effort to render navigation less hazardous. Before correct chronometers were invented, or good lunar tables were prepared [7] the ship, when fairly at sea, out of sight of land, and battling with the winds and tides, was in a measure lost. No method existed for accurately ascertaining the longitude. The ship might be out of its course for one or two hundred miles, for anything that the navigator knew; and only the wreck of his ship on some unknown coast told of the mistake that he had made in his reckoning.

It may here be mentioned that it was comparatively easy to determine the latitude of a ship at sea every day when the sun was visible. The latitude — that is, the distance of any spot from the equator and the pole — might be found by a simple observation with the sextant. The altitude of the sun at noon is found, and by a short calculation the position of the ship can be ascertained.

The sextant, which is the instrument universally used at sea, was gradually evolved from similar instruments used from the earliest times. The object of this instrument has always been to find the angular distance between two bodies — that is to say, the angle contained by two straight lines, drawn from those bodies to meet in the observer's eye. The simplest instrument of this kind may be well represented by a pair of compasses. If the hinge is held to the eye, one leg pointed to the distant horizon, and the other leg pointed to the sun, the position of the two legs will show the angular distance of the sun from the horizon at the moment of observation.

Until the end of the seventeenth century, the instrument used was of this simple kind. It was generally a large quadrant, with one or two bars moving on a hinge, — to all intents and purposes a huge pair of compasses. The direction of the sight was fixed by the use of a slit and a pointer, much as in the ordinary rifle. This instrument was vastly improved by the use of a telescope, which not only allowed fainter objects to be seen, but especially enabled the sight to be accurately directed to the object observed.

The instruments of the pre-telescopic age reached their glory in the hands of Tycho Brahe. He used magnificent instruments of the simple "pair of compasses" kind — circles, quadrants, and sextants. These were for the most part ponderous fixed instruments of little or no use for the purposes of navigation. But Tycho Brahe's sextant proved the forerunner of the modern instrument. The general structure is the same; but the vast improvement of the modern sextant is due, firstly, to the use of the reflecting mirror, and, secondly, to the use of the telescope for accurate sighting. These improvements were due to many scientific men — to William Gascoigne, who first used the telescope, about 1640; to Robert Hooke, who, in 1660, proposed to apply it to the quadrant; to Sir Isaac Newton, who designed a reflecting quadrant;[8] and to John Hadley, who introduced it. The modern sextant is merely a modification of Newton's or Badley's quadrant, and its present construction seems to be perfect.

It therefore became possible accurately to determine the position of a ship at sea as regarded its latitude. But it was quite different as regarded the longitude — that is, the distance of any place from a given meridian, eastward or westward. In the case of longitude there is no fixed spot to which reference can be made. The rotation of the earth makes the existence of such a spot impossible. The question of longitude is purely a question of TIME. The circuit of the globe, east and west, is simply represented by twenty-four hours. Each place has its own time. It is very easy to determine the local time at any spot by observations made at that spot. But, as time is always changing, the knowledge of the local time gives no idea of the actual position; and still less of a moving object — say, of a ship at sea. But if, in any locality, we know the local time, and also the local time of some other locality at that moment — say, of the Observatory at Greenwich we can, by comparing the two local times, determine the difference of local times, or, what is the same thing, the difference of longitude between the two places. It was necessary therefore for the navigator to be in possession of a first-rate watch or chronometer, to enable him to determine accurately the position of his ship at sea, as respected the longitude.

Before the middle of the eighteenth century good watches were comparatively unknown. The navigator mainly relied, for his approximate longitude, upon his Dead Reckoning, without any observation of the heavenly bodies. He depended upon the accuracy of the course which he had steered by the compass, and the mensuration of the ship's velocity by an instrument called the Log, as well as by combining and rectifying all the allowances for drift, lee-way, and so on, according to the trim of the ship; but all of these were liable to much uncertainty, especially when the sea was in a boisterous condition. There was another and independent course which might have been adopted — that is, by observation of the moon, which is constantly moving amongst the stars from west to east. But until the middle of the eighteenth century good lunar tables were as much unknown as good watches.

Hence a method of ascertaining the longitude, with the same degree of accuracy which is attainable in respect of latitude, had for ages been the grand desideratum for men "who go down to the sea in ships." Mr. Macpherson, in his important work entitled 'The Annals of Commerce,' observes, "Since the year 1714, when Parliament offered a reward of 20,000L. for the best method of ascertaining the longitude at sea, many schemes have been devised, but all to little or no purpose, as going generally upon wrong principles, till that heaven-taught artist Mr. John Harrison arose;" and by him, as Mr. Macpherson goes on to say, the difficulty was conquered, having devoted to it "the assiduous studies of a long life."

The preamble of the Act of Parliament in question runs as follows: "Whereas it is well known by all that are acquainted with the art of navigation that nothing is so much wanted and desired at sea as the discovery of the longitude, for the safety and quickness of voyages, the preservation of ships and the lives of men," and so on. The Act proceeds to constitute certain persons commissioners for the discovery of the longitude, with power to receive and experiment upon proposals for that purpose, and to grant sums of money not exceeding 2000L. to aid in such experiments. It will be remembered from what has been above stated, that a reward of 10,000L. was to be given to the person who should contrive a method of determining the longitude within one degree of a great circle, or 60 geographical miles; 15,000L. within 40 geographical miles; and 20,000L. within 30 geographical miles.

It will, in these days, be scarcely believed that little more than a hundred and fifty years ago a prize of not less than ten thousand pounds should have been offered for a method of determining the longitude within sixty miles, and that double the amount should have been offered for a method of determining it within thirty miles! The amount of these rewards is sufficient proof of the fearful necessity for improvement which then existed in the methods of navigation. And yet, from the date of the passing of the Act in 1714 until the year 1736, when Harrison finished his first timepiece, nothing had been done towards ascertaining the longitude more accurately, even within the wide limits specified by the Act of Parliament. Although several schemes had been projected, none of them had proved successful, and the offered rewards therefore still remained unclaimed.

To return to Harrison. After reaching his home at Barrow, after his visit to London in 1728, he began his experiments for the construction of a marine chronometer. The task was one of no small difficulty. It was necessary to provide against irregularities arising from the motion of a ship at sea, and to obviate the effect of alternations of temperature in the machine itself, as well as the oil with which it was lubricated. A thousand obstacles presented themselves, but they were not enough to deter Harrison from grappling with the work he had set himself to perform.

Every one knows the beautiful machinery of a timepiece, and the perfect tools required to produce such a machine. Some of these tools Harrison procured in London, but the greater number he provided for himself; and many entirely new adaptations were required for his chronometer. As wood could no longer be exclusively employed, as in his first clock, he had to teach himself to work accurately and minutely in brass and other metals. Having been unable to obtain any assistance from the Board of Longitude, he was under the necessity, while carrying forward his experiments, of maintaining himself by still working at his trade of a carpenter and joiner. This will account for the very long period that elapsed before he could bring his chronometer to such a state as that it might be tried with any approach to certainty in its operations.

Harrison, besides his intentness and earnestness, was a cheerful and hopeful man. He had a fine taste for music, and organised and led the choir of the village church, which attained a high degree of perfection. He invented a curious monochord, which was not less accurate than his clocks in the mensuration of time. His ear was distressed by the ringing of bells out of tune, and he set himself to remedy them. At the parish church of Hull, for instance, the bells were harsh and disagreeable, and by the authority of the vicar and churchwardens he was allowed to put them into a state of exact tune, so that they proved entirely melodious.

But the great work of his life was his marine chronometer. He found it necessary, in the first place, to alter the first mover of his clock to a spring wound up, so that the regularity of the motion might be derived from the vibrations of balances, instead of those of a pendulum as in a standing clock. Mr. Folkes, President of the Royal Society, when presenting the gold medal to Harrison in 1749, thus describes the arrangement of his new machine. The details were obtained from Harrison himself, who was present. He had made use of two balances situated in the same plane, but vibrating in contrary directions, so that the one of these being either way assisted by the tossing of the ship, the other might constantly be just so much impeded by it at the same time. As the equality of the times of the vibrations of the balance of a pocket-watch is in a great measure owing to the spiral spring that lies under it, so the same was here performed by the like elasticity of four cylindrical springs or worms, applied near the upper and lower extremities of the two balances above described.

Then came in the question of compensation. Harrison's experience with the compensation pendulum of his clock now proved of service to him. He had proceeded to introduce a similar expedient in his proposed chronometer. As is well known to those who are acquainted with the nature of springs moved by balances, the stronger those springs are, the quicker the vibrations of the balances are performed, and vice versa; hence it follows that those springs, when braced by cold, or when relaxed by heat, must of necessity cause the timekeeper to go either faster or slower, unless some method could be found to remedy the inconvenience.

The method adopted by Harrison was his compensation balance, doubtless the backbone of his invention. His "thermometer kirb," he himself says, "is composed of two thin plates of brass and steel, riveted together in several places, which, by the greater expansion of brass than steel by heat and contraction by cold, becomes convex on the brass side in hot weather and convex on the steel side in cold weather; whence, one end being fixed, the other end obtains a motion corresponding with the changes of heat and cold, and the two pins at the end, between which the balance spring passes, and which it alternately touches as the spring bends and unbends itself, will shorten or lengthen the spring, as the change of heat or cold would otherwise require to be done by hand in the manner used for regulating a common watch." Although the method has since been improved upon by Leroy, Arnold, and Earnshaw, it was the beginning of all that has since been done in the perfection of marine chronometers. Indeed, it is amazing to think of the number of clever, skilful, and industrious men who have been engaged for many hundred years in the production of that exquisite fabric — so useful to everybody, whether scientific or otherwise, on land or sea the modern watch.

It is unnecessary here to mention in detail the particulars of Harrison's invention. These were published by himself in his 'Principles of Mr. Harrison's Timekeeper.' It may, however, be mentioned that he invented a method by which the chronometer might be kept going without losing any portion of time. This was during the process of winding up, which was done once in a day. While the mainspring was being wound up, a secondary one preserved the motion of the wheels and kept the machine going.

After seven years' labour, during which Harrison encountered and overcame numerous difficulties, he at last completed his first marine chronometer. He placed it in a sort of moveable frame, somewhat resembling what the sailors call a 'compass jumble,' but much more artificially and curiously made and arranged. In this state the chronometer was tried from time to time in a large barge on the river Humber, in rough as well as in smooth weather, and it was found to go perfectly, without losing a moment of time.

Such was the condition of Harrison's chronometer when he arrived with it in London in 1735, in order to apply to the commissioners appointed for providing a public reward for the discovery of the longitude at sea. He first showed it to several members of the Royal Society, who cordially approved of it. Five of the most prominent members — Dr. Bailey, Dr. Smith, Dr. Bradley, Mr. John Machin, and Mr. George Graham — furnished Harrison with a certificate, stating that the principles of his machine for measuring time promised a very great and sufficient degree of exactness. In consequence of this certificate, the machine, at the request of the inventor, and at the recommendation of the Lords of the Admiralty, was placed on board a man-of-war.

Sir Charles Wager, then first Lord of the Admiralty, wrote to the captain of the Centurion, stating that the instrument had been approved by mathematicians as the best that had been made for measuring time; and requesting his kind treatment of Mr. Harrison, who was to accompany it to Lisbon. Captain Proctor answered the First Lord from Spithead, dated May l7th, 1736, promising his attention to Harrison's comfort, but intimating his fear that he had attempted impossibilities. It is always so with a new thing. The first steam-engine, the first gaslight, the first locomotive, the first steamboat to America, the first electric telegraph, were all impossibilities!

This first chronometer behaved very well on the outward voyage in the Centurion. It was not affected by the roughest weather, or by the working of the ship through the rolling waves of the Bay of Biscay. It was brought back, with Harrison, in the Orford man-of-war, when its great utility was proved in a remarkable manner, although, from the voyage being nearly on a meridian, the risk of losing the longitude was comparatively small. Yet the following was the certificate of the captain of the ship, dated the 24th June, 1737: "When we made the land, the said land, according to my reckoning (and others), ought to have been the Start; but, before we knew what land it was, John Harrison declared to me and the rest of the ship's company that, according to his observations with his machine, it ought to be the Lizard — the which, indeed, it was found to be, his observation showing the ship to be more west than my reckoning, above one degree and twenty-six miles," — that is, nearly ninety miles out of its course!

Six days later — that is, on the 30th June — the Board of Longitude met, when Harrison was present, and produced the chronometer with which he had made the voyage to Lisbon and back. The minute states: "Mr. John Harrison produced a new invented machine, in the nature of clockwork, whereby he proposes to keep time at sea with more exactness than by any other instrument or method hitherto contrived, in order to the discovery of the longitude at sea; and proposes to make another machine of smaller dimensions within the space of two years, whereby he will endeavour to correct some defects which he hath found in that already prepared, so as to render the same more perfect; which machine, when completed, he is desirous of having tried in one of His Majesty's ships that shall be bound to the West Indies; but at the same time represented that he should not be able, by reason of his necessitous circumstances, to go on and finish his said machine without assistance, and requested that he may be furnished with the sum of 500L., to put him in a capacity to perform the same, and to make a perfect experiment thereof."

The result of the meeting was that 500L. was ordered to be paid to Harrison, one moiety as soon as convenient, and the other when he has produced a certificate from the captain of one of His Majesty's ships that he has put the machine on board into the captain's possession. Mr. George Graham, who was consulted, urged that the Commissioners should grant Harrison at least 1000L., but they only awarded him half the sum, and at first only a moiety of the amount voted. At the recommendation of Lord Monson, who was present, Harrison accepted the 250L. as a help towards the heavy expenses which he had already incurred, and was again about to incur, in perfecting the invention. He was instructed to make his new chronometer of less dimensions, as the one exhibited was cumbersome and heavy, and occupied too much space on board.

He accordingly proceeded to make his second chronometer. It occupied a space of only about half the size of the first. He introduced several improvements. He lessened the number of the wheels, and thereby diminished friction. But the general arrangement remained the same. This second machine was finished in 1739. It was more simple in its arrangement, and less cumbrous in its dimensions. It answered even better than the first, and though it was not tried at sea its motions were sufficiently exact for finding the longitude within the nearest limits proposed by Act of Parliament.

Not satisfied with his two machines, Harrison proceeded to make a third. This was of an improved construction, and occupied still less space, the whole of the machine and its apparatus standing upon an area of only four square feet. It was in such forwardness in January, 1741, that it was exhibited before the Royal Society, and twelve of the most prominent members signed a certificate of "its great and excellent use, as well for determining the longitude at sea as for correcting the charts of the coasts." The testimonial concluded: "We do recommend Mr. Harrison to the favour of the Commissioners appointed by Act of Parliament as a person highly deserving of such further encouragement and assistance as they shall judge proper and sufficient to finish his third machine." The Commissioners granted him a further sum of 500L. Harrison was already reduced to necessitous circumstances by his continuous application to the improvement of the timekeepers. He had also got into debt, and required further assistance to enable him to proceed with their construction; but the Commissioners would only help him by driblets.

Although Harrison had promised that the third machine would be ready for trial on August 1, 1743, it was not finished for some years later. In June, 1746, we find him again appearing before the Board, asking for further assistance. While proceeding with his work he found it necessary to add a new spring, "having spent much time and thought in tempering them." Another 500L. was voted to enable him to pay his debts, to maintain himself and family, and to complete his chronometer.

Three years later he exhibited his third machine to the Royal Society, and on the 30th of November, 1749, he was awarded the Gold Medal for the year. In presenting it, Mr. Folkes, the President, said to Mr. Harrison, "I do here, by the authority and in the name of the Royal Society of London for the improving of natural knowledge, present you with this small but faithful token of their regard and esteem. I do, in their name congratulate you upon the successes you have already had, and I most sincerely wish that all your future trials may in every way prove answerable to these beginnings, and that the full accomplishment of your great undertaking may at last be crowned with all the reputation and advantage to yourself that your warmest wishes may suggest, and to which so many years so laudably and so diligently spent in the improvement of those talents which God Almighty has bestowed upon you, will so justly entitle your constant and unwearied perseverance."

Mr. Folkes, in his speech, spoke of Mr. Harrison as "one of the most modest persons he had ever known. In speaking," he continued, "of his own performances, he has assured me that, from the immense number of diligent and accurate experiments he has made, and from the severe tests to which he has in many ways put his instrument, he expects he shall be able with sufficient certainty, through all the greatest variety of seasons and the most irregular motions of the sea, to keep time constantly, without the variation of so much as three seconds in a week, --a degree of exactness that is astonishing and even stupendous, considering the immense number of difficulties, and those of very different sorts, which the author of these inventions must have had to encounter and struggle withal."

Although it is common enough now to make first-rate chronometers — sufficient to determine the longitude with almost perfect accuracy in every clime of the world — it was very different at that time, when Harrison was occupied with his laborious experiments. Although he considered his third machine to be the ne plus ultra of scientific mechanism, he nevertheless proceeded to construct a fourth timepiece, in the form of a pocket watch about five inches in diameter. He found the principles which he had adopted in his larger machines applied equally well in the smaller, and the performances of the last surpassed his utmost expectations. But in the meantime, as his third timekeeper was, in his opinion, sufficient to supply the requirements of the Board of Longitude as respected the highest reward offered, he applied to the Commissioners for leave to try that instrument on board a royal ship to some port in the West Indies, as directed by the statute of Queen Anne.

Though Harrison's third timekeeper was finished about the year 1758, it was not until March 12, 1761, that he received orders for his son William to proceed to Portsmouth, and go on board the Dorsetshire man-of-war, to proceed to Jamaica. But another tedious delay occurred. The ship was ordered elsewhere, and William Harrison, after remaining five months at Portsmouth, returned to London. By this time, John Harrison had finished his fourth timepiece — the small one, in the form of a watch. At length William Harrison set sail with this timekeeper from Portsmouth for Jamaica, on November 18th, 1761, in the Deptford man-of-war. The Deptford had forty-three ships in convoy, and arrived at Jamaica on the l9th of January, 1762, three days before the Beaver, another of His Majesty's ships-of-war, which had sailed from Portsmouth ten days before the Deptford, but had lost her reckoning and been deceived in her longitude, having trusted entirely to the log. Harrison's timepiece had corrected the log of the Deptford to the extent of three degrees of longitude, whilst several of the ships in the fleet lost as much as five degrees! This shows the haphazard way in which navigation was conducted previous to the invention of the marine chronometer.

When the Deptford arrived at Port Royal, Jamaica, the timekeeper was found to be only five and one tenth seconds in error; and during the voyage of four months, on its return to Portsmouth on March 26th, 1762, it was found (after allowing for the rate of gain or loss) to have erred only one minute fifty-four and a half seconds. In the latitude of Portsmouth this only amounted to eighteen geographical miles, whereas the Act had awarded that the prize should be given where the longitude was determined within the distance of thirty geographical miles. One would have thought that Harrison was now clearly entitled to his reward of 20,000L.

Not at all! The delays interposed by Government are long and tedious, and sometimes insufferable. Harrison had accomplished more than was needful to obtain the highest reward which the Board of Longitude had publicly offered. But they would not certify that he had won the prize. On the contrary, they started numerous objections, and continued for years to subject him to vexatious delays and disappointments. They pleaded that the previous determination of the longitude of Jamaica by astronomical observation was unsatisfactory; that there was no proof of the chronometer having maintained a uniform rate during the voyage; and on the 17th of August, 1762, they passed a resolution, stating that they "were of opinion that the experiments made of the watch had not been sufficient to determine the longitude at sea."

It was accordingly necessary for Harrison to petition Parliament on the subject. Three reigns had come and gone since the Act of Parliament offering the reward had been passed. Anne had died; George I. and George II. had reigned and died; and now, in the reign of George III. — thirty-five years after Harrison had begun his labours, and after he had constructed four several marine chronometers, each of which was entitled to win the full prize, — an Act of Parliament was passed enabling the inventor to obtain the sum of 5000L. as part of the reward. But the Commissioners still hesitated. They differed about the tempering of the springs. They must have another trial of the timekeeper, or anything with which to put off a settlement of the claim. Harrison was ready for any further number of trials; and in the meantime the Commissioners merely paid him a further sum on account.

Two more dreary years passed. Nothing was done in 1763 except a quantity of interminable talk at the Board of Commissioners. At length, on the 28th of March, 1764, Harrison's son again departed with the timekeeper on board the ship Tartar for Barbadoes. He returned in about four months, during which time the instrument enabled the longitude to be ascertained within ten miles, or one-third of the required geographical distance. Harrison memorialised the Commissioners again and again, in order that he might obtain the reward publicly offered by the Government.

At length the Commissioners could no longer conceal the truth. In September, 1764, they virtually recognised Harrison's claim by paying him 1000L. on account; and, on the 9th of February, 1765, they passed a resolution setting forth that they were "unanimously of opinion that the said timekeeper has kept its time with sufficient correctness, without losing its longitude in the voyage from Portsmouth to Barbadoes beyond the nearest limit required by the Act l2th of Queen Anne, but even considerably within the same." Yet they would not give Harrison the necessary certificate, though they were of opinion that he was entitled to be paid the full reward!

It is pleasant to contrast the generous conduct of the King of Sardinia with the procrastinating and illiberal spirit which Harrison met with in his own country. During the same year in which the above resolution was passed, the Sardinian minister ordered four of Harrison's timekeepers at the price of 1000L. each, at the special instance of the King of Sardinia "as an acknowledgement of Mr. Harrison's ingenuity, and as some recompense for the time spent by him for the general good of mankind." This grateful attention was all the more praiseworthy, as Sardinia could not in any way be regarded as a great maritime power.

Harrison was now becoming old and feeble. He had attained the age of seventy-four. He had spent forty long years in working out his invention. He was losing his eyesight, and could not afford to wait much longer. Still he had to wait.

"Full little knowest thou, who hast not tried,
What hell it is in suing long to bide;
To lose good days, that might be better spent;
To waste long nights in pensive discontent;
To spend to-day, to be put back to-morrow,
To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow."

But Harrison had not lost his spirit. On May 30th, 1765, he addressed another remonstrance to the Board, containing much stronger language than he had yet used. "I cannot help thinking," he said, "that I am extremely ill-used by gentlemen from whom I might have expected a different treatment; for, if the Act of the l2th of Queen Anne be deficient, why have I so long been encouraged under it, in order to bring my invention to perfection? And, after the completion, why was my son sent twice to the West Indies? Had it been said to my son, when he received the last instruction, 'There will, in case you succeed, be a new Act on your return, in order to lay you under new restrictions, which were not thought of in the Act of the l2th of Queen Anne,' --I say, had this been the case, I might have expected some such treatment as that I now meet with.

"It must be owned that my case is very hard; but I hope I am the first, and for my country's sake I hope I shall be the last, to suffer by pinning my faith upon an English Act of Parliament. Had I received my just reward — for certainly it may be so called after forty years' close application of the talent which it has pleased God to give me — then my invention would have taken the course which all improvements in this world do; that is, I must have instructed workmen in its principles and execution, which I should have been glad of an opportunity of doing. But how widely different this is from what is now proposed, viz., for me to instruct people that I know nothing of, and such as may know nothing of mechanics; and, if I do not make them understand to their satisfaction, I may then have nothing!

"Hard fate indeed to me, but still harder to the world, which may be deprived of this my invention, which must be the case, except by my open and free manner in describing all the principles of it to gentlemen and noblemen who almost at all times have had free recourse to my instruments. And if any of these workmen have been so ingenious as to have got my invention, how far you may please to reward them for their piracy must be left for you to determine; and I must set myself down in old age, and thank God I can be more easy in that I have the conquest, and though I have no reward, than if I had come short of the matter and by some delusion had the reward!"

The Right Honourable the Earl of Egmont was in the chair of the Board of Longitude on the day when this letter was read — June 13, 1765. The Commissioners were somewhat startled by the tone which the inventor had taken. Indeed, they were rather angry. Mr. Harrison, who was in waiting, was called in. After some rather hot speaking, and after a proposal was made to Harrison which he said he would decline to accede to "so long as a drop of English blood remained in his body," he left the room. Matters were at length arranged. The Act of Parliament (5 Geo. III. cap. 20) awarded him, upon a full discovery of the principles of his time-keeper, the payment of such a sum, as with the 2500L. he had already received, would make one half of the reward; and the remaining half was to be paid when other chronometers had been made after his design, and their capabilities fully proved. He was also required to assign his four chronometers — one of which was styled a watch — to the use of the public.

Harrison at once proceeded to give full explanations of the principles of his chronometer to Dr. Maskelyne, and six other gentlemen, who had been appointed to receive them. He took his timekeeper to pieces in their presence, and deposited in their hands correct drawings of the same, with the parts, so that other skilful makers might construct similar chronometers on the same principles. Indeed, there was no difficulty in making them; after his explanations and drawings had been published. An exact copy of his last watch was made by the ingenious Mr. Kendal; and was used by Captain Cook in his three years' circumnavigation of the world, to his perfect satisfaction.

England had already inaugurated that series of scientific expeditions which were to prove so fruitful of results, and to raise her naval reputation to so great a height. In these expeditions, the officers, the sailors, and the scientific men, were constantly brought face to face with unforeseen difficulties and dangers, which brought forth their highest qualities as men. There was, however, some intermixture of narrowness in the minds of those who sent them forth. For instance, while Dr. Priestley was at Leeds, he was asked by Sir Joseph Banks to join Captain Cook's second expedition to the Southern Seas, as an astronomer. Priestley gave his assent, and made arrangements to set out. But some weeks later, Banks informed him that his appointment had been cancelled, as the Board of Longitude objected to his theology. Priestley's otherwise gentle nature was roused. "What I am, and what they are, in respect of religion," he wrote to Banks, in December, 1771, "might easily have been known before the thing was proposed to me at all. Besides, I thought that this had been a business of philosophy, and not of divinity. If, however, this be the case, I shall hold the Board of Longitude in extreme contempt."

Captain Cook was appointed to the command of the Resolution, and Captain Wallis to the command of the Adventure, in November, 1771. They proceeded to equip the ships; and amongst the other instruments taken on board Captain Cook's ship, were two timekeepers, one made by Mr. Larcum Kendal, on Mr. Harrison's principles, and the other by Mr. John Arnold, on his own. The expedition left Deptford in April, 1772; and shortly afterwards sailed for the South Seas. "Mr. Kendal's watch" is the subject of frequent notices in Captain Cook's account. At the Cape of Good Hope, it is said to have "answered beyond all expectation." Further south, in the neighbourhood of Cape Circumcision, he says, "the use of the telescope is found difficult at first, but a little practice will make it familiar. By the assistance of the watch we shall be able to discover the greatest error this method of observing the longitude at sea is liable to." It was found that Harrison's watch was more correct than Arnold's, and when near Cape Palliser in New Zealand, Cook says, "this day at noon, when we attended the winding-up of the watches, the fusee of Mr. Arnold's would not turn round, so that after several unsuccessful trials we were obliged to let it go down." From this time, complete reliance was placed upon Harrison's chronometer. Some time later, Cook says, "I must here take notice that our longitude can never be erroneous while we have so good a guide as Mr. Kendal's watch." It may be observed, that at the beginning of the voyage, observations were made by the lunar tables; but these, being found unreliable, were eventually discontinued.

To return to Harrison. He continued to be worried by official opposition. His claims were still unsatisfied. His watch at home underwent many more trials. Dr. Maskelyne, the Royal Astronomer, was charged with being unfavourable to the success of chronometers, being deeply interested in finding the longitude by lunar tables; although this method is now almost entirely superseded by the chronometer. Harrison accordingly could not get the certificate of what was due to him under the Act of Parliament. Years passed before he could obtain the remaining amount of his reward. It was not until the year 1773, or forty-five years after the commencement of his experiments, that he succeeded in obtaining it. The following is an entry in the list of supplies granted by Parliament in that year: "June 14. To John Harrison, as a further reward and encouragement over and above the sums already received by him, for his invention of a timekeeper for ascertaining the longitude at sea, and his discovery of the principles upon which the same was constructed, 8570 pounds 0s. 0d.

John Harrison did not long survive the settlement of his claims; for he died on the 24th of March, 1776, at the age of eighty-three. He was buried at the south-west corner of Hampstead parish churchyard, where a tombstone was erected to his memory, and an inscription placed upon it commemorating his services. His wife survived him only a year; she died at seventy-two, and was buried in the same tomb. His son, William Harrison, F.R.S., a deputy-lientenant of the counties of Monmouth and Middlesex, died in 1815, at the ripe age of eighty-eight, and was also interred there. The tomb having stood for more than a century, became somewhat dilapidated; when the Clock-makers' Company of the City of London took steps in 1879 to reconstruct it, and recut the inscriptions. An appropriate ceremony took place at the final uncovering of the tomb.

But perhaps the most interesting works connected with John Harrison and the great labour of his life, are the wooden clock at the South Kensington Museum, and the four chronometers made by him for the Government, which are still preserved at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. The three early ones are of great weight, and can scarcely be moved without some bodily labour. But the fourth, the marine chronometer or watch, is of small dimensions, and is easily handled. It still possesses the power of going accurately; as does "Mr. Kendal's watch," which was made exactly after it. These will always prove the best memorials of this distinguished workman.

Before concluding this brief notice of the life and labours of John Harrison, it becomes me to thank most cordially Mr. Christie, Astronomer-Royal, for his kindness in exhibiting the various chronometers deposited at the Greenwich Observatory, and for his permission to inspect the minutes of the Board of Longitude, where the various interviews between the inventor and the commissioners, extending over many years, are faithfully but too procrastinatingly recorded. It may be finally said of John Harrison, that by his invention of the chronometer — the ever-sleepless and ever-trusty friend of the mariner --he conferred an incalculable benefit on science and navigation, and established his claim to be regarded as one of the greatest benefactors of mankind.

Postscript.--In addition to the information contained in this chapter, I have been recently informed by the Rev. Mr. Sankey, vicar of Wragby, that the family is quite extinct in the parish, except the wife of a plumber, who claims relationship with Harrison. The representative of the Winn family was created Lord St. Oswald in 1885. Harrison is not quite forgotten at Foulby. The house in which he was born was a low thatched cottage, with two rooms, one used as a living room, and the other as a sleeping room. The house was pulled down about forty years ago; but the entrance door, being of strong, hard wood, is still preserved. The vicar adds that young Harrison would lie out on the grass all night in summer time, studying the details of his wooden clock.

Footnotes to Chapter III.

[1]   Originally published in Longman's Magazine, but now rewritten and enlarged.

[2]   Popular Astronomy. By Simon Newcomb, LL.D., Professor U.S. Naval Observatory.

[3]   Biographia Britannica, vol. vi. part 2, p. 4375. This volume was published in 1766, before the final reward had been granted to Harrison.

[4]  This clock is in the possession of Abraham Riley, of Bromley, near Leeds. He informs us that the clock is made of wood throughout, excepting the escapement and the dial, which are made of brass. It bears the mark of "John Harrison, 1713."

[5]  Harrison's compensation pendulum was afterwards improved by Arnold, Earnshaw, and other English makers. Dent's prismatic balance is now considered the best.

[6]  See Mr. Folkes's speech to the Royal Soc., 30th Nov., 1749.

[7]  No trustworthy lunar tables existed at that time. It was not until the year 1753 that Tobias Mayer, a German, published the first lunar tables which could be relied upon. For this, the British Government afterwards awarded to Mayer's widow the sum of 5000L.

[8]  Sir Isaac Newton gave his design to Edmund Halley, then Astronomer-Royal. Halley laid it on one side, and it was found among his papers after his death in 1742, twenty-five years after the death of Newton. A similar omission was made by Sir G. B. Airy, which led to the discovery of Neptune being attributed to Leverrier instead of to Adams.