An Account of the Proceedings, in Order to the Discovery of the Longitude: In a Letter to the Right Honourable ******, Member of Parliament.

London: Printed by T. and J.W. Pasham, in Black-Friars, and sold by the booksellers, in London and Westminster, 1763.

First edition, extremely rare, of Harrison’s announcement of his invention and testing of his first accurate chronometer, the famous ‘sea-watch’ later called H4, which solved the problem of determining longitude at sea. “There has possibly been no advance of comparable importance in aids to navigation until the introduction of radar” (PMM). “Harrison's creation of this watch [H4] is the foundation of all subsequent chronometer developments” “The fact is that there is [an] element – the most important of all – common to H4 and all subsequent watches enabling them to perform well as portable timekeepers. This element, created by Harrison, is a high energy, high frequency balance and today forms the central feature of any successful marine chronometer. In essence, it is the ultimate solution to the Longitude Problem” (Betts, p. 44). Details of the construction of H4 were published four years later in Harrison’s best-known work, The Principles of Mr. Harrison’s Time-Keeper, but the Account is the only work of Harrison listed in Printing and the Mind of Man. The position of a ship at sea is given by its latitude and longitude. The former is easily determined by observing the Sun; the latter can be found by comparing local time with standard time at the prime meridian, but determining the latter requires a clock that will keep accurate time in the difficult conditions prevalent on a sea voyage. “Finally, John Harrison, a clockmaker with several useful inventions to his credit, attracted by a premium of £20,000 offered by the Board of Longitude in 1714 for a solution, perfected a chronometer of the required degree of accuracy [i.e., H4] … Harrison’s chronometer not only supplied navigators with a perfect instrument for observing the true geographical position at any moment during their voyage, but also laid the foundation for the compilation of exact charts of the deep seas and the coastal waters of the world” (PMM). An account of the proceedings, in order to the discovery of the longitude describes the history and development of H4 and the results of its first practical test on a voyage to Jamaica in 1761-62 aboard H.M.S. Deptford. On arrival at Kingston, after 81 days and 5 hours at sea, the watch was found to be just 5 seconds slow compared to the known longitude of Kingston, corresponding to an error in longitude of 1.25 minutes, or approximately one nautical mile. On the basis of this remarkable success, Harrison claimed the £20,000 prize, but the Board were persuaded that the accuracy could have been just luck and demanded another trial. Harrison was eventually awarded a portion of the prize in 1773, but only after the direct intervention of George III on his behalf. Harrison’s H4 received its most thorough trial on Captain Cook’s first voyage in 1768: Cook refers a number of times in his journal to ‘Mr Harrison's watch’, which proved highly accurate both for navigation and for coastal charting. ABPC/RBH list only two other copies: the Frank Streeter copy (Christie’s New York, April 17, 2007, lot 251, $96,000) and the Brooke-Hitching copy (Sotheby’s, September 30, 2014, lot 605, £47,500 = $78,864). ESTC lists 9 copies (5 in UK and 4 in US). A second edition was published in the same year.

“In the early 1700s, European monarchies aspired to power by building world-spanning networks of colonies and commercial ventures. As a result, the merchant fleets and navies that connected and protected these assets were critically important. Eighteenth-century sailors led dangerous lives, not least because they seldom knew their exact location on the open ocean. Although navigators readily determined latitude, or north-south position, by estimating the height of certain stars at their zenith, they could not determine longitude. This failure caused shipwrecks that killed thousands of mariners and lost cargoes worth fortunes. Several countries offered immense financial rewards for a solution to the problem; Britain promised £20,000 (several million dollars in today's currency) for a way to establish longitude to within half a degree (30 nautical miles at the equator) after a journey from England to the West Indies. To judge proposed solutions, the crown established a Board of Longitude, made up of the Astronomer Royal, various admirals and mathematics professors, the Speaker of the House of Commons and 10 members of Parliament.

“In effect, determining longitude depended on knowing the difference between local time and the time in Greenwich, site of the Royal Observatory. In principle, if a ship had a clock keeping Greenwich time, the navigator could measure the angle of the Sun to note local noon and compare it to the clock. If the clock read 2 p.m., his longitude was two hours, or 30 degrees, west of Greenwich. The problem lay in finding a clock reliable enough to keep time during the long voyages of that era. The best pendulum clocks of the day were accurate enough, but were useless on a heaving ship at sea. Alternately, a less reliable clock might be used if some means could be devised to correct it frequently. In practice this meant an astronomical method, the best of which became known as the method of lunar distances, in reference to the fact that the Moon's orbit causes it to continually change position in the sky. For example, a new moon, which appears close to the Sun, will have moved 180 degrees by the time it becomes a full moon two weeks later. The idea was for astronomers to provide tables of this angle between Moon and Sun (or Moon and selected stars in the night sky) as a function of Greenwich time. A measurement of this angle every few days would provide a correction to the mechanical clock. This scheme had two drawbacks: The first was that, at least initially, astronomers could not accurately predict the Moon's motion; the second was that the mathematical calculations required of the mariner were very complex—they took hours, and errors were common.

“The chronometer and the method of lunar distances each had their proponents, and the solution of the longitude problem came down to a bitter battle between two Englishmen: John Harrison (1693-1776), a self-educated machinist who set out to make an accurate clock, and Nevil Maskelyne (1732-1811), astronomer and scion of the Church of England, who brought the method of lunar distances to fruition.

“John Harrison was born in Yorkshire and followed his father's trade as a carpenter. This led to an interest in wooden (pendulum) clocks, which he became adept at making. His isolation from other clockmakers during this formative time was fortuitous—when most clockmakers learned that the prize required their clocks to maintain a rate constant to within three seconds per day for six weeks at sea, they regarded the task as impossible. Harrison saw it as a challenge, and developed the technical advances that justified his confidence, including the so-called gridiron pendulum (which used metals with different expansion coefficients to overcome temperature sensitivity), a nearly frictionless gear system and a ratcheted spring that kept the clock running while being rewound.

“By 1728 the longitude prize had been open for 14 years without a serious contender. Young Harrison journeyed to London to learn about the award and met Edmond Halley (1656-1742), the Astronomer Royal. Halley treated him cordially and suggested that Harrison consult George Graham (1673-1751), one of London's leading clockmakers. Harrison and Graham took an immediate liking to each other—they talked for 10 hours that day, leaving Graham so impressed that he offered to lend Harrison money (without security or interest) to develop the young inventor’s ideas.

“Seven years passed before Harrison offered a solution to the problem: the clock later known as H1. It was cumbersome and heavy, with jutting arms and counterweights, but a small committee of the Royal Society, including Halley and Graham, declared it a masterpiece of ingenuity and urged submission to the Board of Longitude. This body, ever skeptical after years of spurious claims, proposed a short sea trial before attempting the expensive, official crossing of the Atlantic. So Harrison and H1 embarked on a run to Lisbon and back. The numerical result of the clock's performance has not survived, but the captain was very impressed. The ship’s navigator admitted that on the return voyage, just before the English coast was sighted, his own calculations put them more than 90 miles offshore, while Harrison maintained that they were just about there.

“Although the voyage didn't immediately lead to a trans-Atlantic test, it was productive for Harrison, who identified several potential improvements to H1. With these in mind, he withdrew his initial submission and set about building a second clock (H2). The Board of Longitude, impressed by H1, awarded Harrison £500 toward development expenses. He completed H2 three years later and spent two more years testing it on land. By 1741, testing was complete, but England was at war with France and her allies. No one was prepared to risk a sea trial of H2 and possible capture by the French. As it turned out, H2 was never tested at sea.

“While waiting for the war to end, Harrison built a third clock, with the Board of Longitude contributing another £500 to meet his costs. But this time, Harrison's expertise failed him. H3 never worked to Harrison's satisfaction, and he abandoned it after five years. Taking a different tack, he proposed in 1746 to build two more clocks. Of these, H4 would be his masterpiece. It took another 13 years to complete, but was quite different from its predecessors. Instead of being all angles and arms, it appeared as a beautifully encased pocket watch, albeit five inches in diameter” (Fernie).

“Before Harrison’s creation, the pioneers had been working on large marine timekeeper designs with heavy, low frequency oscillators, based on attempts to convert a seconds beating pendulum clock into a ‘portable’ timepiece. This was because good pendulum clocks, when fixed, were excellent timekeepers (capable of accuracy up to a few seconds a week), but even the best wristwatches were hopeless (gaining or losing a minute a day at best). Harrison too had followed this course with the large ‘sea-clocks’ H1 to H3, but it was he who finally realised that, if a timekeeper was to be subjected to large external movements, a ‘portable clock’ was the wrong course and what was needed was quite a different type of oscillator. The definitive proof was H4, with its high-energy, high frequency balance (beating 18,000 times per hour – five times a second) … Eventually, this 200-year-old idea was introduced in 1950s wristwatches – and claimed as a brand new idea” (Betts, pp. 44-45). Christened H4 by R. T. Gould in The Marine Chronometer. Its History and Development (London, 1923), “the watch was essentially an extra-large pocket watch wound daily by key, with its 30-hour power reserve being stored in a steel spring inside a brass barrel. This in turn pulled a fusee and chain barrel containing Harrison’s ‘maintaining power’ system. This system alone could keep the watch running for eleven minutes using a separate spring while the mainspring was being wound” (Lake). The balance wheel, harnessed to a spring, solved most of the problems associated with the ship's motion. Unfortunately, the elasticity of most balance spring materials changes relative to temperature. To compensate for ever-changing spring strength, H4 used bi-metallic strips to move small weights toward and away from the centre of oscillation, thus altering the period of the balance to match the changing force of the spring.

In May 1761 the Board of Longitude agreed to test the accuracy of the chronometer H4 on a full trans-Atlantic voyage. Harrison, then aged 68, would remain in England, H4 being operated on the journey by his son, William (1728-1815). The Board insisted, as a means of quality control over the trial, that the box containing H4 be fitted with four locks, each opening with a different key. William had one of the keys, since he had the task of the daily winding of the chronometer. The others went to trusted men willing to witness William’s every move – William Lyttleton, then governor-designate of Jamaica, the ship’s captain, Dudley Digges, and Digges’s first lieutenant, J. Seward. Two astronomers, one in Portsmouth and another on board ship, took charge of establishing the correct local times of departure and arrival, which William was required to use to set the chronometer.

“On 18 November 1761, William Harrison sailed to Jamaica aboard H.M.S. Deptford. Having been used to correct an en route sailing error of over 100 miles, the chronometer’s reputation was further enhanced on anchoring at the mid-way port of Madeira on 9 December, when it was found that H.M.S. Beaver (which was following the same route but using the lunar distance method) had not yet arrived, despite having left Portsmouth ten days before the Deptford. On 18 December Captain Digges wrote from the Deptford to John Harrison:

‘Dear Sir, I have just time to acquaint you in your son’s letter, in which he is so good as to enclose this, of the great perfection of your watch in making the island on the Meridian; according to our log we were 1 degree 27 minutes to the eastward, this I made by a French map which lays down the Longitude of Teneriffe, therefore I think your watch must be right. Adieu. I am Sir, your humble Servt. D. Digges.’

“Captain Digges ceremonially presented William and his father, in absentia, with an octant to commemorate the successful trial and placed his order for the first Harrison-built chronometer, which should be offered for sale. The quality of this performance had to be assessed carefully via calculations upon return to England. However, the observations that had been taken seemed to indicate that H4 had performed with exceptional accuracy. On the Deptford’s return to Portsmouth, after a period of 147 days, its error was 1 minute 54.5 seconds, and only 5.1 seconds on the whole return voyage: an outstanding achievement, well beyond the Longitude Act’s requirements. Rumors about H4’s performance soon spread throughout His Majesty’s Navy – in comparison, although it had been considerably refined, the lunar distance method was still more difficult to use, required competence in using a complex instrument (the sextant), and calculations for the lunar method remained by far longer to determine …

“When the Board met on 17 August 1762 to consider the official results of the trial, while declaring Harrison’s chronometer to be ‘of considerable Use to the Public,’ they resolved (to Harrison’s dismay) that:

‘The experiments already made of the watch have not been sufficient to determine longitude at sea … the watch must needs submit to a new trial under stricter scrutiny … [John Harrison] receives £1,500 in recognition of the fact that his watch tho’ not yet found to be of such great use for discovering the Longitude is nevertheless an invention of considerable utility for the public’

“A further £1,000 was promised for payment after a second voyage to the West Indies, but no reason was ever given to explain this decision, nor were the official figures of the performance of H4 ever made public. Harrison, who expected an explicit acknowledgment of H4’s performance and hence the award of the £20,000 reward, was so surprised at the Board’s silence that he decided to render the behavior of the Board a matter of public interest. To this end, in December 1762 he published three broadsheets, followed by a pamphlet in February 1763 [the offered work]. Addressed to ‘Members of Parliament,’ the three broadsheets and the pamphlet reveal Harrison’s intention to inform, but also influence, the legislator and the public about the conduct of the Commissioners …

“Parliament responded to Harrison’s appeal with an Act – ‘An Act for the Encouragement of John Harrison’ – which protected Harrison against any other person’s winning the longitude reward by means of a timekeeper for a period of four years. It also specified that he would be entitled to an additional reward of £5000 if he had provided ‘a full and clear Discovery [i.e., explanation] of the Principles’ of his watch, ‘and of the true Manner and Method in which the same is and may be constructed.’ In order to fulfil this requirement, Harrison would have to supply drawings and descriptions, but also dismantle the watch piece by piece before the committee and supervise workmen in making two or more copies of it, which would have to be tested. Harrison, fearful of the delay that this would entail refused.

“It took almost two years before the Board arranged a second trial of H4 to Barbados. When William Harrison embarked for Barbados aboard the H.M.S. Tartar on 28 March 1764, Astronomer Royal Nathaniel Bliss (1700-64) sent Maskelyne with the task of carrying out geographical and astronomical records, and of assessing the accuracy of H4. As in the first trial, William used H4 to predict the ship’s arrival at Madeira with extraordinary accuracy, the average error of the watch being only 39.3 seconds after a voyage of 47 days, a level of accuracy three times better than the level required to win the £20,000 reward. Again, the arrival was certified by the commander of the Tartar, Sir John Lindsay, on 19 April 1764:

‘I do hereby certify that yesterday at four o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Harrison took two altitudes of the sun to ascertain the difference of longitude given by the time keeper from Portsmouth, according to which observations he declared to me, we were at that time 43 miles to the Eastward of Porto Santo. I then steered the direct course for it, and at one o’clock this morning we saw the inland, which exactly agreed with the distance mentioned above’” (Cattani et al.).

“The results were announced at a memorable meeting of the Board of Longitude in early 1765. H4 had done it again, producing the Bridgetown longitude with less than ten miles of error after a journey of more than 5,000 miles … The Board of Longitude accepted the result of the Barbados trial of H4, but they remained unconvinced that the instrument was not just a fluke—a one-off that might never be replicated. Parliament passed a new Act that yielded £10,000 to Harrison but withheld the remaining half of the prize until he met a series of conditions. According to Parliament’s terms, Harrison had to reveal in writing exactly how the watch had been made, including full drawings of each part and explanation of every detail to a select team of watchmakers. Then he needed to wait for these persons to manufacture similarly accurate watches themselves. Moreover, Harrison was compelled to relinquish H4 to the Astronomer Royal for long-term checking of its accuracy” (Fernie).

Eventually, after the direct intervention of King George III in 1773, Harrison was awarded most, but not all, of the prize. “The Board of Longitude, under the continuing influence of Nevil Maskelyne, still managed to find reasons to withhold some of Harrison's prize money. Nevertheless, including interim advances, he received a total of £23,065 from the Board over four decades. A copy of H4 made by another watchmaker accompanied Captain James Cook (1728-79) on his second voyage to the Pacific, where it was hailed as having ‘an amazing degree of accuracy’” (ibid.).

“John Harrison was a country carpenter from a remote and obscure village in Lincolnshire with little in the way of formal education. He had no experience of metropolitan culture prior to his first visit to London, which occurred in 1730, or perhaps a little earlier, with a manuscript account of his horological inventions. He returned in 1735 with his first marine timekeeper … His unassuming manner, unfamiliar speech and incoherent commentary (though that may have been particularly problematic in his written accounts) must have made an incongruous accompaniment to the mechanical grace and eloquence of his machines … The Gentleman’s Magazine, in reporting the first meeting of the Board of Longitude, presented the enigma as follows: ‘This ingenious Person was originally brought up a Joiner, and ‘tis thought by Mathematicians, his Machine is nearer finding out the Longitude than any ever attempted of this kind’ (Gentleman’s Magazine, 7, 1737, p 448). To emphasise the force of that observation, we might remember that one writer of the period judged that in the common view finding the longitude was ‘placed in the same degree of probability with the secret of prolonging life, the perpetual motion, and the squaring of the circle.’

“How could there be such a combination of inexperience and ingenuity? The very starkness of the contrast made the answer obvious: this was what Martin Folkes meant by a ‘natural and uncommon genius’ … Mechanical skill was normally acquired through a lengthy apprenticeship but in Harrison’s case a lack of education had allowed him to become the consummate mechanic: his natural abilities had not been clouded and dulled by the drudgery of training” (Bennett).

Harrison was assisted in writing the Account by James Short (1710-68), a Scottish mathematician and telescope maker; he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1737. Short “was surely Harrison’s most consistent supporter outside his immediate family … He was one of the friends – probably the principal one – who helped with composing the pamphlets presenting Harrison’s case to public or parliament, the person most commonly associated with this role and acknowledged as such at the time. When Harrison objected to requirements from the ‘Commissioners for the Discovery of Mr Harrison’s Watch’ in 1763, saying that he could not afford to employ workmen to make duplicates of his watch, Lord Morton told him ‘if you cannot do it of yourself, you must get your friend Mr. Short or some other Friends to assist you’. Short defended Harrison’s position during the proceedings of this Commission. Later Harrison nominated Short, together with Short’s colleague John Bevis, to examine the instruments to be used on the trial voyage to Barbados, and nominated him again for the subsequent calculations. Short appeared for Harrison’s case before a committee of the House of Commons in 1763 …

“Although the author of Harrison’s tract An account of the proceedings is identified as a fellow of the Royal Society, and so was probably Short, when the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande, on a visit to London, was given a copy by Short himself in 1763 he was told that the work had been shared with the lawyer Taylor White. White was not a fellow, but was Treasurer of the Foundling Hospital, with its progressive philosophy of philanthropy and education. Martin Folkes, one of Harrison’s strongest supporters in the Royal Society, was a founding Vice-President of the Foundling Hospital from 1739 to 1747. It is not difficult to build a picture of Short’s attitudes and those of his circle that is conducive to notions of natural ability fostered by application and improvement” (ibid.).

Adams & Waters, English Maritime Books printed before 1801, 2011; ESTC T64164; Norman 1941; PMM 208; Taylor II 60; Exploration and Discovery 1576-1939: The Library of Franklin Brooke-Hitching Part 2, D-J, 605. Bennett, ‘James Short and John Harrison: personal genius and public knowledge,’ Science Museum Group Journal, Autumn 2014. Betts, John Harrison’s H4. Cattani et al., ‘Deconstructing the outsider puzzle,’ Organization Science 28 (2017), pp. 965-992. Fernie, ‘The Harrison-Maskelyne Affair,’ American Scientist 91 (2003), pp. 403-405. Lake, ‘In-depth: The microscopic magic of the H4, Harrison’s first sea.



4to (215 x 175 mm), pp. [ii], 46 (title trimmed at foot, just touching price [one shilling]) old paper repair to lower inner margin of title, F1 with two ink annotations. Twentieth-century half-morocco.

Item #4994

Price: $95,000.00

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