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This website offers a complete biography and history of John Harrison... Fantastic !
John Harrison and the Longitude Problem
Cool link Jim, I got the book for Christmas but my wife wont let me read it yet.
Says I have to wait for Christmas. Oh the waiting.
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I say... be sneaky , a little peek won't hurt
I allready thought about that one Jim so, I stopped and thumbed through it at the book store while shopping last nite. Boy, I cant wait.
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You have a real treat in store, Aaron!
The book Longitude by Dava Sobel reads like the exciting adventure story it truly is.
Nautical navigation depends on accurate, reliable time pieces in order to determine a ship's position based on the positions of celestial bodies. Many major disasters were caused by faulty navigation due to inaccurate clocks that could not keep time on the pitching seas and changing atmospheric conditions. The British Admiralty's Board of Longitudes offered a huge monetary prize for the successful development of a naval chronometer to determine longitude to within 60, 40, and 30 geographical miles when used at sea.
John Harrison (1693-1776) met the challenge head-on and produced a series of five superb chronometers. As the Board hedged on the reward, asking for ever-more improvements, Harrison finally received his prize only after the personal intervention of King George III. Reward and recognition for John Harrison's lifetime of seeking horological perfection came just three years before his passing.
The injustice of what John Harrison endured for much of his life would overwhelm any ordinary person many times over.
He was truly a man of epic proportions.
I just checked the link and it's now kind of shopzilla for clocks - strictly commerce. No mention of Harrison.
Agreed. Isn't it time to deactivate this thread?
Thanks guys, we have updated Jim's link...
Check it out, the whole story is presented very well.
Just finished the "Longitude........." book by Dava Sobel, an excellant read and explanation of the longitude problem at that time in history. Amazing machines, clocks needing no lubrication, etc. I join in others here that highly recommend this book.
Sounds great/ I ordered a copy of the book a few days ago and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival.
One of my friends had the movie, on VHS, and I borrowed it and watched it.
It's a long movie but a great story... for anyone.
But for a watch or clock collector.... it's wonderful. There's a scene, in modern times, when they take-apart Harrison's 3rd chronometer and describe it. They TELL you that it is very precise but you have to know watches to really appreciate it. At one point, the examiner observes, "jeweled and capped to the 4th wheel." To a watchmaker.... that's music!
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It is out on DVD now at Amazon for $35.99
|IHC Member 234|
...just purchased and viewed over the Holidays the 2cd DVD set of 'Longitude'...would indeed rate it '2 thumbs up'...also have a 'litho' of the 'Great One' on the shop wall...
was this a movie or television programme? Please tell the title, I would love to see that!
It is a movie, as Jim and Phil, have noted. It is entitled "Longitude." It is a long film but I would gladly recommend it to anyone, with or without an interest in watches or clocks. For those of us that HAVE such an interest, it is all the better.
It is set both in historic and modern times and flips back and forth between the character of Harrison and a modern watchmaker-researcher, who is studying Harrison's history and his designs.
In our watch-shop, there is an 18th Century wall clock, quite huge, that has a bi-metallic pendulum and a "Harrison Escapement."
The sad part about the movie is that the so-called scientists of the era had no respect for Harrison, considering him an ingorant "tinkerer" rather than even an inventor!
I'm certain that a good Blockbuster Video would still have it, as well as Netflix. Since it has such historical and educational value, I would bet that most public libraries would have it too.
There are actually two TV programs, the long one originally appeared on a cable channel (History Channel or A&E), and the other is a one hour PBS NOVA episode entitled "Lost at Sea". The long one combines the story of John Harrison with the story of Rupert Gould, who wrote "The Marine Chronometer" and restored Harrison's timepieces.
I hope anyone interested in Sovel's "Longitude" gets the illustrated version; her book is very good, but Harrison's timepieces are magnificent, and there's commentary from other experts in the illustrated version.
By the way, John Harrison never actually got the Longitude prize. He received an award of money equal to the prize which was pushed through Parliment by King George. The actual prize could only be awarded by the Board of Longitude, which never awarded it to anyone. So although King and Parliment felt Harrison had earned the money, the Board never admitted that he had, and that rankled with both Harrison and his son.
Yes... that was an interesting sidelight of the story. The Board considered themselves "scientific" and considered clockmakers as "tinkerers," not scientists.
But... equally intersting is that Harrison, himself, did not hold a very high opinion of watchmakers vs. clockmakers. Indeed, he was not up-to-date on the state-of-the-art of watches at the time. His second chronometer, a gorgeous and complex model had failed. Harrison was beginning his 3rd one when he commissioned a watchmaker to build him a "comparison" watch. Harrison was stunned to find that the "comparison" watch could perform most of the functions that his far more elaborate chronometers did. He then abandoned his idea of a clock, with zillions of complications to compensate for sea conditions, for a watch-type chronometer that did not have a clock's inherent limitations. It is also interesting that Harrison expected his watch-maker to produce watches, to his specifications, in far less time than he, himself, was producing clocks.
I was so inspired by this thread that I looked on Amazon.com and found a NEW copy of the movie on VHS. It arrived today. Absolutely new... 4 tapes, each in shrink-wrap, in a shink-wrapped case. I only paid $4.99 plus $2.54 postage.
Before anyone asks, I have written to the seller to find out if he has more copies.
I am watching the first volume and it is better this time. When one realizes the genius of Harrison, lurking in humble origins....
The guy I bought the set from has answered me and says that he actually has 50 sets for sale.
Mine was brand new and perfect. These are VHS sets and he does NOT have DVDs. I bought mine through Amazon.com and there ARE DVD's available there for around $20.00
I can attest that Joe (the seller) is first rate. He must have shipped immediately because I had my set of tapes, in hand, in 3-4 days total. He also responded instantly to my inquiry.
If you want a set you can go through Amazon or contact him directly at email@example.com. He even mentioned bulk prices in case we (or someone) wants to have them at a Mart Table. He will take Paypal too.
Just ordered mine about an hour ago............oooooo, can't wait! My son says I'm such a nerd, I reply "May be, but I'm a nerd with a BMW sports car....and you're not!"
I'm such a nerd that I've found myself getting emotional about Harrison's clocks and watches!
What do you have? I have a 1999, BMW Z-3 that I bought brand new and now, 8yrs later, has 20,000 miles on it! Certainly not a practical situation, but it's paid-for and MINE!
I just ordered Jonathon Bett's new biography of Rupert Gould.
For all of us nerds, a trip to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory is a must. When I was last there, H1, H2 nd H3 were running. They are the most fascinating instruments to watch. Make the trip, you will never forget it. The room at that time had a fantastic collection of timepieces including a great selection of marine chronometers.
I was thinking the very thing, last night... a trip to Greenwich. Where is H-4, if you know?
Answering my own question. At the conclusion of the movie, there is a scene shot at Greenwich, showing all 4 chronometers, including H-4, which has been restored to brand-new condition. I believe it is displayed next to some of the original logs used to verify it's accuracy.
Harrison was required by the "Board" to make two identical copies of the watch. According to the movie, he made just one copy and then diverted his attention towards improving his original chronograph with a bimetallic, compensating balance wheel...
To understand and appreciate these terms and concepts makes an otherwise good movie into a moving experience.
They just don't have H-4 running. As I understand it, they don't have to dismantle & clean H-1, H-2, or H-3 since they mostly have lignum vitae or other naturally oily wood roller bearings that don't clog up. H-4 is brass which needs cleaning & oiling, and they don't want to have to do that. Even Harrison wasn't sure of his ability to reassemble it when he had to take it apart for the Board of Longitude.
H-1/H-3 are the show pieces anyway, in their glass display cases, as you'd only see the hands move on H-4.
Peter, I have a 1998 Z3 Roadster 2.8 L with the 5 speed manual transmission. I bought it used 3 years ago with 51,000 miles on it, but it was in almost immaculate condition. I got it for $4,000 less than blue book, so had to have it! It now has 80,000 miles, but I won't be driving it as much now that my wife can only drive her car for very short trips. I think there is a photo of it & me in the "Vintage car" thread in the private conversations section of 185.
I am aware of the emotional scene where Harrison disassembles H-4 for the “Board.” Afterward, he grabs a bunch of parts and yells, “What watch?”
At first blush, that would indeed indicate his doubts about being able to reassemble it, but that interpretation is contrary to other scenes (of the movie… perhaps the book is more descriptive).
1. In one scene Rupert Gould is restoring H-1 and he remarks that disassembly takes 8 full hours and reassembly takes about the same. He also remarks that Harrison must have done it hundreds of times because every adjustment, improvement and modification required it. If Harrison could do that with the far more complex H-1…. the far simpler H-4 should have been easy.
2. From the movie description and scenes, it appears that H-4 would be a movement that we would all easily recognize. Rupert Gould describes it as 5 beats per second (precisely the “modern” standard… 18,000 per hour), train-jeweled and capped to the 3rd wheel (its second hand was center-set, allowing the 4th wheel to be fully capped). Ruby hole-jewels and diamond cap-jewels. Plates of burnished brass, not gilded. He even describes a porcelain/enamel dial with roman numerals (no mention of hairlines and obviously not RR approved! ) I don’t think that someone of Harrison’s brilliance would find it confusing.
One possible explanation might be that at age 80, Harrison might have been lacking in eyesight or manual dexterity.
I think the more likely explanation was that he felt that the “Board” had needlessly desecrated his lovely timepiece. At one point, Harrison tells the Board (entirely made-up of astronomers) that “…they wouldn’t know a tempered spring from a hatpin.” Viewed in that manner, the insistence upon disassembly, after the watch had performed (before witnesses) under the most extreme conditions, must have been totally outrageous.
As to what one might see of H-4…. let Frank K. or myself near it and…. you’ll see parts!
I just back from the library with the illustrated book version of it so that I could delve a bit deeper than the movie.
I finally received my copy of Longitude, the book, and have started reading it. So far it's very interesting.
I guess I'll have to break down and get the movie also.
Our readers in this forum may be interested in the following book review on the new biography of Rupert Gould, who rediscovered and restored the Harrison seaclock in the 1920s and 1930s:
Time Restored: The Harrison timekeepers and R.T. Gould, the man who knew (almost) everything.
By Jonathan Betts; published 2006 by Oxford University Press, Oxford UK & New York, NY and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich UK; Hardcover (dust jacket), 464 pages; 62 black and white illustrations in the text, 16 color plates; extensive bibliography, glossary, index; ISBN 0-19-856802 9; available through http://www.oup.com/us or amazon.com, US$69 list price.
Most serious students of horology will be familiar with the name of Rupert T. Gould (Lieut. Commander, RN, retired) primarily as the author of “The Marine Chronometer, its history and development”, originally published in 1923 (and reprinted repeatedly up to 1989, now out of print, but amazon is now taking preorders for a new reprint). That book remains –in the opinion of this reviewer- 80 years after it was written still the best text on the history and technology of the marine chronometer. The general public in the USA is more likely to have come across Gould in Dava Sobel’s bestseller “Longitude” as the amateur clock restorer who rescued the early longitude clocks by John Harrison from obscurity and decay. These clocks - now commonly referred to as H1 to H3- together with H4 and H5 are clearly among the most significant horological artifacts in existence and form the core of the timekeeping exhibit at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (UK), the one world heritage site that every horologist should visit.
Jonathan Betts, the Senior Specialist, Horology, at the Royal Observatory, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, is one of the most respected horological scholars, lecturers and writers alive. As the current custodian of these Harrison clocks he has long felt a deep and personal affinity to the person who –against all odds- brought these horological marvels back to life in the second quarter of the 20th century. For decades, Betts has painstakingly collected and studied material for a comprehensive biography of Gould. He was fortunate to not only have access to Gould’s extensive notebooks (held at the NMM) describing the restoration work in painstaking detail, but also to be personally very familiar with these timepieces. Furthermore, Betts had won the trust of Gould’s heirs and thus access to private diaries, photo albums and other family papers.
The task of writing a Gould biography must at times have appeared overwhelming to Betts, because Gould was a very complex and extremely multifaceted person. The temptation to write “only” a “horological biography” about his hero must have been tempting to Betts, and such a book on its own would have presented a welcome addition to the horological literature. Such a book would have been easier to read for the many Harrison afficionados and horologists who longed for it. But Betts chose the harder route: He chose to write a Gould biography that would do justice to Gould the person rather than just to Gould the horologist. This reviewer feels that this ambitious task has been accomplished in a balanced and sensitive manner.
R.T. Gould was a brilliant individual, with many heartfelt interests, who made major contributions in many of the tasks he undertook: He was a polymath and scholar of many diverse subjects. He excelled in horology and as a radio presenter; he studied and wrote on the history of the typewriter; he was a brilliant conversationalist and talented artist; he was an expert on sea monsters (including the Loch Ness monster) and systematically collected and documented curious and unexplained facts; and early in his life he had a promising naval career. But for much of his life he also sporadically suffered from severe mental illness which caused chaos in his marital life and his career.
This reviewer believes that it is impossible to fully comprehend the horological achievements of Gould, to truly understand his obsession with the Harrison sea clocks, without wading through the other more troubled chapters of his life, and without discovering the other subjects that were dear to him.
The author faced the challenge of writing a biography of a genius, who led a chaotic personal and professional life, whose many accomplishments fell into widely diverging disciplines and areas, whose horological endeavors were spaced out over decades. There seems to be no easy way to tell the complete story of such a complex person; both a strictly chronological structure or strictly thematic chapters would be somewhat difficult for the reader to follow. Betts chose a hybrid approach between a rigid timeline and a thematic organization of the material, and in addition wisely chose to move several of the ancillary subjects to appendices and 412 footnotes (which account for over 100 pages of the book).
In the book as published 8 (out of 22) chapters (and 3 out of 6 appendices) deal primarily with Gould the horologist. I suppose a reader with a horological focus could possibly read only those parts and learn quite a bit about Gould the horologist. This reviewer is glad to have had all parts of the book available, because Gould -and all his achievements, horological and otherwise- can only be fully appreciated in the larger context of his life and his time.
From a horological perspective, the meat of the book is in the chapters describing Gould’s restoration work on the big Harrison sea clocks, H, H2 and H3, in the 1920s and 1930s. Gould took on this task as a volunteer and amateur horologist. If he had not “rediscovered” those magnificent machines in a state of complete neglect, they would probably no longer exist, let alone run today. Gould kept extremely detailed, richly illustrated notebooks documenting his efforts, which form the basis for much of this book’s narrative in the horological chapters. Any horologist with a deeper interest in John Harrison’s work must read “Time Restored”, because it contains so much additional information on these machines and their history. Anyone who has struggled to .bring a long neglected, complex mechanical movement back to life will be fascinated –and will fee empathy with Gould- reading these chapters. Most readers will also be surprised at the utter lack of standards that existed just 70 years ago regarding the restoration and conservation of objects, which today are considered artifacts of global historic significance.
One of the side effects of reading “Time restored” for this reader was to whet his appetite for future horological publications not yet published, such as a) a scholarly re-edition of Gould’s’ “Marine Chronometer” with the countless revisions and additions suggested by Gould himself over the decades, and b) a facsimile edition of Gould’s notebooks detailing his work on the Harrison pieces. Now that the Gould biography is published, Betts would be the ideal person to get these priceless horological treasures into print.
In summary: “Time restored” can be enjoyed as a well crafted description of the horological contributions of an important persona of his time, but for the reader so inclined, it is much more, it is a sensitive portrait of a troubled, but brilliant human being, who pursued his horological and scholarly goals against the odds imposed by society and his era.
Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex, NJ
December 29, 2006
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A couple years ago we went to Greenwich & I had a chance to visit the Royal Observatory and view his creations, H1 H2 H3 and H4. I wish I could have got closer to them but it was a treat just the same.
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