This page lists those individuals or post holders who were appointed as Commissioners for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea. A link to the text of the various acts referred to is given below.
The 1714 longitude act appointed the holders of the following 14 offices as Commissioners
In addition to the above office holders, the following nine individuals were appointed by name
The list of Commissioners has a number of ambiguities:
The first meeting of the Commissioners of which there is a record, took place on 30 June 1737. By this time, all the named commissioners except Hanmer were dead. The next meeting of which there is a record took place on 16 January 1741. Hamner is recorded as attending. By the time the third meeting took place in 1746, Hamner was dead.
Although the act provided for up to 23 commissioners, the gradual demise of those appointed in an individual capacity together with the ambiguities mentioned above, meant that in 1714, the number of commissioners potentially available was 22, but by the time the Board first met in 1737, the number had reduced to just 14.
Five or more of the Commissioners were needed for the Board to be quorate.
By 1753, although the Commissioners appointed by name rather than position were all dead, clause 2 of the act stated:
‘And whereas many of the commissioners appointed by the said act made in the twelfth year of the reign of her late Majesty Queen are deceased ...’
The following postholders were therefore added to the list:
As in 1714, five or more of the Commissioners were needed for the Board to be quorate.
The act of 1763, which was titled
‘An Act for the Encouragement of John Harrison, to publish and make known his Invention of a Machine or Watch, for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea.’
appointed a committee of eleven individuals with the requirement that all,
‘or the major part of them shall certify in Writing under their Hands and Seals, to the Commissioners of his Majesty's Navy for the Time being, that the said John Harrison hath fully and clearly made the said Discovery for the Purposes aforesaid, then, upon producing such Certificate, the said Commissioners of the Navy are hereby authorized and required to make out a Bill or Bills for the Sum of five thousand Pounds payable to the said John Harrison ...’
The individuals who made up the committee were:
The Lowndean chair of Astronomy and Geometry at Cambridge which was founded by Thomas Lowndes in 1749 was added to the list of Commisioners.
It was described in the Act as:
In 1783, the post of Second Secretary to the Admiralty was created. The Act of 1790 added the Second Secreatary to the list of Commissioners. The wording of the act was that:
The 1714 Longitude act appointed ‘The Admirals of the Red, White, and Blue Squadrons’ as Commisioners. Until 1743 there was in principle only one officer of each of these ranks, but after 1743, the numbers increased rapidly (N.A.M. Rodger, 2001). By the 1810s, there were around 60 Admirals of the Red, White, and Blue Squadrons, who, in theory were all Commissioners by virtue of their office. The 1818 Act removed this group in their entirety.
Click here for an undated list of 28 named Admirals and their addresses (two of which are marked as unknown) which is archived amongst the Board’s papers (RGO14/3/177)
Click here to view a list of the Admirals in post in 1811 (from: The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for England, Scotland, Ireland and the Colonies: For the Year 1811)
Click here to view a list of the Admirals in post in 1817 (from: The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for England, Scotland, Ireland and the Colonies: For the Year 1817)
It is understood from Rodger, that these lists may not be entirely reliable. As such, they should be regarded as indicative only.
The 1818 Longitude Act altered both the Remit and the makeup of the Board. The new Act abolished the old Board and appointed new Commissioners, many, but not all of whom had been Commissioners under the old Acts. Notable additions were three fellows of the Royal Society and three salaried ‘Resident Commissioners’. The list of Commissioners was as follows:
The Act also named the ‘Three Members of the Royal Society’ to be Commissioners in the first instance. They were:
It also named the following individuals as the ‘Resident Commissioners’
Clause iii of the Act stated how these six individuals were to be replaced
‘And be it further enacted, That the Three Members of the Royal Society, so to be Commissioners, shall be the Right Honourable Charles Lord Colchester, Davies Gilbert Esquire, and Colonel William Mudge; and that in the event of any Vacancy by Death, Resignation, or Refusal to act, of any of the said Three Persons, or of any Person hereafter chosen to succeed them, such Vacancy shall be filled up by the Choice and Election of the President and Council of the Royal Society; and that the said Three other Commissioners shall be Doctor William Hyde Wollaston, and Doctor Thomas Young, and Captain Henry Kater, who shall continue Commissioners until the First Day of January One thousand eight hundred and twenty, after which Time the Three Persons to be the said last-mentioned Commissioners shall be annually, or as often as a Vacancy by Death, Resignation, or Refusal to act, may occur, selected, chosen, and named by the Lord High Admiral, or Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral, and shall be Persons well versed in the Sciences of the Mathematics, Astronomy, or Navigation, and shall be generally resident in or near the City of London, and capable of attending at the Board of Commissioners, and of assisting in the Objects herein intrusted to the said Board.’
Clause xxi of the Act provided for
‘some Person of competent Skill and Ability shall be nominated and appointed by the Lord High Admiral or Commissioners of the Admiralty to be Secretary to the said Board of Commissioners, and for superintending, under the Directions of the Board in general, and the Astronomer Royal in particular, the due and correct Publication of the Nautical Almanack, and for taking care of and regulating such Timekeepers as may be intrusted to his care by the Lord High Admiral or Commissioners of the Admiralty.’
By Order of Council dated 27 May 1818, the salary of the Secretary was fixed at £500 a year (RGO14/7/251)
However, Clause xxii went on to add that
‘if it shall so happen that a Person shall not be found competent to execute the Three several Duties of Secretary to the said Board, and of superintending the Publication of the Nautical Almanac, and the Care and Regulation of Timekeepers, it shall be lawful to the said Commissioners to propose to His Majesty in Council to divide the said Duties, and assign them to several Persons, and to apportion to each Person such Part of the Salary established for the performance of the united Duties as may seem to them fit and proportionate to the several Duty or Duties to be performed by such Person.’
In the event, a single person could not be found to fulfil all the duties. At a meeting of Council at the Court at Carlton House held on 31 October 1818 a memorial dated 27 October 1818 was read from the Right Honourable the Lords Commisioners of the Admiralty, in which it was proposed to divided the post into three with the following salaries (RGO14/7/253)
Approval was given and Thomas Young was appointed as both Secretary and Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac. As a result he had to resign his post as one of the Resident Commissioners. His place was taken by Colonel William Mudge.
As a result, the individuals holding the position of ‘Resident Commissioners’ from November 1818 until 31 December 1819 were:
Individuals appointed/reappointed as ‘Resident Commissioners’ in time for the meeting of 3 February 1820 were:
Mudge died on 17 April 1820 and was not replaced until the end of the year. Following the death of the President of the Royal Society, Joseph Banks, on 19 June 1820, the Council of the Royal Society, at its meeting on 29 June, appointed Wollaston as President in an acting until the Anniversary Meeting on 30 November when Sir Humphry Davy was elected President. The only meetings of the Board of Longitude to take place in 1820 after the death of Banks were on 2 and 27 November at which Wollaston appears in the minutes as President of the Royal Society rather than a ‘Resident Commissioner’. Although Wollaston was reappointed a ‘Resident Commissioner’ for the year commencing 1821, it is not clear if he resumed this role with effect from Davy’s appointment as President.
Individuals appointed/reappointed as ‘Resident Commissioners’ in time for the meeting of 1 February 1821 were
At the meeting held on 7 June 1821 it was announced that Wollaston had been elected as one of the three Commissioners on behalf of the Royal Society and that he had resigned as a ‘Resident Commissioner’. It was also announced that he had been replaced as a ‘Resident Commissioner’ by John Frederic William Herschel Esquire. Wollaston, Kater and Herschel were reappointed each subsequent year until the Board was dissolved in 1828. The ‘Resident Commissioners’ from 7 June 1821 until the Board was dissolved were therefore (RGO14/7 & RGO14/8):
The three members of the Royal Society appointed as commisioners from the 7 June 1821 until Humphry Davy's resignation as President of the Royal Society on 30 November 1827 were:
When Davies Gilbert replaced Humphry Davy as President, the place he vacated as a member of the Royal Society was not filled (much to the dismay of James South who mentioned it during a series of letters he wrote to the Morning Chronicle at the end of 1828 and then published in book form in early 1829). As a result, there were only two members of the Royal Society in addition to the President acting as Commissioners eligable to attend the three meetings of the Board that were held in 1828 before it was wound up. They were:
During the life of the Board, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy was also the Observer of the Radcliffe Observatory.
Clause xxvii stated the conditions needed for the Board to be quorate. Although the minimum numer of Commissioners needed remained at five, which individuals they were became important for the first time:
‘And be it further enacted, That in any other respects where any Power or Authority is vested in the Commissioners under this Act, the same may be exercised by any Five or more Commissioners at the Board assembled, in as full and ample a Manner as if the whole Commissioners were then and there present; provided always, that at every such Board one of the following Commissioners at the least shall be present: that is to say, the First or one other of the Commissioners, or one of the Secretaries of the Admiralty; and that also three other of the following Commissioners at the least shall be present, that is to say, the President of the Royal Society, the Astronomer Royal, the Professors and Observer at the Two Universities, and the Three Commissioners annually elected and receiving salaries as aforesaid.’