Board of Longitude – the Commisioners

 

Commissioners appointed by the 1714 Longitude Act
  • The Lord High Admiral of Great Britain, or the First Commissioner of the Admiralty
  • The Speaker of the Honourable House of Commons
  • The First Commissioner of the Navy
  • The First Commissioner of Trade
  • The Admirals of the Red, White, and Blue Squadrons
  • The Master of the Trinity House
  • The President of the Royal Society
  • The Royal Astronomer of Greenwich
  • The Savilian, Lucasian, and Plumian Professors of Mathematicks in Oxford and Cambridge

In addition to the above office holders, the following individuals were appointed by name

  • The Right Honourable Thomas Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery
  • Philip Lord Bishop of Hereford
  • George Lord Bishop of Bristol
  • Thomas Lord Trevor
  • The Honourable Sir Thomas Hanmer Baronet, Speaker of the Honourable House of Commons
  • The Honourable Francis Robarts, Esquire
  • James Stanhope, Esquire
  • William Clayton, Esquire
  • William Lowndes, Esquire (1652–1724) – Secretary to the Treasury under Queen Anne

Five or more of the Commissioners were needed for the Board to be quorate.

The list of Commissioners has a number of ambiguities:

  • There were two Savilian professoships at Oxford (both created in 1619), but neither was titled Professor of Mathematicks. The two positions were the Savilian Professor of Geometry and the Savilian Professor of Astronomy. In practice, both professors attended meetings of the Board.
  • Edmond Halley and Nathaniel Bliss held the post of Astronomer Royal concurrently with the post of Savilian Professor of Geometry.
  • James Bradley held the post of Astronomer Royal concurrently with the post of Savilian Professor of Astronomy.
  • Sir Thomas Hanmer appears twice - firstly by virtue of his position as Speaker and secondly as a named individual. As a result, his role as a Commissioner continued after had he was replaced as Speaker of the House in 1715.

 

The longitude act of 1753

By 1753, many of the Commissioners appointed by name rather than position were dead. The following postholders were therefore added to the list:

  • The Governor of the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich
  • The Judge of the High Court of Admiralty
  • The Secretaries of the Treasury
  • The Secretary of the Admiralty
  • The Comptroller of the Navy

As in 1714, five or more of the Commissioners were needed for the Board to be quorate.

 

The second Longitude act of 1765 (Georgii III. Regis CAP XX)

The Lowndean chair of Astronomy and Geometry at Cambridge which was founded by Thomas Lowndes in 1749 was added to the list of Commisioners. Link

It was described in the Act as:

  • The Lowndes’s Professor of Astronomy in the University of Cambridge

 

The longitude act of 1790

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 Secretaries of the Admiralty for the Time being shall be, and they are hearby appointed Commmissioners ... (click here for text as published)

 

The Admirals of the Red, White, and Blue Squadrons

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 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

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 Lord High Treasurer of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, of the First Commissioner for executing the said Office
  • The Lord High Admiral of Great Britain or First Commissioner for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and such other Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as may be Flag Officers in His Majesty’s Fleet
  • The Speaker of the Honourable House of Commons
  • The President of the Committee of Council for Trade and Plantations
  • The Governor of the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich
  • The Judge of the High Court of Admiralty,
  • The Secretaries of the Treasury
  • The Secretaries of the Admiralty
  • The Comptroller of the Navy
  • The President and Three Fellows of the Royal Society
  • The Royal Astronomer of Greenwich
  • The Savilian, Lucasian, Plumian, and Lowndian Professors of Mathematics and Astronomy at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge
  • The Observer of the Radcliffe Observatory at Oxford

and

  • Three other persons well versed in the Sciences of Mathematics, Astronomy, or Navigation, to be annually selected, chosen, and named as herein-after provided ...

The Act also named the ‘Three Members of the Royal Society’ to be Commissioners in the first instance. They were:

  • The Right Honourable Charles Lord Colchester
  • Davies Gilbert esquire
  • Colonel William Mudge

It also named the following individuals as the ‘Resident Commissioners’

  • Doctor William Hyde Wollaston
  • Doctor Thomas Young
  • Captain Henry Kater

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)

  • Secretary (£100)
  • Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac (£300)
  • Superintendent of Chronometers (£100)

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:

  • Doctor William Hyde Wollaston
  • Captain Henry Kater
  • Colonel William Mudge

Individuals appointed/reappointed as ‘Resident Commissioners’ in time for the meeting of 3 February 1820 were:

  • Doctor William Hyde Wollaston
  • Captain Henry Kater
  • Colonel William Mudge

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

  • Dr William Hyde Wollaston
  • Captain Henry Kater
  • Major Thomas Colby

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):

  • Captain Henry Kater
  • Major Thomas Colby
  • John Frederic William Herschel Esquire

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:

  • The Right Honourable Charles Lord Colchester
  • Davies Gilbert esquire
  • Dr William Hyde Wollaston

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:

  • The Right Honourable Charles Lord Colchester
  • Dr William Hyde Wollaston

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.’

 

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