Longitude Acts

The Board of Longitude existed from 1714 until 1828. The original Act of Parliament that created the Board, or to be more precise, appointed the Commissioners for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea (also referred to as the Commissioners for the Discovery of Longitude) was passed in 1714. As well as appointing the Commissioners, the act also spelt out their duties and the awards at their disposal. First added to in 1741, the act was subsequently amended or repealed and replaced on numerous occasions until the Board was dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1828.

In 1998, in his paper about the Board’s finances, Derek Howse identified and published a list of the 21 Acts he had discovered that related to the Commissioners for the Discovery of Longitue. Regretably, his list omitted the act of 1776 (16 Geo 3. c.6) which concerned the discovery of a north west passage and can be regarded as the precursor of sections 9–14 of the 1818 Longitude Act (58 Geo 3. c.20). The 1776 act built on an earlier act, by adding the Commissioners of Longitude to the Commissioners appointed by an act of 1745 (18 Geo. 2, c.17) to administer the rewards offered for ‘discovering a north west passage through Hudson’s Streights’. Although the 1745 act did not involve the Comissioners for the Discovery of Longitude, it is included in the list below because of its significance as a precursor act.

In the second edition of his book A Practical Treatise on the Law of Patents for Inventions and of Copyright, Richard Godson lists these 23 acts together (including 18 Geo. 2, c.17), suggesting that there that the list below is complete.

Intriguingly, of the 23 acts, copies or just 16 are preserved amongst the papers of the Board of Longitude, at the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives at Cambridge. Digitised in the 2010s they can be viewed at the Cambridge Digital Library. The links below are to these digitised Acts where they exist and to other digitised versions where they don’t.



Year
Act
Title

Link

1 1714 12 Anne.
c.15.
An Act for providing a Publick Reward for such Person or Persons as shall Discover the Longitude at Sea. RGO14/1/10

2 1741 14 Geo 2. c.39 An Act for surveying the Chief Ports and Head Lands on the Coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Islands and Plantations thereto belonging, in order to the more exact Determination of the Longitude and Latitude thereof. RGO14/1/13
(3) 1745 18 Geo. 2, c.17 An Act for giving a publick reward to such person or persons, his Majesty's subject or subjects, as shall discover a north west passage through Hudson's Streights, to the western and southern ocean of America. Statutes at Large, Vol 18, p.327 (1765)

4 1753 26 Geo 2. c.25 An Act to render more effectual an Act made in the Twelfth Year of the Reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne, intituled, An Act ... at Sea, with regard to the making of Experiments of Proposals made for Discovering the Longitude; and to enlarge the Number of Commissioners for putting in Execution the said Act. RGO14/1/16

5
1761 2 Geo 3. c.18
An Act for rendering more effectual an Act made in the Twelfth Year of the Reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne, intituled, An Act ... at Sea, with regard to the making Experiments of Proposals made for discovering the  Longitude.
RGO14/1/20

6
1763 3 Geo 3. c.14
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. RGO14/1/23

7
1765 5 Geo 3. c.11
An Act for rendering more effectual an Act made in the Twelth Year of the Reign of Queen Anne, intuited, ... [Act 1], with regard to the making of Experiments of Proposals made for the discovery of the Longitude.
RGO14/1/26

8 1765 5 Geo 3. c.20 An Act for explaining and rendering more effectual Two Acts, One made in the Twelth Year of the Reign of Queen Anne, intuited ...[Act 1]; and the other in the Twenty sixth Year of the Reign of King George the Second, intuitied ...[Act 3] with regard to the making of Experiments of Proposals made for the discovery of the Longitude; and to enlarge the Number of Commissioners for putting in Execution the Said Act.
RGO14/1/29

9 1770 10 Geo 3. c.34 An Act for rendering more effectual several Acts for providing a Publick Reward for discovering the Longitude at Sea; for improving the Lunar Tables constructed by the late Professor Mayer, and for encouraging Discoveries and Improvements useful to Navigation.

RGO14/1/34

10 1773 13 Geo 3. c.77 An Act for granting His Majesty a certain Sum of Money out of the Sinking Fund; and for applying certain Monies theirin mentioned for service of the year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-three; and for further appropriating the Supplies granted in the Session of Parliament; and for paying to John Harrison a further Reward for his Invention of a Time-keeper for ascertaining the longitude at Sea, and his Discovery of the Principles upon which the same was constructed.

Statutes at Large, Vol 11, p.839 (1774)
11 1774 14 Geo 3. c.66 An Act for the Repeal of all former Acts concerning the Longitude at Sea, except so much thereof as relates to the Appointment and Authority of the Commissioners thereby constituted, and also such Clauses as relate to the construction, printing, publishing, vending, and licensing, of the Nautical Almanacks, and other useful Tables; and for the more effectual Encouragement and Reward of such Persons as shall discover a Method for finding the same, or shall make useful Discoveries in Navigation; and for the better making Experiments relating thereto. RGO14/1/43  second copy (annotated) at RGO14/1/37
12 1776 16 Geo 3. c.6 An act for giving a publick reward unto such persons, being his Majesty's subject or subjects, as shall discover a northern passage for vessels by sea, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; and also unto such as shall first approach by sea within one degree of the northern pole. Statutes at Large, Vol 31, p.155 (1775)

13 1777
17 Geo 3. c.48 An Act for rendering more effectual an Act made in the fourteenth Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, for promoting the Discovery of a Method for findingthe Longitude at Sea, so far as relates to the Encouragement and Reward of Persons making lesser Discoveries for finding the same, or making other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation; and to the making of Experiments relating thereto.

Statutes at Large, Vol 13, p.121 (1780)

14 1780
20 Geo 3. c.61 An Act for continuing the Encouragement and Reward of Persons making certain Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or making other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto.
Statutes at Large, Vol 13, p.597 (1780)
15 1781 21 Geo 3. c.52 An Act for continuing the Encouragement and Reward of Persons making certain Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or making other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto. RGO14/1/49

16 1790
30 Geo 3. c.14 An Act for continuing the Encouragement and Reward of Persons making certain Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or making other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto: and for adding a Commissioner to execute the several Acts for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea.

RGO14/1/52

17 1796
36 Geo 3. c.107 An Act for continuing the Encouragement and Reward of Persons making certain Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or making other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto.
RGO14/1/56

18 1803
43 Geo 3. c.118 An Act to render more effectual an Act, passed in the Fifth Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, relating to the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, and for continuing the Encouragement of Persons making certain Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto; and for discharging certain Debts incurred by the Commissioners of the Longitude in carrying the Acts relating thereto into Execution.

RGO14/1/58

19 1806
46 Geo 3. c.77 An Act for continuing the Encouragement of Persons making Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto; and for discharging certain Debts incurred by the Commissioners of the Longitude in carrying the Acts relating thereto into Execution.
RGO14/1/61

20 1815
55 Geo 3. c.75 An Act to continue the Encouragement of Persons making Discoveries for finding the Longitude at Sea, or other useful Discoveries and Improvements in Navigation, and for making Experiments relating thereto; and for discharging certain Debts incurred by the Commissioners of the Longitude, in carrying the Acts relating thereto into Execution.
The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 6, p.179 (1816)

21
1818
58 Geo 3. c.20 An Act for more effectually discovering the Longitude at Sea, and encouraging Attempts to find a Northern Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and to approach the Northern Pole.

RGO14/1/79* second copy at RGO14/1/83

22 1821
1&2 Geo 4. c.2 An Act to ammend an Act, of the Fifty-eighth Year of His late Majesty, for more effectually discovering the Longitude at Sea, and encouraging Attempts to find a Northern Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and to approach the Northern Pole.
RGO14/1/89**

23 1828
9       Geo 4. c.66 An Act for repealing the Laws now in force relating to the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea.

The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 11, p.523 (1829)

 

*  Three drafts can be found at RGO14/1/63, RGO14/1/68 and RGO14/1/73.
** A draft can be found at RGO14/1/87

 

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