The Nautical Almanac & Its Superintendents

1714: The Longitude Act & The Board of Longitude


Needless to say there was a public outcry to the disaster of 1707. However, it took seven years before the Longitude Act was passed by Parliament. The Act established the Board of Longitude to examine the problem, and set up a £20,000 prize (equivalent of about £2 million today) for the person who could invent a means of finding longitude to an accuracy of 30 miles after a six-week voyage to the West Indies. It also made minor awards for discoveries and improvements to the general problem of finding longitude.

Harrison's H1 Chronometer

Harrison's Chronometer H1

© National Maritime Museum, London

The Board of Commissioners consisted of the First Commissioners of the Navy Board, the Speaker of the House of Commons, some ten Members of Parliament, the Astronomer Royal (Flamsteed), the President of the Royal Society, and professors of mathematics from Oxford and Cambridge.

The first meeting of the Board, for which minutes survive (which I viewed in the Royal Greenwich Observatory archives at Herstmonceux, and are now kept by the Cambridge University Library), was held on 30th June 1737, when the discussion was about John Harrison (1693-1766) and his time piece H1.


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