Halley’s third logbook

I said at the start of this Channel voyage that I wouldn’t be live-tweeting the logbook as I’d done for Halley’s two Atlantic voyages, as I felt the high proportion of technical data would be of little interest to the general reader. That was a pity as the third logbook is the only one handwritten by Halley, and so from that point of view it’s an interesting document.

In fact I did tweet a few entries at the start of the voyage and I’m doing so again now at the end as these entries contain more general information – but to give you a flavour of the main substance of the log, here’s a typical entry in which Halley records soundings and the times and lunar positions of the tides:

[Sat, June 21] about 9h in the Morn I weighd and stood off to Sea, with a gentle gale of ENE wind, and about One after noon came to an anker in 18 fath. the Ness Light baring NNW; and Calis cliff ENE. here the westward tide was done at 5h.35′, or three hours and half before the Moons Southing. whence I concluded the course of the Tides here the same as at the Ness. viz that a II½ Moon ends the Eastern Tide. at 6h I weighd and stood to the eastward with a small gale of SSW wind, and about 9h fell with the West end of the Riprapps which is a narrow rigd of soft sand. I crost it severall times in 9, 8 and 7 fath and the Eastern tide being near done, I came to an anker in that depth the Ness light baring WNW and that of the South Foreland NbE p[er] Compass. here I rode two tides and found the Eastern tide done on a SW or NE Moon nearest. that it flowed about three fath. that it runs half tide here as by the Shore and that the Sett of the Stream is nearest NE and SW.

We’ll consider the purpose of this data when we look at the results of the voyage, but in this post I want to focus on what I like to call The Mystery of Halley’s Clerks.

Now that remark may excite expectations that this post will struggle to satisfy for this is not a tale of clerks going to sea and mysteriously disappearing, but rather a puzzle about what exactly the clerks did on the voyages – why, for example, was the third logbook written up by Halley and not by his clerk?

The clerk on the third voyage was one Richard Pinfold, who was the only person besides Halley to sail on all three voyages. On the two Atlantic voyages Pinfold was listed as captain’s servant, but on the third voyage he was said to have been captain’s clerk, and so I wondered whether he might have been a servant in Halley’s own household and been promoted to clerk as a ‘reward’ for going on the first two voyages, with Halley effectively covering the job himself. However, the manuscript pay and muster books show that Pinfold was actually entered as gunner’s mate and that the post of captain’s clerk was later interposed in the pay book beneath gunner’s mate. Pinfold was paid a salary as both gunner’s mate (£5 8s 6d) and captain’s clerk (£1 12s 11d), and the small wage paid to him as clerk suggests he performed that job for only a short time, and we know he wrote neither the logbook nor Halley’s letters.

The logs of the two Atlantic voyages weren’t written up by Halley, so they must’ve been written up by his clerks… well, possibly, but possibly not. There’s no immediate reason to doubt that the log of the first voyage was written by the clerk, Caleb Harmon, but the log of the second voyage is more of a puzzle. Halley wrote all his own letters to the Admiralty on both voyages, except for two on the second, and you might expect these to have been written by the clerk, William Curtiss, but they are in a different hand from that of the logbook. My first thought was that Curtiss perhaps fell ill with the “Barbadoes desease” at the same time as Halley, and so another crew member wrote them – but the two rogue letters (which are in the same hand) were written on 30 March and 8 July, either side of the period of sickness in late May, and the July letter states specifically that “we are a very healthy ship” at present. Why then did someone else write the letters, more than three months apart, and why did that person not receive extra pay as Pinfold did on the third voyage? Or why did Curtiss write the letters but not then the logbook?

The person who wrote the first logbook isn’t straightforward either. From the start of this project I’d been surprised at how neat and uniform the logs were and wondered whether they’d actually been written during the voyage or after the ship’s return to London, but then found that other logbooks were similarly neat and so thought that clerks might make draft notes and then write them up neatly while at anchor or in calm seas.

The idea of draft notes fits with a comment made by Alexander Dalrymple in an advertisement for his 1773 publication of Halley’s two Atlantic logs that

The Journal of Dr. Halley’s first Voyage is written on sundry scraps of paper, and some parts repeated in different places, and so blended that it was a very difficult matter to make it out intelligibly…

Dalrymple, who borrowed (and seemingly failed to return) these “scraps of paper” from the Board of Longitude, doesn’t mention whether the handwriting on the scraps was Halley’s or someone else’s, which is a pity as that might tell us something about how that logbook was compiled. A further curiosity is that Dalrymple seems to have been unaware of the existence of fair copies of the two logbooks (now in the British Library), and his published version of the second log was evidently compiled from another source, as there are discrepancies between the two. So what was the source for the second log used by Dalrymple, and who wrote it? And when were the fair copies of the two journals written?

These “sundry scraps of paper” also suggest a new spin on the warning given to Halley by Josiah Burchett at the end of the second voyage. Burchett wrote to Halley in Deptford, giving him permission to leave his ship to call on their lordships in London, “only lett mee give you this Caution, To have ye Books in readinesse”. Now I’d previously assumed this warning was intended to help Halley overcome the misgivings felt by some of their lordships about his handling of the prematurely-terminated first voyage* by making sure he was properly prepared when he met them, but now I wonder if it instead implies that Halley had previously displeased their lordships by returning from that voyage with only “scraps of paper” for his journal, and only had it written up on his return.

So while I think the mysteries surrounding Halley’s clerks might not rival And Then There Were None for excitement, they certainly seem to form a Problem at Sea.

* If you didn’t follow the first voyage, click on the tag for Edward Harrison to read about Halley’s problems with Lt Harrison and other officers.

Able seamen wanted!

When Halley’s first voyage ended prematurely with his return to England to court martial his lieutenant, he had to use all his diplomatic skills to persuade the Lords of the Admiralty to allow him a second attempt. That second voyage, however, was deemed so successful that their lordships lost no time in approving his next proposal for an expedition to survey the tides of the Channel.

This proposal was dated 23 April 1701 and it was evidently approved almost immediately, as on the 26th Halley wrote again to “humbly entreat my Commission to be dispatcht, in order to gett the Paramore Pink mann’d with such Compliment [sic] as their Lopps shall think fitting”, and his commission as master and commander of the Paramore was issued that day.[1] At the same time, the Admiralty sent an order to the Navy Board to clean and fit out the Paramore for “Channell Service”, and they agreed to all the requests for “Extraordinarys” that Halley had made in his letter, including his suggestion that the crew “cannot be well less than it was last time viz: 25 Men.”[2]

Halley wanted his commission quickly so he could begin recruiting his crew, as he was concerned that seamen were scarce as “no men [were] now offering themselves as usuall at other times.” Halley’s problem was that Royal Navy wages were then lower than those offered by merchant ships: Peter Earle tells us that wages in both the royal and merchant navies were broadly similar during peacetime (about 25 shillings a month for an able seaman), but that merchant wages rose dramatically during war when the competition for men became intense.[3]

In 1701, Europe was gearing up for what we know as the War of the Spanish Succession, and so merchant wages were presumably rising in anticipation of its outbreak. In a letter dated 4 June 1701, Halley complained that “I find my self disappointed in my Mate, who for great wages has been tempted to break his promise to me”, and expressed his concern that “for 40 sh[illings] p[er] month I fear I cannot have a man capable to take charge of my shipp, Marchants [sic] giving now so much to any able Seaman” – so merchant ships were already paying able seamen at a 15 shilling premium.

Halley had great difficulty obtaining his crew, and from the date his project was approved until he set sail nearly two months later, he wrote a series of increasingly desperate letters on the subject to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty.

On 31 May, he asked if “their Lopps shall thinking fitting to spare me but two able Seamen out of four or five of the Ships of Warr”, promising “I will take care to return them where I had them in case the breaking out of a war oblige me to desist from my undertaking.” And in an undated letter (endorsed June), Halley wrote that the Paramore was ready to sail if only he had his complement of men, and so “I beseech you to lay before their Lopps the great difficulty I find to gett them”. On 4 June he requested “leave to have out of the Shipps of Warr, under such restriction as their Lopps please, such men as shall be willing to serve on board me”, and this prompted their lordships to order that “3 Prest Men” on ships in the Downs should be discharged into the Paramore on her arrival, which they amended a few days later to “so many Men as he Shall have occasion of”. Halley sailed from Deptford on June 14 and received four men from ships in the Downs, when he anchored there a few days later.

It’s interesting that Halley writes of men “as shall be willing to serve on board me”, as I’m not sure whether this is simply a piece of naval phraseology or a precaution against the trouble he had on his first voyage with recalcitrant officers – although I am sure that if I were a “prest” seaman, I’d rather be on a scientific cruise in the English Channel with Halley, than part of a crew in the war fleet!

The Liberty of the Subject (1779), a satirical depiction of a press-gang (Source: National Maritime Museum, ID PAG8527)

The Liberty of the Subject (1779), a satirical depiction of a press-gang. (Source: National Maritime Museum, ID PAG8527)

Finally, just to let you know that I’m not intending to tweet the log of his third voyage, as even I can see that a report of his continual anchoring around the Channel doesn’t provide a compelling read (to anyone but myself), although I will tweet the occasional entry.

I’m also in the latter stages of my MA and, alas, have little free time for this blog, but I will not neglect Captain Halley entirely and expect to publish a few short posts during his four month voyage (as well as writing my dissertation about him!).


[1] All quotes from Halley’s letters (written to Josiah Burchett) are from TNA, ADM 1/1872, and his commission is in TNA, ADM 6/6, f91v.

[2] Admiralty order to clean and fit out the Paramore is in TNA, ADM 2/181, p117.

[3] Peter Earle, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775 (London: Methuen, 2007), pp186-8.

Halley writes from Long Reach

On Saturday afternoon, 7 September 1700, the Paramore anchored in the Thames at Long Reach and Halley sent his gunner (William Brewer, the one-armed boatswain) up to the Tower* to give notice of their arrival, while Halley himself despatched his last letter of the voyage to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty:

(Halley to Burchett, dated 7 Sept 1700 from “Long reach”, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

The winds having been extreamly contrary, it has cost me five days to gett from the Downs hither, and in the passage I have had the dissatisfaction to see the paramour fall to Leeward of all the Marchant men that turned it with us. I now humbly hope from yr Honours favour, to find at Deptford (where I shall be in a day or two) their Lopps leave to come up to waite on them.

…Edm. Halley

So Halley complains about the Paramore and her leeward tendencies to the last! Burchett’s reply is interesting because he picks up on that complaint and remarks that it may have hindered Halley’s performance, though Halley himself has made no suggestion that he hasn’t achieved all that he’d hoped to.

Burchett writes that Halley may leave his ship to come to town to speak to the Lords of the Admiralty, but warns him to have his paperwork in order and to attend the paying off of his ship. I take this to be in part a reminder of Halley’s duties as a Royal Navy master and commander, but perhaps also an intimation of some lingering dissatisfaction among their Lordships after the early termination of his first voyage, owing to the friction between Halley and Lt Edward Harrison.

(Burchett to Halley, dated 9 Sept 1700 from the Admiralty, National Archives ADM 2/399 p25)


I have recd: your Lre [Letter], and am sorry to finde the Paramore Pinke has such a tendincy to Leeward, because I am apt to believe that quality in her, has put it out of your power to doe altogether soe much as otherwise you might have p[er]form’d.

There are Orders given for paying her off; and thô my Lords doe not meet ’till tomorrow morning, yet I dare assure you that you will not offend in comeing to Towne; only lett mee give you this Caution, To have ye Books in readinesse; and to attend at the payment of the Vessell.


Over the next three posts – the last for this voyage – we’ll look at Halley’s results and see whether their Lordships were ultimately satisfied with Halley’s performance.

Ships in the Thames Estuary near Sheerness, Isaac Sailmaker, 1707-08 (Yale Center for British Art/Wikimedia Commons)

Ships in the Thames Estuary near Sheerness, Isaac Sailmaker, 1707-08 (Yale Center for British Art/Wikimedia Commons)

* That is, to the Office of Ordnance at the Tower, which will take out the guns and gunners’ stores from the Paramore.

Halley’s second logbook

First, apologies for the lengthy gap since my last post; I’ve been unwell but the skill of the ship’s chirurgeon has got me back on deck and scampering up the rigging with the best of ’em.

That’s me, but what about Halley? Well, he’s been sailing steadily southwards (well, SSE) since leaving St Iago (Santiago) in the Cape Verde Islands and reached Rio de Janeiro on December 14, where he’ll stay for two weeks. This section of his voyage, down to his most southerly latitude (which he’ll reach about the end of January), isn’t very eventful and so I thought this was a suitable time to take a look at his second logbook, which begins with this heading:

A Journal of a Voyage in his Ma:tis Pink ye Paramore intended for the Discovery of ye Variation of the Compass kept by Edmund Halley Commander anno 1699 & 1700

(I’ve written before about the correct spelling of Halley’s first name and that of his ship.)

Like the first logbook, the second is not written by Halley but presumably by his clerk, William Curtiss, and so again the spelling and abbreviations are the clerk’s and not Halley’s. The log is written on the same size (roughly 41cm high by 27cm wide) and type of paper as the first logbook and covers 53 sides (the first was 17 sides).

Unlike the first journal, the second is not signed at the end by Halley and it also differs slightly in structure. The first log included several tables of data, ranging from two days to forty-three, but the second has only two tables of eight and eleven days, and instead largely gives the data in prose, as in these two examples for 2 and 11 November 1699:

[2 Nov] By a very good observation I am in 7°.40′ North Latt: Since yesterday noon we have had the Winds from EbN to NEbE a fine gentle Gale; in the night we had much Lightning, but no Thunder. We have made our way S24°E Distance 73 Miles, Diffrence of Longitude 30′ East, My Long from Lon: 18°:57′ West

[11 Nov] By a good observation I am in Latt 2°.42′ We have had the wind mostly at SSE and have made our way good W38S. 62 Miles diffr of Long 48 Minutes Long West from Lon. 20°:37′ a Fine Gale and fair weather Saturday Morning and Evening I had a good observation of the Variation Morn Ampl[itude] 18°:50′ Even 21°:30′.

So at noon each day he records his latitude, the weather, his course, miles covered, difference of longitude from the previous day’s measurement, and his total longitude west from London. Most entries at sea include this basic information in this style, and a number of days include additional data (variation and amplitude) and anything out of the ordinary (such as birds flying around the ship). I’m rarely tweeting a full entry, usually the latitude, weather and any general information. I’ve also occasionally silently added some punctuation and have always rendered values as DD°MM’ regardless of how they appear in the log.

There is no overall ‘story’ to the second voyage, unlike the first with the hostility and court martial of Lieutenant Harrison. Halley is now focused on collecting his data and we’ll see what use he puts it to at the end of his voyage.

One thing I find surprising (and frustrating) is that he makes very few remarks about the places he visits and appears to show little interest in the lands or native inhabitants – and this leads me to wonder whether Halley might perhaps have kept a private journal?

His second logbook is very much a ship’s log rather than a natural philosopher’s journal, but as an active member of the Royal Society I would expect him to take an interest in a far wider range of topics with which he might entertain the Fellows on his return. [1] When Halley was at the Chester Mint, in the two years before his first voyage, he sent several reports back to the Society (a number of which were published in the Philosophical Transactions), so it seems strange that he would sail around the Atlantic and not make notes of events that would be likely to interest the Fellows. [2]

I haven’t encountered any suggestion of a private journal but we saw from the Society’s minutes that he collected botanical specimens on his first voyage, which was not indicated in his logbook, and there are similarly some unreported items that will appear at the end of this voyage, so a private journal or notes might perhaps have existed – and how much more interesting that would surely be for the general reader!

But there are some entertaining entries still to come in his official logbook, which will resume on 29 December when he leaves Rio for the southern latitudes and he and his crew encounter something none of them have ever seen before…


[1] Halley was elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 30 November 1678 but had to resign his fellowship when he became clerk in January 1686. He was re-elected FRS on 30 November 1700.

[2] These accounts from Chester published in the Phil Trans give some idea of the range of subjects Halley might report on: a dog born “per anum” and a Roman altar; two reports of a hailstorm here and here; a trip to Wales to try the Torricellian experiment; observations of a lunar eclipse.

Halley in London

The last time we saw Captain Edmond Halley was on July 11, 1699 when he moored his ship Paramore at Deptford and brought his first voyage as master and commander to a close: but what has he been getting up to since then?

He kept no diary and so we must look for him in other documents, such as correspondence and minutes, and though these don’t offer any glimpses of his domestic life, it’s surely not too fanciful to picture him entertaining his wife Mary and daughters, Margaret and Catharine, with seafaring tales, and getting to know his three-month-old son.

Ficus citrifolia: is this Halley's Barbados fig tree? (Photo by Riba, Wikimedia Commons)

Ficus citrifolia: is this Halley’s Barbados fig tree? (Photo by Riba, Wikimedia Commons)

We do see him at several meetings of his erstwhile employer, the Royal Society; he didn’t make the meeting held the day after he arrived at Deptford but he was there a week later on July 19 when he entertained the Fellows by showing a “Branch of a Barbados fig tree, which having many nerves or long fibres, which falling downwards, hang so yt they touch ye Ground, where they take root, and so grow up again”. [1]

He followed this up at the next meeting by presenting “part of a viviparous plant as he called it, which grows by the salt water side, called [?]Guapaiaira ye Mangrave; Dr Sloane said it is mentioned and figured in ye Hortus Malabaricus.” [2]

He seems not to have attended the August 2 meeting but on August 9 he was back again with another specimen, this time showing the seed of his “viviparous plant” (a mangrove brought back from Brazil) and Hans Sloane again informed the Fellows that it was “very well described and figured in ye hortus Malabaricus.” [3]

On the 16 August, Halley enlivened the final meeting before the summer recess by showing “Several Variations of the Needle he had observed in his Voyage, set out in a Sea chart, as also he shewed yt Brazile was ill placed in ye common Maps, and he shewed some Barnacles, which he observed to be of quick growth.” [4]

Robert Hooke’s diary has ended by this date and so we have no recorded sightings of Halley in London coffeehouses, but it’s a safe bet that he spent time there, hearing the news and catching up with his friends – and perhaps passing round his botanical exotica.

He was apparently spoken of in wider London society as Narcissus Luttrell mentions his voyage and the court martial of his Lieutenant, though Luttrell’s account is largely erroneous, wrongly reporting the crew were minded to turn pirate and that Harrison was declared “uncapable for ever of serving his majestie by sea or land”, when Harrison was actually found not guilty. [5]

But Halley is most visible in the Admiralty records, where we learn he attended the Lords of the Admiralty on July 21 to ask that he “may be a second time sent out, for the perfecting his designe of discovering the variation of the Compass” and that their Lordships were “inclinable to allow [it]”, given the “good that may thereby accrue to ye Publique”. [6]

There was evidently some (unjust?) criticism of Halley by their Lordships after Harrison was found not guilty at the court martial and so you might think that Halley would have been happy just to obtain a second commission, but he in fact went on to complain about the sailing qualities of Paramore and asked for another ship!

The Admiralty ordered Deptford to survey the Paramore and report on her condition, and the dockyard advised that they could make alterations to settle her more in the water and help find her trim and then “here is noe Vessell … more fitting then she is for that Service”. [7]

So whatever Halley’s wishes, he’s not to be parted from his Paramore just yet.


[1] Royal Society, JBO/10, pp 139-140

[2] Ibid, p 141. The Hortus Malabaricus is well worth a look: here’s a short introduction to the work, with a selection of illustrations

[3] Ibid, p 143

[4] Ibid, p 145

[5] Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, Vol IV, pp 532 & 538

[6] National Archives, ADM 2/397, pp 153-4

[7] National Archives, ADM 106/3292, f.100v

The end of Halley’s first voyage


Extract from Halley’s first logbook, in another hand but with his signature (© British Library (£), Add MSS 30368, f.8v)

“The Gunns and Gunners Stores were delivered to the Tower Officers and that Same Evening we moord our Shipp at Deptford”

This was the final entry dictated by Captain Edmond Halley to his clerk on 11 July 1699, with Halley’s own signature bringing the log of his first voyage to a close.

Halley was paid wages of £168 0s 0d, less deductions for the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich and for “bearing Supernumery’s”, leaving net pay of £140 2s 8d. Lieutenant Harrison received £71 5s 2d (£71 0s 0d net), and the clerk Caleb Harmon was paid £15 19s 3d (£15 3s 1d net), which his father apparently collected.

The pay book was signed by both Halley and Harrison:


Extract from the Pay Book (© National Archives (£), ADM 33/196)

There was one final page to Halley’s logbook: “A Table of the true Latitudes & Longitudes of the Severall Islands and Ports mentioned to have been seen in this Voyage”, and for those people (like me) who rather like data, I’ve included the table at the end of this post.

Otherwise Halley will now set about persuading “their Lopps” to allow him a second voyage in Paramore, and he will set sail again in mid-September when this blog and his twitter feed (@HalleysLog) will recommence.

I hope you’ll join us again in September, when we’ll start by looking at what Halley got up to over the summer – in the meantime, I wish all our readers a great summer!

Halley’s table of latitudes and longitudes

I’ve separated Halley’s table into two – one for latitude and one for longitude – so that I could include modern values and show the differences between the figures. The modern values are taken from Wikipedia and of course may not represent the exact same place where Halley made his observations, and so the figures and differences are indicative only (I haven’t noted whether the differences are plus/minus to keep things simple).

1 degree of latitude is roughly equal to 69 miles (approx 111 km), and 1 degree of longitude at the equator is also about 69 miles (less as you approach the poles). In both tables, the 1st and 2nd columns are taken from the table that concluded Halley’s logbook but the values are not necessarily the same as those he recorded in the body of his log. He seems to have gone quite badly wrong in his original longitude values when crossing the Atlantic – perhaps confused by currents and being becalmed? – but then realised this on reaching Brazil and so recalculated his figures for the final table (Harrison seems to have recorded more accurate values during this period).

As you’d expect, his latitude values are more accurate than his (amended) longitude values, although his longitude values around the Caribbean seem pretty good. Longitude is measured West from London.

Table 1 – LATITUDE





The Lizard




North part of Scilley








Isle of Sall




St Iago ye North Cape




Isle of May




Porto praya South side of St Iago




Fernando Loranho

3:57 S

3:51 S


Cape Dello at the Mouth of ye River of paraiba in Brasill

7:00 S

6:58 S


















Monte serrat North end








Nevis Road




Old Road of St Christophers












St Bartholomew




St Martins













The Lizard




North part of Scilley








Isle of Sall




St Iago ye North Cape




Isle of May




Porto praya South side of St Iago




Fernando Loranho




Cape Dello at the Mouth of ye River of paraiba in Brasill




















Monte serrat North end








Nevis Road




Old Road of St Christophers












St Bartholomew




St Martins








Harrison’s book

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably guessed that I’m a great admirer of Edmond Halley and expect that I side with him in his difficulties with his lieutenant – yet when I first read about Edward Harrison and his book, I did have some sympathy and respect for the lieutenant.

Harrison was evidently a man of some, though limited, education. He described himself as “sea-bred”, indicating he’d been at sea from an early age, and these facts suggested someone of modest background and resources and so it seemed to me rather impressive that such a man had written a book, got it printed, distributed it to the Royal Society and the Admiralty – and I could feel some sympathy for his dismay when Halley then dismissed his enterprising efforts.

But then I read the book and that sympathy was gone in an instant. The book, Idea Longitudinis, was published by Harrison in 1696; he’d submitted a paper of his ideas to the Royal Society about 2 years earlier but received no encouragement and so determined to “appear on the Publick Stage”. [1]

The book includes a dedication to the Lords of the Admiralty, a preface, and 8 chapters including a conclusion, the whole about 97 pages long. The first 3 chapters cover: where to set a first meridian, a definition of longitude, a definition of time (solar, sidereal year), and chapters 4-7 consider the different methods of finding longitude: horological, magnetic variation, lunar, and Jovian.

I don’t have the expertise to comment on his ideas – though to be honest, I couldn’t really see that he proposed any. The book seems to me little more than a restatement of the problem of finding longitude at sea and a consideration of the pros and cons of the already-proposed methods, settling on the lunar method as the most useful at sea.

The book appears not without merit as a handbook for his “Brother Tar”; the chapters seem well-chosen and some of his remarks about the problems one would encounter (refraction, parallax, impossibility of using a long telescope (for the Jovian method) on a rolling ship) seem useful – but this was all commonplace to the fellows of the Royal Society and I would guess that that was the opinion Halley gave to their Lordships.

What Halley actually said about the book doesn’t seem to be extant, but a slightly later review of another paper of Harrison’s possibly gives us some indication. While Halley was away on his second voyage, Harrison submitted another paper to the Royal Society on tides and winds, and this was reviewed by Richard Waller, who ends his 2-page review with “between you and me [he’s writing to Hans Sloane] I see nothing in the Paper but what is better explained in the places I have above quoted”. [2]

The opening lines of Harrison's Chapter V are taken from Halley's 1683 paper

The opening lines of Harrison’s Chapter V are taken from Halley’s 1683 paper

Perhaps Halley gave a similar assessment, that it contained nothing new – an opinion reinforced, I should think, when he read the opening lines of Harrison’s chapter on magnetic variation (see image), copied almost verbatim from Halley’s 1683 paper on the same subject (there’s at least one other section copied directly from Halley’s paper).

Alan Cook describes Harrison’s book as “[s]cientifically and technically … poor, second-hand, and ill-digested. It is shot through with aspersions on mathematicians, the manner is aggressive, and it shows a deep inferiority complex”, and possibly the most interesting aspect of the book is what it reveals about Harrison’s personality, giving us some idea of what Halley had to deal with on board his ship. [3]

To me, Harrison comes across as chippy and having an inflated view of himself.  He twice compares himself to Columbus, as being someone who “shewed the way”, and warns us that some “ordinary Mathematicians may hate to be out-done by a Tarpolin, if they have ought to say against him, its because his Practice and Experience may prove him to be a more Competent Artist in Navigation then [sic] themselves”. [4]

Hindsight makes the opening lines of the dedication wonderfully ironic: “It is a saying in the Navy, He that knows not how to obey Command, is not worthy to bear Command”. While this sentence seems rather revealing, given he’d lifted some passages straight from Halley and then gone on to despise him for dismissing his book: “If any Envious Person pretend I have borrowed most of my Book, may he be obliged to Quote the Authors, where I have not”. [5]

The passages I found most revealing of his personality were also the most unexpected:

“…if I know more than others, it is by Divine Authority, by Industry and Experience, by an Inborn Idea, and Instinct in Nature; it was ordained for me by God Almighty, from my Mother’s Womb.” [6]

And, when considering the location of a first meridian:

“I could Bafle and Impose on the World as our Predecessors have, false Arguments for other places, from whence they might account their first Meridian. God forbid I should be so wicked, Honour and Glory, and beginning of Good, belongs to God; a first Meridian may be represented, and if the Heads of our Church and State, think it good, let there be made a Figure, representing a first Meridian, and Erected over St. Pauls Church in London, with this Inscription, Glory be to God, good Will towards Men…” [7]

Harrison's Idea Longitudinis, preface

Harrison’s Idea Longitudinis, preface

Blimey. These passages took me completely by surprise – it never occurred to me that Harrison would be religious – they changed my view of Harrison’s character and of how he would have interacted with Halley. Halley had a reputation for being irreligious, and while he evidently believed in God, he doesn’t seem to have been too interested in religion (except when trying to clear himself of the accusation, after failing to get a professorship on grounds of alleged irreligion). I think Halley must have had a very difficult time dealing with Lieutenant Harrison, and yet, as he tells us, he “endeavoured all I could to oblige him”. [8]

So, in summary, my feeling is that Halley gave an honest and justifiable account of Harrison’s book, but that Harrison was the type of personality unable to accept any criticism and so nursed a hatred towards Halley (whom possibly he may previously have admired, given his imitation of his works) and seized the opportunity to make his life a misery when chance put them together on board the same ship.

I think Harrison was very fortunate in the court’s verdict.


[1] Edward Harrison, Idea Longitudinis (London, 1696), preface

[2] Richard Waller to Hans Sloane, dated 4 Dec 1699, Royal Society, EL/W3/68

[3] Alan Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998) p 264

[4] Harrison, preface

[5] Harrison, preface

[6] Harrison, preface

[7] Harrison, pp 3-4

[8] Captains’ Letter Book, National Archives, ADM 1/1871