Historically-significant marine chronometer accompanied Darwin


May 5, 2014

The marine chronometer heading for the auction block on July 9 has certainly witnessed its fair share of history

The marine chronometer heading for the auction block on July 9 has certainly witnessed its fair share of history

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In an age where accurate time measurement is taken for granted, the upcoming auction of an 1825 marine chronometer highlights just how far science has advanced in the last 200 years.

The invention of the marine chronometer directly resulted from the UK "Longitude Act" of 1714 that offered £20,000 reward (£2.6 million in today’s money) for developing a means by which longitude could be accurately and economically measured at sea.

The resultant invention of the Chronometer helped Britain establish not only the naval, but also mercantile advantage that allowed it to dominate the oceans until the early 20th century.

The marine chronometer heading for the auction block on July 9 has certainly witnessed its fair share of history in fulfilling that critical scientific role, having accompanied Charles Darwin on his epic five-year second voyage (1831-1836) to South America and the Galapagos Islands, the North American Boundary Expedition (1843-1846) which established the border between the USA and Canada and the 1857 survey of the Australian coastline which saw the naming of Darwin and the Fitzroy River.

The previously unrecorded marine chronometer is dated 1825 and signed by William Edward Frodsham. It was one of 22 chronometers aboard HMS Beagle (the ship which carried Darwin on his second voyage and also mapped Australia's coastline). Until now, only two other recorded chronometers from HMS Beagle are known to have survived, and are in the British Museum.

Given its stellar provenance, the chronometer seems ridiculously cheap if it does fall within its expected price range of £30,000-50,000.

Source: Bonhams

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Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

The need for eleven chronometers on a ship does not say much for a mariner's trust in them. They were constantly comparing them. John Harrison's original chronometers accounted for a third of the cost of a ship.


There is no point navigating if, when you compare maps, you find that you have placed the east coast of Australia on the wrong side of New Zealand. A chronometer error of 3 hours or you get ship wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, Error of half an hour. They should have had a GPS


A GPS is only as good as its batteries. Small wonder that today's "sailors" show so little in the way of seamanship. They expect to call for a rescue with their sat phone and for government agencies to respond regardless of the cost and regardless of the risk to the rescue personnel.

Still you have idiots buying a $10,000 Rolex watch that is less accurate than a $2 digital watch. There is an inverse relationship between the price of the watch worn and the intelligence of the wearer.

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