Prior to Cook’s second voyage

At November 1771, as the Board of Longitude was making its preparations for equipping then Lieutenant James Cook's second expedition to the South Seas, the development of marine timekeepers in England can be summarised as follows :

·       John Harrison's fourth timekeeper (H4) had been tried at sea in 1761 and 1764 and was now the property of the Board. It had been tried at Greenwich in 1766 and was put in Larcum Kendall's hands for copying in 1767. In 1770, H4 and Kendall's copy, Kl, were sent to be tested together at Greenwich.

·       Harrison's fifth timekeeper (H5) was nearly com­plete.

·       Kendall's first timekeeper (K1), the copy of H4, had been on trial at Greenwich since March 1770.

·       Kendall's second timekeeper (K2) was almost complete but not adjusted.

·       John Arnold had shown one chrono­meter to the Board in May 1770 and had been asked to make another for trial. On 24 January 1771, Arnold took a timekeeper down to Portsmouth and placed it on board Rear Admiral Sir Robert Harland's ship, the Northumberland, shortly sailing to the East Indies. Harland also bought a timekeeper from Arnold for himself, saying in a later letter to the Earl of Sand­wich for if your Lordship had not sent me one timekeeper I should never have thought of buying another; and I heartily thank your Lordship for it. Another record indicates that it was Harland's private timekeeper that was the first one shown to the Board.

·       Arnold had produced another timekeeper for the Board in March 1771, probably the same one that was at Greenwich in November.

At their meeting on 28 November 1771, the Board decided to send Kendall’s K1 with Cook and asked William Harrison, John’s son, whether H5 could also be sent on one of the ships. Harrison declined because the trial would take up too much time. At this same meeting, Arnold was asked to make four more watches by the end of January 1772.

So when Cook sailed in July 1772, Kendall's No. 1 and Arnold's No. 3 timekeepers went with him on Resolution, and Arnold's Nos. 1 and 2 timekeepers went in Tobias Furneaux's Adventure. Furthermore, it was laid down that the most important aim of the voyage after the primary geographical one, was to try out these watches as a means of finding the longitude at sea.

On Cook's second voyage, K1 performed impeccably, the Arnold timekeepers not so well. For the third voyage therefore, Cook again took K1 in his own ship the Resolution, while K3 went in the Discovery.


Larcum Kendall’s timekeepers

In 1766, to prove whether or not H4's success on its trials was not coincidence, the Board of Longitude decided that an exact copy should be made and trialled. On 24 May 1766, therefore, Larcum Kendall was con­tracted to make a copy for £450, half to be paid immediately, and half on completion. Harrison’s H4 was delivered to him in London in May or June 1767. Very elaborate arrangements were made for its transport from Greenwich to London by river. H4 was sent in a barge belonging to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, escorted by Dr Maskelyne the Astronomer Royal, Captain Smith of the Royal Hos­pital, Mr Ibbetson the Secretary of the Board of Longitude, and Kendall himself.

K1 was completed and shown to the Board at its meeting on 13 May 1769. It was then returned to Kendall as he said it required further adjustment. Kendall delivered K1 once again on 13 January 1770, and the Board ordered it to be examined by a committee consisting of the watch­makers Thomas Mudge and William Matthews, the instrument maker John Bird, and the Cambridge astronomers the Reverend’s John Michell and William Ludlam.

K1 easily passed this examination, the Board's minutes of 3 March read :

 …the said Watch Machine [K1] was completely finished in a good and workmanlike manner and agrees in all essential circumstances with that made by the said John Harrison [H4] and with all such improvements as were mentioned to them by Mr. Harrison….

That he [Kendall] has now fully completed his engagement with this Board and that therefore the remainder of the money stipulated to be paid to him for making the said Watch Machine (being £225) be paid to him as soon as conveniently maybe; And that a further sum of £50 be given to him in consideration of his extraordinary trouble and loss of time in adjusting the said Watch Machine (which was upwards of nine months in his possession for that purpose after his first producing of it to the Board) and in taking it, and also that made by the said Mr. Harrison, to pieces that their parts might be more readily compared; and putting them together again.

The Board understood from Kendall that Harrison's son attended during the whole examination and, from Mr West, that he had afterwards called upon him and declared himself exceedingly satisfied with Kendall’s workmanship which, in some respects, he acknowledged to be superior to that of his father.

After this generous compliment from William Harrison, both timekeepers were sent to Greenwich, where comparisons with the observatory’s transit clock began on 19 March 1770.


Cook's second voyage, 1772-1775

It was decided in November 1771 that K1 should sail with Cook on his second voyage. In the meantime, it remained at Greenwich under trial. On 10 Jan­uary 1772, however, it stopped. The Astronomer Royal, the then Nevil Maskeleyne, stated I could not make it go again…tho’ I warmed it by the fire and gave motion to the ballance. It was taken to Kendall's workshop and opened in the presence of the Astronomer Royal and two watch­makers, who stated :

This day we were present at Mr. Kendall's when Mr. Maskelyne brought the watch made by Mr. Kendall for the Board of Longitude; And, upon examining it, we found the running wheels of the Remontoir properly locked and the watch stopped by one of the Contrate Wheel crosses coming against one of the Arms of the Remontoir Barrel. On Mr. Kendall's discharging the running Wheels and putting the Ballance in motion the Watch went and continued to go very briskly til' it was again stopped to be taken to pieces by Mr. Kendall; And, in being taken to pieces, the parts now examined seemed neither injured nor wore.

Trials recommenced on 24 March and continued until 25 April, soon after which, K1 was sent on board the Resolution at Deptfordt.

As large sums of money in the form of rewards were at stake, the Admiralty and Board of Longitude took elaborate precautions against the watches being tampered with while at sea. They had special boxes made, with three separate keys, and laid down an elaborate procedure for the daily winding, attended by the Captain, first lieutenant, and astronomer. On the Resolution, the boxes for K1 and Arnold No. 3 were kept one on either side of the ship’s great cabin.

The two ships sailed from Deptford on 9 April, 1772, but did not reach Plymouth until July 3, many alterations having being found necessary at Sheerness. Cook's journal for July 10 refered to the timekeepers as follows :

The Board of Longitude were not want­ing on their part in providing the Astronomers with the very best of Instruments both for makeing Celestial and Nautical Observations but as the principal object these gentlemen are sent out upon is to ascertain the going of Mr. Kendall's Watch and three of Mr. Arnolds, they employ'd themselves during our stay at Plymouth in makeing the necessary Observations on Drakes Island…and at 7 o'Clock in ye even on the Friday before we departed the Watches were put in motion in the presence of my self Captain Furneaux, the first Lieutenant of each of the Sloops, the two astronomers and Mr Arnold and afterward put on board: Mr Kendalls and one of Mr Arnolds on board the Resolution and the other two of Mr Arnolds on board the Adventure: the Commander, First Lieuten­ant and Astronomer on board each of the Sloops had each of them Keys of the Boxes which contained the Watches and were allways to be present at the winding them up and comparing the one with the other [sic].

The two ships finally sailed for the South Seas on Monday, 13 July 1772.

Though the prime purpose of Cook's second and third voyages was geographical, one of Cook's most important secondary aims was to try out the timekeepers. The written instructions given to William Wales the Resolution's astronomer, contained the following paragraph :

You are to Wind up the Watches Every Day, as soon after the times of Noon as you can conveniently, and compare them together and Set down the respective times, and you are to Note also the times of the Watches when the Suns Morning and Afternoon altitudes, or the Distances of the Moon from the Sun and fixed Stars, are Observed; and to compute the Longi­tude resulting from the Comparison of the Watches with the Apparent time of the day inferred from the Morning & After­noon Altitudes of the Sun, and as often as you shall have opportunities, you are to Compare one of the said Watches with one of those which may be under the care of the undermentioned Mr Bayley in the other Sloop, and Note down the respective times Shewn by the said Watches.

Whenever the ships stayed anywhere for any length of time, the astronomers went ashore and set up their observatory. With the aid of the astronomical clock and quadrant, they found the error of the watch on every day possible and thereby computed its daily rate of gain or loss on mean time. All these observations and computations were subsequently published.

K1 performed magnificently and, by half way through the voyage, Cook was full of praise. Throughout, the uncertainty in daily rate never exceeded eight seconds of time (two nautical miles of distance on the equator, correspondingly less in higher latitudes) and, when the mean was taken, the rate could be predicted to much greater accuracy. In the Society Islands in June 1774, Cook said :

…she [K1] had lost since our leaving Queen Charlotte's Sound, of her then rate of going 8' 34.5"; this was in about 5 Months or something more, during which time she had passed through the extremes of both Cold and heat. It was judged that half this Error arose after we left Easter Island by which it appeared that she went better in the Cold than in hot climates.

When the voyage was nearly over, Cook wrote to the Secretary of the Admiralty from the Cape stating :

Mr. Kendalls Watch has exceeded the expectations of its most zealous advocate and by being now and then corrected by lunar observations has been our faithful guide through all the vicissitudes of climates.

But perhaps Cook's greatest act of faith in K1 took place during the passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Saint Helena, some 4000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro. To make certain of finding a small objective like Saint Helena in an empty ocean, it was common practice for ships to aim for a point well to the east or west of the expected position of the island and then, when the island's latitude, which was easy to find was reached, to steer west or east until land was sighted. But now Cook had the means to circumvent this time wasting process :

Depending on the goodness of Mr. Kendalls Watch, I resolved to try to make the island by a direct course, it did not deceive us and we made it accordingly on the 15th of May at Day-break in the Morning in the direction of WNW about 14 leagues distant.

The Dutton of the East India Company was sailing with the Resolution, at the time of this incident. The commercial advantages of being able to steer directly to a port were not lost on the Court of Directors of that Company, and it was not long before East India ships began to carry chronometers.

The Resolution arrived in Spithead on 30 July 1775. Wales took K1 ashore at Portsmouth, compared it with the transit clock of the Royal Academy, and then took it up to London by post-chaise. The following day, 1 August, he took it down to Greenwich by coach, and still going, delivered it to Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal.

Before leaving, Maskelyne had found the daily rate to be losing 3/8th of a second a day. More than three years later and after travelling the equivalent of twice round the world in every sort of climate, he found K1 was gaining 13 seconds per day. William Wales stated :

From the preceding account it appears to what an amazing degree of accuracy the ingenious Inventor of this Watch had brought this branch of mechanics so long ago as the year 1762, or 3; and at the same time what room is yet left for future improvements by other Artists: but let no man boast that he has excelled him, until his machines have undergone as rigorous a trial as this has done.


Larcum Kendall’s K2 and K3

Cook's third voyage, 1776-1780

After cleaning by Kendall, K1 returned to the Resolution on 11 June 1776, this time for a voyage to the north Pacific. Cook retained the Resolution, with Lieutenant James King acting as astrono­mer, but the second ship was the new Discovery, commanded by Charles Clerke, with William Bayly on board as astronomer. The ships sailed separately from Plymouth in July 1776, with K1 on board the Resolution and K3 in the Discovery.

K1 performed magnificently until shortly after Cook's death. Then on 26 April 1779 off Kamchatka, it stopped. Clerke's journal described the incident :

This fore Noon we made a most unfortu­nate and most unexpected discovery: I was sitting in my Cabin between 10 and 11 when a gentleman who was there went to the Time-Keeper to see what O'clock it was and to his great surprise found it stop'd, he immediately acquainted me with it and I sent for Mr. King to consult what was best to be done. We wound it up and found it was no neglect of that kind had occasion'd this disaster for it was gone down only 4 Turns, its usual rotation in 24 hours being between 5 and 6; however it still continued silent and left us altogether at a loss to account for it. The Thermometer by it this morning was seen to stand at 35° [F] before the fire was made in the Cabin: whether this degree of Cold might affect it we cannot tell, nor indeed can we suggest a single reason what can have brought it about. At Noon fresh Gales with hard squalls, snow and sleet. We have seen nothing of the Discovery since 2 P.M.; as we are so near our Port I think this is of very little consequence.

Subsequent events are described in the words of Clerke and King :

29 April, 1779     The ship being in the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul without any motion, and the day remark­ably fine, and no fire in the cabin, we thought it the best time to permit Benjamin Lyon, a sea­man on board, who had served his time to Richard Gibbs of Plumbtree Court, Holborn, watch­maker, who appeared to us sufficiently knowing in his busi­ness from having repaired and cleaned watches during the voyage, to look into the time­keeper; not finding any of the work broke, he took the cock and balance off, and cleaned both [the pivot] holes, which he found very foul, and the inside of the timekeeper rather dirty; he also took the dial-plate off, the wheel that leads into the second hand, between two teeth, found a piece of dirt, [and between two teeth of the wheel that carries the second hand found a piece of dirt] which he thinks to be the principal cause of its stopping; he afterwards put the work together, putting the least oil possible in the cock and foot [holes] when the watch appeared to go free and well.

                          Signed by : Charles Clerke and J. King.

On 5 June, the timekeeper stopped, and the pendulum spring was found to be broken. Benjamin Lyon made a new balance spring before the end of June but this proved unsuccessful and K1 was not used again on this voyage.

On October 7, after Captain Clerke's death, Bayly transferred to the Resolution bringing with him K3 which continued to function until the end of the voyage.

Soon after arriving at the Orkney Islands early in September 1780, King and Bayly left their respective ships and travelled overland to Greenwich, carrying K1 and K3.


The First Fleet to Australia, 1786-1792

KI was returned to Kendall in 1780. Despite a somewhat pessimistic estimate of £50 in 1781, his bill for repairs was only £30 when he eventually returned KI to Greenwich in 1786.

In November 1786, K1 was lent to Cap­tain Arthur Phillip, on his going out to Australia in the Sirius frigate in the First Fleet to found a convict settlement and become first governor of New South Wales. As part-time astronomer to the expedition, the Board appointed Lieutenant William Dawes, Royal Marines. He took K1 down to Portsmouth in December for rating at the Royal Naval Academy, whose new headmaster was the same William Bayly who had sailed with Cook.

While at Portsmouth, K1 was apparently adjusted by William Coombe. In a letter to Maskelyne after it had been going badly, Dawes wrote I suppose Mr. Coomb would not approve of any other person doing anything to the watch. KI was thus sent back to Greenwich for further rating and, maybe for adjustment by Kendall himself.

After a final check at the Academy by Bayly, K1 was put aboard the Sirius. The fleet sailed for Australia on 13 May 1787. After leaving the Cape of Good Hope, Captain Phillip transferred to the armed tender Supply, taking Dawes and K1 with him. He sailed ahead of the main fleet and landed in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Not satisfied with its situation, he examined Port Jackson a harbour mentioned by Cook, and founded Sydney on 26 January 1788.

On the arrival of the Sirius, K1 was transferred to her. Her Captain Hunter complained that K1 had been allowed to run down while aboard the Supply. However, this was not too disastrous because, in April, Dawes started setting up Australia's first observatory on Point Maskelyne (now Point Dawes) in Sydney Cove. Between October, 1788, and May, 1789, K1 completed another circuit of the globe in the Sirius, sent by Phillip to the Cape of Good Hope via Cape Horn to collect supplies and reinforcements.

On 9 March 1790, on another voyage, the Sirius was wrecked on Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea north of New Zealand. K1 is not mentioned in Hunter's account of the loss, but Dawes's letter to Maskelyne dated 16 April said :

In consequence of the loss of the Sirius the Timekeeper is now in the Supply. It did not receive the slightest injury.…

…In going to the Cape round Cape Horn it erred 1° 30' in longitude in about 13 weeks…

The Supply reached England early in 1792 and K1 returned to Greenwich for a short time before being sent to Thomas Earnshaw for cleaning.


Cook's third voyage, 1776-1780

In March 1776, the Board decided that K3 should go with the astronomer Bayly in the Discovery for Cook's new voyage to the north Pacific. Kendall made a special box for it, not fitted with gimbals but stuft with green cloth. On 11 June, Bayly received the watch at Greenwich, took it on board the Discovery, and screwed it firm to a bracket that was fixed to the bulkhead of the great cabin for that purpose. The ship sailed
shortly afterwards.

Although K3 in the Discovery did not do quite so well as K1 in the Resolution, nevertheless it performed very adequately throughout the voyage. When K1 finally stopped in 1779, K3 continued to go. Bayly transferred from the Discovery to the Resolution on 7 October 1779, taking K3 with him.

K1 and K3 were returned to Greenwich about September 1779 and they were both then sent to Larcum Kendall for cleaning.


Flinders and Inman, 1802-1804

In July 1801, Captain Matthew Flinders sailed in the Investigator to explore the Australian coast. With him sailed an astronomer, John Crosley, but unfortu­nately he found it necessary for health reasons to return home from the Cape of Good Hope. As soon as the Board heard this, they made preparations to send out a replacement. The man chosen was James Inman and among the instruments he was to take was K3. Soon after this decision was taken, the Board heard from Flinders that two of his five chronometers, Arnold 82 and 176, had stopped and were being sent home. K3 was accordingly sent to Arnold to clean and be given new inner and outer mahogany boxes fitted with gimbals.

Inman sailed with his instruments in the Glatton, arriving in Sydney about April, 1803. He found Flinders was at sea but occupied himself in setting up an obser­vatory on Garden Island, about a mile to the east of the spot Dawes had set up his observatory fifteen years before.

When Flinders reached Sydney in June 1803, it was found that the Investigator was in such bad condition that she could not continue with the survey. Flinders therefore decided to sail for home as a passenger in the Porpoise. As there was no room in the Porpoise for the larger instruments, Inman was left behind in Sydney with instructions to find his own way home as opportunity served.

The Porpoise sailed on 10 August. On 8 September, however, Flinders himself arrived back in Sydney with news that the Porpoise and the Cato had both run aground on the Great Barrier Reef, he him­self having made his way back in one of the ship's boats.

New plans were made. Flinders wanted to get his precious documents home as soon as possible and elected to go himself in the tiny schooner Cumberland. The rest of the crew were to go in the Rolla to China so that they could transfer to an East India ship for the passage home.

Inman sailed from Sydney in the Rolla on 21 September 1803, carrying the larger instruments as well as K3. When they reached Wreck Reef a few days later, they embarked the remainder of the crews of the Porpoise and Cato, who had been camping on the reef since the disaster seven weeks before. Flinders recovered the instruments from the Porpoise and turned the majority of them over to Inman.

On 11 October 1803, after the position of Wreck Reef had been established with the help of the chronometers, Flinders sailed for England in the Cumberland. Inman, with the bulk of the Investigator's company, sailed for Canton in the Rolla. One of his fellow passengers was Midshipman John Franklin, later to become famous as an Arctic explorer.

At Canton, the Investigator's crew transferred to various ships in the home-going East India Company fleet, Inman and K3 travelling in the Warley.

While with Inman, K3 seems to have run reasonably well. On Garden Island between May and August 1803, K3's rate varied between gaining 2.4 to 26.7 seconds per day. In a letter to Maskelyne referring to the same set of observations, Inman said :

Kendall’s timekeeper has gone worse since it was removed to the tent here, than ever it did before. I can give no other reason for it than that the weather has been more variable here, and it may have been more exposed to those changes in the Tent, than in a room. It has been taken the greatest Care of.



While the later cheaper timekeepers by both Arnold and Kendall performed adequately, the performance of K1 was outstanding. In Cook's second and third voyages, both of over three years, passing through the heat of the tropics and the cold of the Arctic and Antarctic, K1's daily rate never exceeded 16 seconds of time (or four nautical miles distance on the equator). Even though K1 eventually stopped on the third voyage, after repair it gave good service for another twenty years.

Joseph Gilbert, Cook's master in the Resolution, wrote in 1775, Kendall's watch…is most certainly the greatest piece of Mechanism the world has yet pro­duced. Nevertheless, K1 was copied from Harrison’s H4 but due to the unfortunate decision of the Board of Longitude not to send H4 with Cook, the true ingenuity and artistry of Harrison will never be known.



 Compiled by Paul Wise January-May, 2015


Main source

Howse, Humphrey Derek (1969), Captain Cook's Marine Timekeepers, accessed at :\_SAAACAAJ