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Day 10 of ‘Looking for the Longitude’: ‘part of the wider culture of public science’

  • 24 June 2016

Location: Fleet Street

This was a lesson from which other more genuine pamphleteers could have learnt. A clock was, after all, a well-known possible solution to the longitude problem, but one that it was known was extremely hard to make keep time accurately at sea. Many early pamphlets focused on horological proposals, with wildly ambitious or strange proposals for ensuring accuracy. Again their images worked both with and against their text. In many cases, the image was what would persuade a potential backer to make their invention a reality.

William Hobbs was another of the pamphleteers mocked by Jeremy Thacker for his attempt to make a clock impervious to climatic variation. So riled was he by Thacker’s wit that he altered and republished his pamphlet in response, reworking his illustrative plate to make his clockwork more believable. Like Whiston, he also formed part of the wider culture of public science popular in the eighteenth century. He advertised his proposal in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, and offered to show the finished clock at a coffee-house to convince a public that he recognized as being sceptical.

Read day 10 by expert Jim Bennett, Science Museum, on the instrument trade and public demonstration