On This Day
1707 – Scilly naval disaster: Four British naval vessels run aground on the Isles of Scilly because of faulty navigation. In response, the first Longitude Act is enacted in 1714.
The Longitude Act was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in July 1714 at the end of the reign of Queen Anne. It established the Board of Longitude and offered monetary rewards (Longitude rewards) for anyone who could find a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship’s longitude. The Act of 1714 was followed by a series of other Longitude Acts that revised or replaced the original.
As transoceanic travel grew in significance, so did the importance of accurate and reliable navigation at sea. Scientists and navigators had been working on the problem of measuring longitude for a long time. While determining latitude was relatively easy, early ocean navigators had to rely on dead reckoning to find longitude. This was particularly inaccurate on long voyages without sight of land and could sometimes lead to tragedy, as during the Scilly naval disaster of 1707 which claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors. This brought the problem of measuring longitude at sea into sharp focus once more. Following the Merchants and Seamen Petition, which called for finding an adequate solution and was presented to Westminster Palace in May 1714, the Longitude Act was passed in July 1714.
For details on many of the efforts towards determining the longitude, see History of longitude.
Main article: Longitude rewards
The Longitude Act offered a series of rewards, rather than a single prize. The rewards increased with the accuracy achieved: £10,000 (worth over 1.33 million in 2016) for anyone who could find a practical way of determining longitude at sea to an accuracy of not greater than one degree of longitude (equates to 60 nautical miles (110 km; 69 mi) at the equator). The reward was to be increased to £15,000 if the accuracy was not greater than 40 minutes, and further enhanced to £20,000 if the accuracy was not greater than half a degree. Other rewards were on offer for those who presented methods that worked within 80 geographical miles of the coast (being the most treacherous part of voyages) and for those with promising ideas who needed help to bring them to readiness for trial. Many rewards were paid out over the 114 years of the Board of Longitude’s existence. John Harrison received more money than any other individual, with several rewards from the 1730s-1750s, and £10,000 in 1765.
Subsequent Longitude Acts offered different rewards. That of 1767 held out £5,000 for improvements to Tobias Mayer’s lunar tables and that of 1774 halved the amount offered for any method or instrument achieving the degrees of precision outlined in the original Act (i.e. £5,000 for a degree, £7500 for 2/3 of a degree or £10,000 for 1/2 degree). The 1818 Longitude Act, which completely revised the composition and remit of the Board of Longitude, again changed the rewards, by now offered for improvements to navigation in general rather than simply for finding longitude. In addition, the Act outlined rewards for navigating the North West Passage, again on a sliding scale from £20,000 for reaching the Pacific through a north west passage to £5,000 for reaching 110 degrees west or 89 degrees north and £1000 for reaching 83 degrees north. In 1820 £5,000 was paid to the officers and crews of HMS Hecla (1815) and HMS Griper (1813) under this Act.
Born On This Day
1897 – Marjorie Flack, American author and illustrator (d. 1958)
Marjorie Flack (22 October 1897 – August 29, 1958) was an American artist and writer of children’s picture books. Flack was born in Greenport, Long Island, New York in 1897. She was best known for The Story about Ping (1933), illustrated by Kurt Wiese, popularized by Captain Kangaroo, and for her stories of an insatiably curious Scottish terrier named Angus, who was actually her dog. Her first marriage was to artist Karl Larsson; she later married poet William Rose Benét.
Her book Angus Lost was featured prominently in the movie Ask the Dust (2006), starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, in which Farrell’s character teaches Hayek’s character, a Mexican, to read English using Flack’s book.
Marjorie Flack’s grandson, Tim Barnum, and his wife, Darlene Enix-Barnum, currently sponsor an annual creative writing award at Anne Arundel Community College. The award, called The Marjorie Flack Award for Fiction, consists of a $250 prize for the best short story or children’s storybook written by a current AACC student.
The Story about Ping, illustrated by Kurt Wiese
Ask Mr. Bear
Angus and the Ducks (1930)
Angus and the Cat
Angus Lost (1932)
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes (illustrator, 1939; with DuBose Heyward, writer)
Walter, the Lazy Mouse
Up In The Air, illustrated by Karl Larsson
The Boats on the River, illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum
Wait for William
Lucky little Lena (c1937, published by The Macmillan Company, 1940)
Tim Tadpole and the Great Bullfrog
Neighbors on the Hill
The Restless Robin
Angus and Wagtail Bess
All around the town: The story of a boy in New York
Humphrey: One Hundred Years Along the Wayside with a Box Turtle
Angus and Topsy (First Published in Great Britain in 1935)
Caldecott Honor, for Boats on the River, 1947
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