Re-creating Harrison’s timekeepers…in Australia

H4 replica by Norm Banham showing the aluminium case. Image: Martin Foster.

H4 replica by Norm Banham showing the aluminium case. Image: Martin Foster.

It is said that longevity is improved markedly by keeping your mind challenged and active and keeping hand–eye coordination intact. If that’s the case Norm Banham might last forever. And he has the clocks that will last with him and keep time accurately – an exquisite replica set he made of John Harrison’s four intricate and ground breaking marine timekeepers. Harrison’s work commenced in 1730 and was completed in 1759.

Harrison’s timekeepers are central to the story about longitude brought to life in the exhibition Ships, Clocks & Stars – The Quest for Longitude and as its tenure at the Australian National Maritime Museum draws to a close at the end of October, an Australian connection that deserves more attention has come to light.

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Time in motion: capturing the clockmaker’s art

How many people does it take to assemble a clock?

For the replica of John Harrison’s H3, currently on display as part of Ships, Clocks & Stars: the Quest for Longitude, the answer is two master clockmakers. David Higgon and Sean Martin, from Charles Frodsham & Co, London, spent four days reassembling a thousand pieces to create the working model.

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Where on earth are you? A beginners guide to longitude

'Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude' traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

‘Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude’ traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

For as long as humans have been exploring, we have sought reliable methods to navigate our way across the Earth. Until the invention of an accurate sea clock by carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison in the 18th century, there was no dependable technique to measure a ship’s longitude – its east or west position at sea – especially when the ship’s navigator could not sight landmarks or celestial markers due to the weather.

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