On this day in history : 22nd October 1707 – Four Royal Navy ships run aground near the Isles of Scilly – over 2,000 sailors are lost, resulting in the Longitude Act 1714 and the invention of the Marine Chronometer….

Harrison’s Chronometer, on display at the Science Museum, London – Image credit : Rocklever at English Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

The fleet of 21 ships entered the English Channel during a storm and were heading for home from the Mediterranean…. They sailed under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who was onboard his flagship Association…. He consulted with his navigator and it was determined that they had arrived at Ushant, off the French coast near to Brittany…. Whereas, they were in fact near to the Isles of Scilly – much further north…. The next night Association, along with Fireband, Romney and Eagle smashed on the rocks off of the west of Scilly…. Only 25 sailors survived – over 2,000 were lost….

18th Century engraving of the Scilly naval disaster with HMS Association at the centre front – Public domain

The problem at the time was that navigators could only find accurate Latitude…. By using the sun they could determine north to south…. But when it came to Longitude, east to west, this was a more difficult proposition and open to error…. It had to be calculated by an estimation of speed between one point and another – a method known as ‘dead-reckoning’…. Factors such as wind, tide and current had to be taken into account….

After the catastrophic disaster off of the Scilly Isles the government realised something had to be done…. This resulted in the Longitude Act 1714…. A prize of £20K was offered to the person who came up with the means of determining an accurate Longitude measurement….

It took years but eventually in 1773 clockmaker John Harrison presented his Marine Chronometer as the solution…. For whatever reason he only ever received £8,750 of the prize money….

The remains of Association and the other ships still lay scattered across the sea bed off of the rocks of Scilly – and will remain so under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973….

Portrait of John Harrison by Phillippe Joseph Tassaert – Public domain

2 thoughts on “On this day in history….22nd October 1707

  1. Hi Hazel, another very interesting story. Dava Sobel has written an excellent book entitled Longitude, I shall read it again to see if I can discover just why Pattison did not receive the full £20k……. as an aside an un-named sailor on board the Association kept his own reckoning of the ships position, this was regarded as subversive by the senior ranks – akin to disobeying an order I would imagine – explaining his thoughts could be costly to him, but he felt the risk so great he had to speak out. His remonstrations were ignored and he was hung on the spot for mutiny. It is said that Sir Clowdisley Shovell was washed ashore and collapsed on the beach, a woman, beach combing took a shine to his emerald ring and murdered him for it……….


    1. Good grief! We think we live in troubled times now… Can you even begin to imagine what it was like to live back then? You dared to question the powers that be – and you were hanged for it – (that would wipe out half the population now then)… Murdered for an emerald ring, perhaps this has not changed so much but we happen to make more fuss now… I’m being blasé – but just how much have we actually moved on? We might not physically hang people – but very often we do as good as by ruining the lives of those who speak out… We seem to simply adapt to the circumstances, if you know what I mean… I wonder why Pattison never received the full amount – possibly a penalty for taking so long to coming up with a solution… Perhaps he was lucky he didn’t get hanged! Too many scapegoats….then and now….(just climbing down off my soapbox now 😁)…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s