An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825

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Lot 120* Y Ф
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition
W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825

Sold for £ 74,500 (US$ 96,537) inc. premium
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition
W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825
The Case: The three part mahogany case of characteristic form, with brass carrying handles, escutcheon and release button for the upper cover with an inset brass 'x' Admiralty deaccession mark, the second cover cut for a larger plaque (now missing, probably removed when deaccessioned), the front of the box inset with an ivory plaque inscribed 'TWO DAYS'.

The Dial: The 3 inch silvered Roman dial signed 'Wllm. Edwd. Frodsham éleve of Parkinson and Frodsham, Change Alley, London, Two Days' the subsidiary seconds dial above VI, numbered '2', the reverse of the dial shows evidence of the removal of a broad arrow when deaccessioned.

The Movement: The signed and dated chain fusee movement with maintaining power, cut and compensated bi-metallic balance with cylindrical weights, helical spring and diamond endstone set in a double screwed chaton, the backplate inscribed 'Willm Edwd Frodsham AD 1825, London', the plate to the left of the balance drilled with a small shallow circular recess where the Ordnance arrow was removed when deaccessioned, set within a sprung inner cover, brass bowl and gimbals with a sprung lock. 16cm (6.25in)


  • William Edward Frodsham
    According to Vaudrey Mercer, William Edward Frodsham was born in 1804, the second son of William James Frodsham and younger brother to Henry Frodsham.
    The brothers were apprenticed to their father on the same day in 1823 and William was clearly a talented pupil as his first chronometer was used in the same year by Captain Edward Sabine in his Pendulum Experiments to measure the shape of the Earth.
    Tragically his life was cut short when he drowned at the age of 20 in 1825, the same year W.E. Frodsham 2 was finished.
    Mercer notes that both his chronometers were entered for the 1828 Greenwich trials under the name 'W Frodsham' perhaps by his father and were subsequently purchased by the Admiralty.

    HMS Beagle, built at Woolwich in 1819–20, was a 10-gun brig. In July 1821 she was taken up river, under London and Blackfriars bridges, and moored opposite Norfolk Street, between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridge; from which position her first recorded action, on the morning of the coronation of King George IV, was to waken Londoners with a royal salute. The Beagle returned to Woolwich, and remained for the next five years in the place where she had been built. Thereafter, during a 20-year period from 1826 to 1846, she was employed on the three voyages which in combination make her one of the most widely renowned vessels in the Royal Navy. Soon after returning to Woolwich, in 1846, she was moved to the mud banks of the river Roach, near Paglesham in Essex, and passed the remaining 25 years of her service as a coastguard watch vessel.

    The most famous of the Beagle's three voyages was the second. In December 1831, under Commander (later Captain, latterly Vice-Admiral) Robert FitzRoy, she sailed from Plymouth on a voyage which would last for nearly five years. FitzRoy was given orders to complete the survey of the coast of South America, and its natural harbours; he was also ordered to build up a circle or chain of chronometric measurements extending around the globe, and thereby to verify longitude at certain points in the chain, and to establish longitude at others. The voyage took the Beagle from Plymouth southwards and across the Atlantic to the east coast of South America, through the Strait of Magellan to the west coast of South America, westwards across the Pacific and Indian oceans to the Cape of Good Hope, from there up and across the Atlantic back to the coast of Brazil, and thence back to Falmouth, Plymouth, Greenwich, and Woolwich. The most obvious outcome of this work would be a series of new maritime charts developed in England on the basis of the drafts produced by the ship's officers working at the chart table in the Beagle's poop cabin. In turn, the new charts would contribute significantly to the safety of ships at sea, and help in this way to promote Britain's wider economic and political interests.

    FitzRoy had formed the intention, on the Beagle's first voyage (in the late 1820s), that should he ever return to South America he would take with him someone qualified to study the geology of the lands they visited. As he put it, in an initial report on the second voyage (published in December 1836): 'While the officers of the Beagle were employed in their usual duties afloat, Mr. Charles Darwin, a zealous volunteer, examined the shores.' In the official record of the voyage (published in 1839), Darwin was described as the ship's naturalist, in which capacity he accomplished more than can have been expected of him.

    For once, however, Darwin must be left aside. The chronometers taken on board the Beagle, at Plymouth,on 14November 1831, are symbolic of the real purpose of her work, as a surveying ship and a sounding ship. They were the best instruments of their kind in their day, standing in direct line of descent from the chronometers devised by John Harrison in the eighteenth century. No fewer than 22 of these delicate instruments were stowed, with the greatest of care, in their own boxes, nestled in beds of sawdust on two wide shelves in a special part of the captain's cabin. Throughout the voyage, the only person with access to them (apart from FitzRoy himself) was George James Stebbing, instrument maker, from Portsmouth, whose job it was to wind them at 9 and to compare them at noon (and also to act as the ship's librarian and the captain's clerk).The readings of all the chronometers were recorded in 'several thick folio books', prepared especially for the purpose, and deposited by FitzRoy, after the voyage, in the Hydrographical Office.

    The importance attached to the Beagle's chronometers emerges from the orders drawn up by the Admiralty on 11 November 1831 (and delivered to FitzRoy a few days later), which incorporate a memorandum by Francis Beaufort on the construction of the chain of measurements of meridian distances. It is then from FitzRoy's 'Sketch of the Surveying Voyages of his Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, 1825–1836', written while the Beagle lay at Greenwich (28 October–6 November 1836), and communicated to a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society in London, that we begin to see how the chronometers were used. At each point in the voyage where a measurement was required, the necessary observations would be made to establish the local time, using the same sextant ('a particularly good instrument, made by Worthington and Allan') and the same artificial horizon, both before and after noon. The ship's bank of chronometers had to remain in their special place, in the captain's cabin; so 'a very good pocket chronometer, carried by hand in a small box', was compared with them immediately before and immediately after the observations for local time. The difference between the time of noon at Greenwich and the time of noon at the particular location would give its longitude. Stebbing took the readings of the chronometers in the captain's cabin; and while it was FitzRoy who made 'all observations for time' during the first three years of the voyage (1831–4), the task was performed during the last two years (1834–6) by the Beagle's surveyor, John Lort Stokes.

    As the Beagle sailed home across the Atlantic, in the summer and early autumn of 1836, both Darwin and FitzRoy were hard at work in their respective cabins. Darwin was examining his specimens, perusing his field notebooks and other materials, and writing up his journal; FitzRoy was preparing his own account of the voyage, and producing a digest of the chain of longitudes around the globe which had been established by the five years of chronometric measurements and associated observations. Whatever might have been going through Darwin's mind, FitzRoy was concerned not least by the fact that the sum of all of the links in his chain exceeded 24 hours by 33 seconds; and although he felt that this was not a bad result, for a series of measurements taken in a small vessel, over a period of five years, he thought hard to understand what factors might have affected the rates of his chronometers.

    Of all the surviving objects known to have been used on the voyage of HMS Beagle, in 1831–6, the ones now most likely to attract attention are those known to have belonged to the ship's naturalist, several of which form part of the display at Down House (English Heritage), Downe, in Kent. The objects include a telescope, a microscope, a compass, a geological hammer, an artificial horizon, a thermometer, and a double-barrelled pistol. No less evocative are the objects of various kinds which were acquired by the National Maritime Museum, in 1960, from Scotchwell House, near Haverfordwest, among the effects of Admiral John Lort Stokes, who had served on the Beagle for all three of her voyages. They range from the carcass of a flying fish to a remarkable ship's carving, which Stokes would appear to have removed from the Beagle when he left her for the last time, in 1843, and which he placed over a door which led into his entrance hall. They also include a double-frame bridge sextant, made by Worthington and Allan, c. 1831, bearing an inscription on the bridge indicating that it was presented by FitzRoy to Stokes in 1834 – suggesting(in the light of FitzRoy's 'Sketch', cited above) that this was in fact the sextant which FitzRoy had used in 1831–4, and which Stokes used in 1834–6, for the express purpose of making the local observations central to the construction of the chain of chronometric measurements.

    So what of the chronometers themselves? Of the 22 listed by FitzRoy, eleven (by various makers) were registered as 'Government' property; and since the separate histories of chronometers belonging to the Government were carefully recorded in a ledger still held by the Royal Greenwich Observatory, one knows to which ship each instrument was issued, when it was returned, and to which ship it was issued next. Six of the other chronometers belonged to FitzRoy, four to their respective makers, and one to Lord Ashburnham. Given the necessity of being able to monitor the performance of each one of the chronometers in relation to the others, they were known individually on the Beagle by letters of the alphabet. The tables published in the Appendix to FitzRoy's Narrative (1839) indicate which chronometers provided data for each of 31 points in the chain, showing overall that some were more reliable than others, and explaining the basis on which FitzRoy assessed them variously as 'very good', 'rather good', 'good', 'indifferent', or 'bad'.

    Several of the chronometers have stories of their own to tell. Chronometer P (Frodsham 1, which belonged to the Government), said by FitzRoy never to have been used after February 1835, was one of the two which he described as 'bad'; in fact, letters preserved among the papers of G. B. Airy, Astronomer Royal (1835–81), reveal that it was 'Left with the Peruvian Government for purposes of Science', in connection with some unspecified 'civilities' which had passed between the said government and the Beagle. Chronometer R (which belonged to its maker), was described as 'very good'; FitzRoy remarks that 'a mainspring broke when the chronometer had been going admirably, till that moment', and the tables reveal that it had a perfect record until August 1836. Interestingly, five of the chronometers (E, F, M, T, Y), in addition to P, do not occur among those providing data for the Beagle's circumnavigation (1835–6). Chronometer T (one of FitzRoy's own), described as 'indifferent', had perhaps ceased to function. The other four (E, F, M, Y), all of which are among those described as 'rather good', were presumably the four chronometers said by FitzRoy to have been transferred to Alexander Usborne, when detached from the Beagle in August 1835, with Midshipman Forsyth and some others. In September, the Beagle sailed west, on her circumnavigation. Usborne and his shipmates were assigned to the schooner Constitucion, which had been bought by FitzRoy to serve as the Beagle's tender, and were entrusted with completing the survey of the coast of Chile and Peru. Their work, which extended from September 1835 to May 1836, was described by Usborne in his own journal (FitzRoy, Narrative, Appendix, pp. 186–8 and 231–72), and is also represented by Forsyth's log (Darwin Online). Once it was done, they were instructed to sell the schooner, and to make their own way back to England.

    Hitherto, only two of the main bank of 22 chronometers used on the Beagle were known to survive. Chronometer V (Lord Ashburnham) and Chronometer X (Government), both held by the British Museum, remained in the Beagle for the circumnavigation; the latter was chosen for inclusion in Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects (2010). The re-appearance of Chronometer M (Government property, known by its maker and serial number as Frodsham 2) brings the number of recorded Beagle chronometers to three. It contributed measurements to the chain in 1831–5, but not for the circumnavigation in 1835–6. It seems, however, to have been one of the four chosen for use on the Constitucion, for the completion of the survey. Usborne and his men made their way back to England, via Cape Horn, and were waiting at Greenwich to greet the Beagle when she arrived there in late October 1836. They came back on board, to the gratification of all, and to FitzRoy's particular relief; and it seems that Usborne had brought the chronometers back with him. Chronometer M, alias Frodsham 2, was thus among those returned by FitzRoy to the authorities at Greenwich, on 7 November 1836, remaining in government service for many years thereafter.

    Simon Keynes
    Trinity College, Cambridge

    Robert FitzRoy
    Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865) was a complex and highly accomplished man. From an early age he excelled, joining the Royal Navy in 1818 he rose quickly to the rank of lieutenant in 1824 having achieved a 100% pass in his exam and was promoted to flag lieutenant in 1828 under Rear Admiral Otway.

    It was Otway who gave him temporary command of HMS Beagle , which had been ordered to Rio de Janeiro for maintenance (initially under Lieutenant Skyring after the suicide of Captain Stokes) and handed over to FitzRoy who continued the survey until 1830. On his return to England he stood for election as Tory candidate for Ipswich, but was defeated.

    In 1831 he was re-appointed as the Captain of HMS Beagle and completed the survey started on the first voyage. He had the Beagle extensively re-fitted for the expedition at great expense, partly in an attempt to improve the ship's stability. Some of its class had capsized in heavy seas, which had resulted in them being referred to as 'coffin brigs'.

    FitzRoy's relationship with Darwin was occasionally unpredictable due to an apparently explosive temper, however he was often highly apologetic once his mood had lifted.

    It was FitzRoy who introduced Darwin to Charles Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' which described gradual geological change over immense periods of time. The book is credited by some with helping formulate Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection. However, it was FitzRoy's contribution to the formation of the theory that caused him great personal anguish in later life having adopted a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    In 1837 his work on the second voyage was recognised by the Royal Geographical Society, awarding him a gold medal. In 1841 he was elected as the Tory MP for Durham and in the following year was appointed as Governor of New Zealand.
    His tenure as Governor was short and ill fated and saw the near bankruptcy of the colony primarily due to underfunding and unpopularity after his confrontation with the European settlers in defence of native Maori land rights.

    Returning once more to England in 1845, he took up his naval career until 1850, his final sea command being over the 450 men of the screw frigate HMS Arrogant.
    The end of FitzRoy's naval career did not end his connection with the sea. In 1850 he became a member of the Royal Society and subsequently made Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade on the recommendation of the President of the Royal Society.

    He issued a large number of barometers to both the Royal and merchant navies in order to gather meteorological data from across the globe in an attempt to better understand the weather. The barometers were made to a design by William Adie in order to standardise the readings.

    Furthermore he distributed 'FitzRoy barometers' to British ports to help seamen predict the likelihood of local storms which had always been an unpredictable and unwelcome facet of life around the British coast.

    In addition he set up a number of stations inland, gathering their readings via a network of telegraphs and using the information to predict the weather, in so doing he started what would become the Meteorological Office.

    In the last years of FitzRoy's life he became evermore dogged by depression, exacerbated by financial worries, opposition to his work in the Board of Trade and his growing guilt over the part he played in the development of Darwin's theory. In 1865 he took his own life.

    Charles Darwin

    Darwin was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He was descended from two imposing figures of the 18th century, the physician, natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin and the industrialist Josiah Wedgwood.

    At the age of eight his mother died and he was subsequently raised by his three sisters and father, the latter having a strong influence on the development of his scientific thought and powers of observation. He attended Shrewsbury School, but was an unremarkable student. He did however show a strong scientific leaning, performing chemistry experiments in his dormitory, much to the Headmaster's disapproval. His schooling ended prematurely in 1825, after which he accompanied his father, a physician on his rounds before being sent to Edinburgh University to read medicine.

    His interest in medicine was short lived, but he found himself drawn to (amongst other subjects) the study of animals. This resulted in his being accepted in to the Plinian Society, a free thinking and at times a somewhat anti-establishment group of students often at odds with orthodox theological opinion.

    It was during this period that he met and became a pupil of Robert Edmund Grant, a sponge specialist who encouraged Darwin to read widely and seek alternative views. Darwin later credited Grant with having been one of his great influences. Grant had developed a theory that was in accordance with that of Erasmus Darwin, that life was evolutionary and there was a common thread in certain physical features that ran through much of creation from the lowest, to the highest life forms.

    In 1827, Darwin's education once again ended prematurely, leaving Edinburgh without a degree. His studies did however continue at Cambridge, his father having decided to enter him into the Church. While studying, he once again found himself drawn towards the study of nature and more importantly Geology, which he had previously avoided in Edinburgh.

    Geology proved crucial, as in 1831 he was selected by Captain Robert Fitzroy to
    accompany him on the second voyage of the Beagle as the expedition's scientist, one of his main duties being the recording of coastal geology.

    During the voyage he was fascinated by the flora, fauna and native peoples he encountered and collected numerous specimens. He took many from the Galapagos islands, including finches whose significance he did not initially realise. It was only later through the study of his notes and specimens that he developed the theory of natural selection , built upon his understanding of evolutionary theory and evidenced by the variety of bird species and tortoises, flora and fauna he had observed during the voyage.

    On his return to Britain he published numerous books beginning with his Beagle Diaries which he published in 1839 and later his most famous work 'On the Origin of Species' published in 1859. The book proved popular and was widely discussed within the scientific community, however, outside of academic circles it lead to furious debate within the church and heated debate in general between those supporting the creationist orthodoxy and those expounding the 'materialist' view of evolution without divine influence.

    His last major work 'The Descent of Man' published in 1871 built further upon the theory and again proved popular. Darwin was surprised at how well it was received, but the controversy continued for at least another generation.

    His work famously strained his friendship with FitzRoy, who having adopted a literal understanding of the Bible had blamed himself for his part in the formation of Darwin's theory, however Darwin contributed to a fund set up for FitzRoy's widow after her husbands death, which had left penniless.

    Darwin died in 1882 at Down House, Kent and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

    The Chronometer
    The chronometer was entered in the Greenwich trials in 1829-30 and was subsequently purchased by the Admiralty, the note alongside the entry reading '0" 62 being the extreme error on the Rate in 12 months. This was only equalled by two out of nearly 500 sent on trial and they by only a few hundreth [sic] parts of a second. Government were pleased to purchase the instrument.'
    It served on fifteen ships between 1831 and 1911 when it was de-accessioned and acquired by E. Dent and Co.

    We are fortunate that during this period chronometers were still considered important enough to be recorded individually and W.E. Frodsham 2 was documented in some detail during the second voyage of the Beagle and the North American Boundary Expedition.

    W.E.Frodsham 2 and the Second Voyage of the Beagle:
    According to FitzRoy in 'The Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships the Adventure and Beagle ....' volume II, the chronometers were placed onboard the Beagle on two broad shelves at a point set low in the hull and close to the ships 'centre of motion' to reduce the likelihood of the chronometers being affected by the pitching and rolling of the ship in heavy seas.

    They were stored within their gimballed cases on a shelf divided into open cells, each lined with three inches of course sawdust to absorb vibrations from the ship. According to 'The Narrative' the effectiveness of the padding was tested by observing the movement of powder scattered on the chronometers glass cover under a magnifying lens, none was detected. They were placed under the sole care of G.J.Stebbing and no one else was allowed to enter the chronometer cabin apart from FitzRoy.

    In the table of chronometers the 'Frodsham 2' was given the letter 'M'. It was annotated by FitzRoy as 'Rather good' and was recorded having been used on seven of the 31 stages, firstly from Devonport to Port Praya and finally from Port Famine to San Carlos.

    After San Carlos it appears to have been taken, along with three others, on board the Constitucion with Alexander Usborn, the Beagle's Master's Assistant to complete the survey of the coasts of Chile and Peru, while the Beagle continued west to the Galapagos Islands. The chronometer rejoined the Beagle at Chatham and subsequently returned by FitzRoy to the Admiralty on the 7th November 1836.

    W.E. Frodsham 2 and the North American Boundary Expedition:
    The North American Boundary Expedition was commissioned to accurately delineate and map the frontier between the United States of America and British North America (later Canada) after the Treaty of Washington 1842. The treaty aimed to settle border disputes that had been on-going since the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
    The expedition involved the Commissioner, a secretary, two astronomers, two surveyors , six non-commissioned officers of the Royal Sappers and Miners (later 20) and a team of up to 500 local 'axe-men' to clear the physical boundary, the British to the North of the line, the Americans to the South, to a width of thirty feet.

    The accounts of Captain Robinson and Lieutenant Pipon in 'Corps Papers and Memoirs on Military Subjects, compiled from contributions from officers of the Royal and East India Company's Engineers' published in 1848 describes in great detail the transit and storage of the chronometers over land and water through the extremes of temperature experienced by the expedition. Here it was correctly listed as a two day box chronometer (page 151).

    According to the Corps Papers, the four box chronometers were selected by Professor Airy, (George Biddell Airy, The Astronomer Royal) and together with seven pocket chronometers were rated before being transferred to the Hibernia for the voyage to Boston, then by steamer to St John's, New Brunswick where the group split into two, Frodsham 2 going with Lieutenant Pipon .

    The account tells how the men and instruments endured poor roads, travel by log canoe and portage over rough terrain. They describe how during the winter the chronometers were stored in the officers' cabins as the temperature dropped so low that 'the mercury shrunk within the bulb'; while in the Spring men suffered from scurvy from a lack of fresh provisions, then in Summer the extremes of heat resulted in the burial of the chronometers to keep them cool in an attempt to maintain their rate.

    The box chronometers were used in conjunction with a series of flashes made by hoisting charges of gunpowder into the tree tops (between one half and one pound in weight) and lighting them, the times of the flashes were recorded by a number of chronometers and the average time taken. The same technique was used to communicate with the cutting party telling them to go left, right or straight on. The flashes were recorded as being visible with the naked eye for forty miles.

    Chronometer Ledgers:
    The chronometer is recorded on pages 282, 833 and 3066 of the Admiralty chronometer ledgers (see below). The chronometer was initially entered as 'H Frodsham 2' but later the 'H' was scored through and corrected below 'Alias W.E Frodsham.'

    Vaudrey Mercer misinterpreted the poorly written entry for the Second Voyage of the Beagle as 16th December 1835, which would clearly not fit in with the departure date of the 27th December 1831, but when cross referenced against a second ledger listing the Admiralty chronometers issued to Fitzroy, the chronometer's page number 282 is listed against HMS Beagle and the date of issue noted as the 6th December 1831, confirming the presence of the chronometer on the voyage.

    To add to the confusion the chronometer was erroneously listed in a table of the chronometers taken on the voyage in 'The Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships the Adventure and Beagle ....' volume II, page 325 as a one day chronometer (see chronometer 'M').
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825
An important second quarter of the 19th century marine chronometer used on the second voyage of HMS Beagle and subsequently for the North American Boundary Expedition W.E. Frodsham, London, number 2, dated 1825
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