Clocks and logs

Edward John Massey (1768-1852) was a horologist, originally from Newcastle. In fact, he was a very good horologist. His gift to the world of time was the invention of a new escapement. He set up shop in Clerkenwell in London and was very successful, making not only clocks and watches but also nautical instruments.

Edward Massey’s father (another Edward Massey) was also a horologist who never reached the dizzying heights of fame and invention of his son.

In Clerkenwell, Edward John Massey (junior) married and had children (as a lot of Victorians did). One of those children was John Edward Massey (who didn’t have any children). John Edward Massey was more interested in nautical instruments and devoted his working life to their improvement.

Before electronics, things like the speed of a ship at sea were measured by a long piece of rope, knotted at regular intervals. An officer would drop it over the side and count the knots that moved through the water over a certain amount of time indicated by an hour glass (actually there were different sized hour glasses for measuring shorter or longer periods of time but, for clarity, let’s just call them all hour glasses). This is why a ships speed is measured in knots.

While the knots and rope and sand were strictly controlled, there was, obviously, quite a lot of error. Still, it worked well enough and ships employed the method pretty much universally.

John Edward Massey thought he would improve an instrument his grandfather had invented that would make it all so much more accurate. Given his knowledge of the nautical and the horological, he was the obvious person to do it. And he did. He improved the famous Massey log, an instrument that would be thrown over the side of a ship (attached to a rope, of course) and record the speed with far greater accuracy.

The British Navy wasn’t convinced by the original Massey log and would use it alongside the old method. The new and improved Massey log, however, was quickly adopted without question.

The whole Massey ‘saga’ is messy, particularly given their propensity for naming their sons John and Edward, in both combinations. I had to unravel it today. All our Massey objects (up till today) were ascribed to Edward John junior, even the ones made after he died. But not anymore. Doing my bit for the chronological history of invention, I fixed up a lot of links and People records to approach something a little more accurate than first thought.

Sometimes my job is very satisfying.

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1 Response to Clocks and logs

  1. Mum says:

    That was very different although still to do with ships but interesting.
    love mum xx

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