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  • Title
    Compass said to have been used by Cook on one of or all of his voyages, ca 1766-1776
  • Creator
  • Call number
    SAFE/R 221
  • Level of description
  • Date

    ca 1766-1776
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
  • Physical Description
    Objects - 1 brass Azimuth compass, gimballed in original oak case with removable lid. Has two cresent shaped indented handles and two metal (possibly brass) clasps. Has a brass and wire sighting device that sits across the top of the bowl and has original makers label inside lid. - Box 23 x 29.9 x 29.5 cm, compass diameter - outer ring 23.5 cm, inner ring 19 cm, height of compass in box approx. 14 cm, sighting device 8.5 x 18.6 cm.
  • Collection history
    Believed to have belonged to James Cook and then passed onto Sir Joseph Banks thence to Dr Brown (Sir Joseph Bank's private secretary) thence to Mr A. Bennett (who had the intention of presenting it to the Whitby Museum) thence sold at auction by order of Mrs Bennett by Messers H.J. Austen and Son to Dr Prince of Crowborough, thence passed onto Mr Toon and thence acquired by Sir Saul Samuel, Agent General of New South Wales in 1885 -- See A 3934 and A 3936.
  • Access Conditions

    Access to this pictures collection via appointment only. Please submit your request through Ask a Librarian
  • Copying Conditions
    Out of copyright:
    Please acknowledge:: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
  • General note

    In 1766 Gowin Knight took out a patent for further improvements to his mariner's compass, the main object was to check vibration. It is probably Knight's older design that Cook criticizes in 1767, writing to the Navy Board and asking for two wood box-compasses instead, presumably the azimuth compass of improved construction. As it turns out a Gowin Knight design compass made by George Adams proved unsatisfactory at sea on the first voyage. In 1771 Cook wrote to the Admiralty Secretary of his experience with one of Dr Knights Azimuth compasses - 'I could not make use of the compass in a troubled sea and the reason was this, I could not make the brass box keep a way of another from which it would not of itself return ... I think it by far too complex an instrument ever to be of general use at sea'. In January 1772 Cook also wrote to the Navy Board 'Dr Knights Azimuth Compasses now in use are (I believe) universally allowed to be defective at sea ... I pray you will be pleased to order His Majesty's Sloop Resolution under my command to be supplyed [sic] with one of Mr Gregorys Azimuth compass's of an improved construction'.

    It is known that a number of Gowin Knight compasses were taken on all three of Cook's voyages, despite being proven most unsatisfactory at sea. On the second and third voyages each ship carried, in addition to two Knight compasses by Adams, an improved compass by Gregory. It is believed that this compass is one of the Knight compasses taken on one of Cook's voyages.

    George Adams senior was Mathematical Instrument Maker to His Majesty from 1734 to 1772 when his son George Adams junior took over the business from 1772 til 1796. It is more likely that this compass was made by George Adams senior given the dates of Cook's voyages, however George Adams junior was working with his father during this period.

    The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery edited by J.C. Beaglehole. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999 (NF910.45092/C771/1 SET)
    The principal scientific instruments taken on Captain Cook's voyages of exploration, 1768-1780 by Derek Howse in Mariners Mirror, v. 65, no. 2 (May 1979) p.119-135 (N387.06/2)
    Directory of British scientific instrument makers, 1550-1851 by Gloria Clifton, London: Zwemmer, 1995 (NQ681.7502541/1)
    Digital order no:Album ID : 1012241
  • Signatures / Inscriptions

    Engraving round edge of compass reads 'G. Adams, Fleet St London, 636'.

    Inscribed inside lid on label 'Azimuth and ... ring compasses. Invented by Gowin Knight F.R.S. Made by George Adams mathematical instrument maker to His Majesty. At Tyche Brahes Head in Fleet Street London. N.B. Drawing instruments, telescopes and Hadley's quadrants of the ... construction' and 'I hereby certify that i have examined this compass and that it appears to be rightly constructed. No. 636 J.H. De Magalhaens'.

    Inscribed on windrose 'G.Knight Inv.' and 'Made by G.Adams Fleet St London, Instt maker to His Majesty'.
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