Clockmaker vindicated 250 years after he was derided for accuracy claims

British clockmaker John Harrison, who was derided for his claims to having designed the most accurate pendulum timepiece in history, has been vindicated 250 years later.

Harrison’s marine chronometers revolutionised navigation in the 18th century, but critics said his claim to make a clock accurate to within a second over a 100-day period was simply impossible.

But, as Robin McKie reports in the The Observer newspaper, the last laugh lies with Harrison.

One of Guinness World Records’ more unusual awards was presented at the National Maritime Museum yesterday. After a 100-day trial, the timepiece known as Clock B – which had been sealed in a clear plastic box to prevent tampering – was officially declared, by Guinness, to be the world’s “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air”.

The clock was built to the clockmaker’s exact specifications had run for 100 days during official tests and had lost only five-eighths of a second in that period.

“It is a quite extraordinary achievement and a complete vindication of Harrison, who suffered ridicule over his claim to be able to achieve such accuracy,” said Rory McEvoy, curator of horology at the Royal Museums Greenwich. “This is a wonderful device.”

Harrison was a self-educated carpenter as well as clockmaker and was the subject of the fascinating book Longitude by Dava Sobel. You can also see a review of the Cambridge Digital Library collection of surviving papers of the Board of Longitude 1714-1828 here.


Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

Read science facts, not fiction...

There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.