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The Admiralty Compass Observatory

  • A. E. Fanning

The paper by Captain Cotter on Edward Johnson and the early history of ship's magnetism published in the September Journal sets the scene for the birth, in 1842, of the Compass Department of the Admiralty. Commander Fanning, a former Deputy Director of the Admiralty Compass Observatory, as it later became, here relates its subsequent history. The paper was presented to an Ordinary Meeting of the Institute held in London on 19 December 1979 with Dr J. F. Kemp in the Chair.

This paper traces the fortunes and development of a small department, one of the oldest Admiralty technical departments, from its early struggles with the magnetic compass, through many vicissitudes, economies, defence cuts, wars, intrigues, take-overs and even human frailties. We shall see how technical advances have led to ever more demanding requirements and I hope to show how, by meeting each new challenge, there has emerged the lively, forward-looking organization that today is still responsible for ‘everything that matters’ in navigation equipment, as it was at its inception in 1842.

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The Journal of Navigation
  • ISSN: 0373-4633
  • EISSN: 1469-7785
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-navigation
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