Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude

The National Maritime Museum’s 2014 Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition told the extraordinary story of the race to determine longitude at sea.

Marking the 300th anniversary of the passing of the Longitude Act in July 1714, Ships, Clocks & Stars - which ran from 11 July 2014 to 4 January 2015 - told the extraordinary story of the race to determine longitude (east-west position) at sea, helping to save seafarers from terrible fates including shipwreck and starvation.

The exhibition drew on the latest research to shed new light on the history of longitude – one of the great achievements of the Georgian age. 

Winner of the BSHS 2014 Exhibitions Competition

Described as 'visually stunning' by the judges, we’re proud to declare that Ships, Clocks & Stars won the British Society for the History of Science’s Great Exhibitions Competition for 2014.

Longitude Act and exhibition highlights

Exhibition highlights included the original Longitude Act of 1714, on public display for the first time, and a rare opportunity to see all five of John Harrison’s timekeepers together – the first to allow accurate timekeeping at sea.

An intricate 1747 model of the Centurion, the ship that carried out the first proper sea trial of Harrison’s H1 timekeeper, was also on display, along with the elegant padded silk ‘observing suit’ worn by Nevil Maskelyne at the Royal Observatory during the 1760s. 

Delve deeper

Read all about the extraordinary race to determine longitude at sea. From the magnetic Mr. Halley to John Harrison, the clockmaker who claimed the reward for determining longitude.

More about the quest for longitude and Harrison's iconic timekeepers

Read longitude blogs

Ships, Clocks & Stars: the illustrated book

This beautifully illustrated book is the official publication of the exhibition and unravels in detail the stories behind how the longitude problem was solved. Follow the quest to solve the world’s biggest challenge and the battle for the huge rewards of up to £20,000. Explore the rivalries and ingenious inventions of some of the greatest minds of the 17th and 18th centuries including Galileo, Isaac Newton, Captain Cook and John Harrison. Centuries later, the science they developed still influences critical areas of modern life, from satnav and mobile phones to international time zones.

Buy the book