In the days before aerial photography and radar, the navigator was one of a ship's most important crew members. In the museum, you'll see rare sailing artifacts including a captain's charting and navigation kit from 1690, compasses, backstaffs, spyglasses and scores of maps that pirates used to chart their courses of pillage and plunder.
Before Global Positioning Systems and modern map-making, the concept of longitude was just a dream. Pirate captains and navigators could measure latitude - with an astrolabe, backstaff, octant or quadrant - but not longitude. This made navigation up to the late 18th century both unpredictable and deadly. In 1714, the British Parliament offered a prize of 20,000 pounds (about $12 million in todayís dollars). They were desperate to find a way to prevent millions of dollars from being lost at sea, pirated, or shipwrecked because of faulty navigation. Although mariners and scientists had been trying to solve the longitude problem for centuries, it wasn't until an ingenious self-made clockmaker named John Harrison decided to win the prize that a solution was produced. Without any formal education, Harrison combined his boundless imagination with expert carpentry skills and labored a lifetime to finally reveal that the secret to navigation lay not just in the stars, but in mastering the power of time. Ignoring the cynics and skeptics, Harrison continued to develop smaller and smaller clocks until he finally created one that could be held in the hand of a sea captain. In 1774, Harrison's chronometer was bestowed the prize by King George III.
The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum houses several fully intact and functional octants and backstaffs. Dated 1793 and inscribed with the name A.M. Andrews, this venire octant lies within the navigation exhibit in its original case.
One of the more impressive pieces in the navigational collection is the chronometer. This early 19th century marine chronometer with silver brass dial-signed 'J. Parkes & Sons, 43 44 Canning Place, Liverpool' -keeps perfect time. The all-brass movement instrument has solid gold hands and traditional Roman numerals, minute chapter, and large seconds bit at the 6 o'clock position, and 54 hour up/down. The chronometer is slung in its original gimbal assembly with gimbal-locking device and mounted in the original 3-tier rosewood box. On the front of the box is the original porcelain maker's label marked Graham and Parkes.
The 48" octagonal wood-barreled spyglass was made by P&P Gally of London in the 18th century. The size alone is impressive. When you see it up close, you'll realize that this entire spyglass was carved from one single piece of mahogany. It's absolutely amazing!
The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum also houses a set of spyglasses circa 1700. Ranging in size from 13" to 36", these perfectly constructed spyglasses were necessary tools for navigation.
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