National Museums Scotland acquire rare sea clock

  • Published 11 December 2018

National Museums Scotland have acquired a rare piece of maritime history with support from Art Fund.

The Bruce-Oosterwijck longitude pendulum clock © National Museums Scotland

The Bruce-Oosterwijck longitude pendulum clock

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© National Museums Scotland

The Bruce-Oosterwijck longitude pendulum sea clock is one of only two examples of a clock of its kind in the world, and represents the first attempt to solve the ‘the longitude problem,’ the issue of measuring longitude which scientists tried to solve as people began to make transatlantic voyages.

Alexander Bruce, Earl of Kincardine and one of the founding members of the Royal Society, commissioned the mechanism for this clock from the Dutch maker Severyn Oosterwijck in 1662. Bruce also worked with the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who invented the pendulum clock in 1656, on the project.

Although the sea clock was ultimately unsuccessful in accurately measuring longitude, it was a significant attempt and represents a pivotal moment in maritime history. It would take 100 more years before the longitude problem was famously solved by English carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison.

The Bruce-Oosterwijck sea clock will go on permanent display in the Earth in Space gallery at the National Museum of Scotland.

Tacye Phillipson, senior curator of modern science at National Museums Scotland, said: 'This rare and important piece of history is an incredibly exciting acquisition and will be a centrepiece of National Museums Scotland’s internationally significant navigation collection.'

Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund, said: 'The Bruce-Oosterwijck clock reminds us that trial and error often precede revolutionary invention, in this instance adding to a rich narrative of sea navigation and exploration. Art Fund is proud to support the acquisition of this important piece by National Museums Scotland, where it will be widely seen and enjoyed.'

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