The Story of the Bounty Chronometer

The Bounty Chronometer - K2

When Captain James Cook explores the Pacific (1768-1771, 1772-1775, 1776-1780) this signals the beginning of a new era of exploration. There are two main reasons for this revolution:

  1. Cook's experiments prove that fresh vegetables and hygiene eliminate the deadly scurvy that decimated the crews of previous explorers.
  2. Cook has on board, during his 2nd and 3rd voyages, Kendall's "official" copy (known as K1) of Harrison's H4 Chronometer. Cook's experience proves that a chronometer can give seamen the means to accurately determine longitude (i.e. determine their correct location).

Captain Cook writes to the Secretary of the Admiralty, "Mr Kendall's watch has exceeded the expectations of its most zealous advocate..."

K1's 30 year service record is impressive and also includes the transportation of "the First Fleet" to Australia.

But, the Board of Longitude considered the price of this Chronometer too high, as they were planning to outfit each of His Majesty's ships with such an instrument. The charge was £500. (For comparison - when the Board of Admiralty purchased the Bethia, which was renamed Bounty, it paid £1,820 for the entire vessel).

Kendall suggested that he could "construct a timekeeper upon Harrison's principles, but leaving out any unnecessary complication and yet achieve similar results for the sum of £200." The Board accepted this proposal and in Kendall started work on the what is now known as K2 and completed it in early 1771.

The Chronometer was tested and then given to John Phipps for his unsuccessful attempt to find a Northwest passage in 1773. It then was employed "on the North American station" until 1787 when it was given to Capt. Bligh for use on the Bounty.

William Bligh is Master (navigator) on Cook's Third voyage and is experienced using Cook's K1 Chronometer.

Bligh notes in his published Journal ...from the board of Longitude I received a time-keeper, made by Mr. Kendal......During our stay at Spithead, the rate of the time-piece was several times examined by Mr. Bailey's observations at the Portsmouth observatory. On the 19th of December, the last time of its being examined on shore, it was 1' 52", 5 too fast for mean time, and then losing at the rate of 1",1 per day; and at this rate I estimate its going when we sailed.

(At Cape Town) The error of the time-keeper was 3' 33",2 too slow for the meantime at Greenwich, and its rate of going 3" per day, losing.

(Arrived at Tahiti) The ship was 3° 22' in longitude to the eastward of the dead reckoning , which the time-keeper almost invariably proved to be owing to a current giving us more easting than the log.

(Later at Tahiti) In consequence of my having been kept all night from the ship by the tempestuous weather , the time-keeper went down at 10h 5" 36'. It's rate previous to this, was 1",7 losing in 24 hours , and it's error from the mean time at Greenwich was 7'29",2 too slow. I set it going again by a common watch, corrected by observations , and endeavoured to make the error the same as if it had not stopped; but being over cautious made me tedious in setting it in motion, and increased the error from mean time at Greenwich. The rate of going I did not find to have altered.

(The Mutiny) Mr. Samuel.....was forbidden, on pain of death , to touch either map, ephemeris , book of astronomical observations, sextant, time-keeper or any of my surveys or drawings. (Mr. Samuel) attempted to save the time-keeper, and a box with my surveys, drawings, and remarks for fifteen years past, which were numerous; when he was hurried away, with "Damn your eyes you are well off to get what you have."

After the mutiny Christian and the other mutineers search for a place to settle. When they find Pitcairn they note that Captain Philip Carteret, it's discoverer, hasn't charted it's location correctly.

On Admiralty Charts, Pitcairn Island was charted three degrees of Longitude, some 170+ M, or 300+ km (the contemporary equivalent of a two day voyage under fair conditions) inaccurately.

The mutineers have the K2 chronometer and are able to determine longitude. They know that future expeditions will also have chronometers. They bet that these expeditions will not be able to find Pitcairn and decide to settle there.

After the mutiny, the Chronometer remained with the mutineers on Pitcairn until Captain Matthew Folger of the American whaling ship Topaz of Boston discovers the women, children and the surviving mutineer John Adams in 1808.

Folger purchases the Chronometer from John Adams. Adams receives a "small silk handkerchief he prizes" for the Chronometer, and the Bounty's azimuth compass.

"Smith [John Adams still uses the pseudonym Alexander Smith at this time] gave to Capt. Folger a Chronometer, made by Kendall, which was taken from him by the Governor of Juan Fernandez. (signed) Wm. Fitzmaurice" (An extract from Folgers logbook, made in Valparaiso on 10 Oct 1808 in order to be passed to the British Admiralty and therefore certified by Lt. William Fitzmaurice, Royal Navy)

On their way to Valparaiso Folger and his ship arrive at Juan Fernandez Island. The Spanish governor confiscates the Chronometer and keeps Folger and his crew in jail until a new governor arrives some months later and sets the Americans free.

The Chronometer appears next at Concepcion in Chile, where it was purchased for three doubloons by an old Spanish muleteer by the name of Castillo. It was kept by Castillo until his death in Santiago in 1840. His family, by arrangement with Alex Caldcleugh of Valparaiso sold it to Capt. Thomas Herbert R.N., of HMS Calliope for 50 guineas. (Note a guinea is one pound and one shilling - i.e.. 50 guineas is £52 10 shillings) Herbert had the watch examined by Mr. Mouat, a "Chronometer maker" in Valparaiso.

The Chronometer was then conveyed to the The United Service Institution upon Herbert's behalf by Capt. Newman of H.M. Sloop Sparrowhawk. Newman notes "I was at Pitcairns Island in the Sparrowhawk this time last year, and perhaps that has contributed to the interest I feel in this affair. I have some tappa or native cloth manufactured by the hands of Polly Adams Herself."

When the Chronometer arrives in Britain it now had the following engraved on the back 

Presented to
This Timekeeper belonged to Captn. Cook, R.N.,
and was taken by him to Pacific in 1776.
It was again taken to the Pacific by Captain 
Bligh in the "Bounty", 1787.
It was taken by the Mutineers to Pitcairns Island
and was sold in 1808 by Adams to a citizen of
the United States, 
who sold it at Chili, where 
it was purchased by 
Sir Thomas Herbert.

We now know that the Chronometer was NOT employed by Capt. Cook (it was with Phipps at this time) and that Folger himself did not sell it in "Chili."

When the Chronometer was later examined by the Horologist Peter Amis at Greenwich he remarks "it did not take long to ascertain that in order to simplify Harrison's design, and thus construct it for £200, that Kendall had committed the cardinal error of dispensing with the train remontoire. This device which ensured a virtually constant energy input to the balance, was the prime reason for Harrison's success, and its omission in K2 prevented this timekeeper from achieving such rates as were possible with either Harrison's No. 4 or Kendall's copy. Nevertheless, it did, and still does, perform remarkably well, which is tribute enough to its maker's high standard of workmanship."

A later chronometer by Kendall, now known as K3, accompanies Lieutenant Matthew Flinders in HMS Investigator to Australia in 1801.

Kendall's three marine Chronometers are now located at The Royal Observatory (NMM) Greenwich.


An article entitled "The "Bounty" Timekeeper" by Peter Amis F.B.H.I. This article has comprised pages 59-73 of an undated publication entitled "Pioneers of Precision Timekeeping - A symposium published by The Antiquarian Horological Society as Monograph No. 3"

Wm. Bligh A Voyage to the South Sea ... for the Purpose of Conveying the Bread Fruit Tree to the West Indies, in His Majesty's Ship the Bounty ... London: George Nicol, 1792 Edition. Airmont Publishers edition 1965

Herbert Ford Pitcairn - Port of Call
ISBN 0-964-9642-0-1
Hawser Titles, Angwin Cal.