Here follows a variety of articles some by Philip Collins which may be of interest to barometer and weather lovers. If your interest is especially the weather follow this link to FROSTED EARTH website the home page of Ian Curries weather site, the private guru of all things on the weather front! and a great guy as well!
Weather has always been our countrys fascination. Extreme weathers all the more so. The following is an incredulous account of an occurrence of ball lightning on the Church in Widecombe,
A Second and Most Exact Relation of those Sad and Lamentable Accidents, which happened in and about the Parish Church of Wydecombe neere the Dartmoores, in Devonshire, on Sunday 21st of October last, 1638 [top]
Come, behold the workes of the Lord, what desolations hee hath made in the earth
Printed by G. M. for R: Harford, and are to be sold at his shop in Queenes-head-alley in Paternoster Row at the guilt Bible, 1638.
To the Reader.
I here present thee with a second Relation of that wonderful accident which the printing of the former book has given occasion of. Having now received a full and perfect Relation, as is possible to be hoped for, or procured, assuring thee it is not grounded on information taken up second hand, but those persons being now come to London, who were eye witnesses herein, and the chiefest discoverers of the effects of the terrible accidents, although thou hast the truth in part before, yet not the tithe thereof, the full Relation whereof thou shalt find here annexed following after the former Relation, supplied in all those particulars, wherein there was any defect before, supposing it better to annexe it then to dissolve and blend it with the former; what thou hadst not before shall only be supplied now, and no more, and what thou findest not heard, take to be true, as they are expressed there, and although it be larger then our former, yet we desirest in penning thereof not to trouble thee with many words but only the substance of this sad matter, as concisely as we could, and though the price be more, yet suspend thy censure till thou hast perused it, and then it may be thou wilt give him thanks, who hath been at the pains to add this to the former, which he would not have done, unless he could tender it upon very good authority and testimony of witnesses more then needful: we know same and report varied exceedingly, not knowing wherein to pitch our belief, for it much increases or diminishes by flying, according to the apprehension and memory both of the givers out, and takers up; but take this on his word, who only wisheth and intendeth thy good.
A True Relation of those most strange and lamentable Accidents, happening in the
Gods visible Judgement and terrible remonstrances (which every morning are brought to light) coming unto our knowledge, should be our observation and admonition, that thereby the inhabitants of the earth may learn Righteousness, for to let them pass by us (as water runs by our doors) unobserved; argues too much regardlessness of God in the way of his Judgements: not to suffer them to sink into our affections, and to prove as so many terrible warning pieces, which are shot off from a watch Tower, to give notice of an enemies approach, to awaken and affright us, are but a means to harden our hearts against the Lord, and to awaken his Justice to punish us yet more: but to hear and fear and to do wickedly no more; to search our hearts amend our ways is the best use that can be made of any of Gods remarkable terrors manifested among us. When God is angry with us, it ought to be our wisdom to meet him, and make peace with him. And where we see legible Characters of his power and wrath; to learn to spell out his meaning touching ourselves, to leave off all busy, malicious, causeless and unchristianly censuring of others, and to turn in upon ourselves, remembering, except we repent, we shall likewise perish. Certain it is that we do in vain expect immunity from Gods Judgements by sleighting, or contemning them, or increasing in our sinnings against him. If Pharaoh by the terror of thundering and lightning was so affrighted that he said to Moses, Intreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and Hail. And if Caligula, out of the fear of thunder, would run under his bed to hide himself, how much more should we Christians learn to fear and tremble before the most mighty God, whose voice only can shake the mountains and rend the rocks and divide the flames of fire; rends Churches, amazeth, and strikes dead at his pleasure the sons of men? As the Prophet David saith, He doth whatsoever he pleaseth in Heaven and Earth, He causeth the vapours to ascent from the ends of the earth, and maketh lightnings for the rain and bringeth the wind out of the treasures of the earth, so unsearchable is his wisdom and his ways past finding out. Therefore this should awe and humble our hearts before the Lord, rising up unto more perfection in godliness, doing unto our God more and better services than ever hitherto we have done, reverencing and sanctifying his dreadful name in our hears: especially when his Judgements break in upon men, even in his own house, mingling their blood with their sacrifices, and that in a most terrible manner smiting and wounding and killing, as in this ensuing Relation may appear: which for the suddenness and strangeness thereof and in a manner miraculous considering the many circumstances, I believe few Ages can parallel or produce the like. The Lord teach thee to profit thereby that it may be as a sermon preached to thee from Heaven by the Lord himself.
Upon Sunday the 21. of October last, in the Parish Church of Wydecombe near the Dartmoores in Devonshire, there fell in time of Divine Service a strange darkness, increasing more and more, so that the people there assembled could not see to read in any book, and suddenly in a fearful and lamentable manner, a mighty thundering was heard, the rattling whereof did answer much like unto the sound and report of many great Cannons; and terrible strange lightning therewith, greatly amazing those that heard and saw it, the darkness increasing yet more, till they could not see one another; the extraordinary lightning came into the Church so flaming, that the whole Church was presently filled with fire and smoke, the smell whereof was very loathsome, much like unto the scent of brimstone, some said they saw at first a great fiery ball come in at the window and pass through the Church which so affrighted the whole Congregation that the most part of them fell down into their seats, and some upon their knees, some on their faces, and some one upon another, with a great cry of burning and scalding, they all giving up themselves for dead, supposing the last judgement day was come, and that they had been in the very flames of Hell.
The Minister of the Parish, Master George Lyde, being in the pulpit or seat where prayers are read, however he might be much astonished hereat, yet through Gods mercy had no other harm at all in his body, but to his much grief and amazement, beheld afterward the lamentable accidents; and although himself was not touched, yet the lightning seized upon his poor Wife, fired her ruff and linen next to her body and clothes to the burning of many parts of her body in a very pitiful manner. And one Mistress Ditford sitting in the pew with the Ministers wife was also much scaled, but the maid and child sitting at the pew door had no harm. Beside, another woman adventuring to run out of the Church, had her clothes set on fire, and was not only strangely burnt and scorched, but had her flesh torn about her back almost to the very bones. Another woman had her flesh so torn and her body so grievously burnt, that she died the same night.
Also one Master Hill, a Gentleman of good account in the Parish, sitting in his seat by the Chancel, had his head suddenly smitten against the wall, through the violence whereof he died that night, no other hurt being found about his body. But his son sitting in the same seat had no harm. There was also one man more, at the same instant, of whom it is particularly related, who was Warriner unto Sir Richard Reynolds, his head was cloven, his skull rent into three pieces, and his brains thrown upon the ground whole, and the hair of his head, through the violence of the blow at first given him, did stick fast unto the pillar or wall of the Church, and in the place a deep bruise into the wall as if it were shot against with a cannon bullet.
Some other persons were then blasted and burnt, and so grievously scalded and wounded, that since that time they have died thereof, and many other not like to recover, notwithstanding all the means that can be procured to help them. Some had their clothes burnt and their bodies had not hurt, and some on the contrary, had their bodies burnt and their clothes not touched, and some their stockings and legs burnt and scalded, and their outward buskings not one thread singed. But it pleased God, yet in the midst of judgement to remember mercy, sparing some and not destroying all, yet very many were sorely scalded in divers parts of their bodies, and as all this hurt was done upon the bodies of men and women, so the hurt also that was then done unto the Church was remarkable.
There were some seats in the body of the Church turned upside down and yet they which sat in them had little or no hurt; also a boy sitting on a seat had his hat on, and near the one half thereof was cut off and he had no hurt. And one man going out at the Chancel door, a dog running out before him, was whirled about towards the door and fell down stark dead: at the sight whereof he stepped back within the door, and God preserved him alive. Also the Church itself was much torn and defaced by the thunder and lightning and thereby also a beam was burnt in the midst and fell down between the Minister and Clerk and hurt neither, and a weighty great stone near the foundation of the Church is torn out and removed, and the steeple itself is much rent, and there where the Church was most rent, there was least hurt done to the people, and not any one was hurt either with the wood or stone, but a maid of Manaton, which came thither that afternoon to see some friends, whom Master Frynd the Coroner by circumstances, supposed she was killed with a stone. There were also stones thrown from the Tower and carried about a great distance from the Church, as thick as if a hundred men had been there throwing, and a number of them of such weight and bigness, that the strongest man cannot lift them. Also one pinnacle of the Tower was torn down and broke through into the Church.
Moreover the pillar against which the pulpit standeth, being but newly whited, is now by this means turned black and sulphry. Furthermore, one man that stood in the Chancel, with his face toward the belfry, observed as it were the rising of dust or lime, in the lower end of the Church, which suddenly (as with a puff of wind) was whirled up and cast into his eyes so that he could not see in twelve hours after, but now his sight is restored, and he hath no other hurt. The terrible lightning being past all the people being in a wonderful maze, so that they spake not one word, by and by one Master Raph Rouse, vintner in the town, stood up, saying these words, Neighbours, in the name of God shall we venture out of the Church, to which M. Lyde answering, said, it is best to make an end of prayers, for it were better to die here then in another place, but they looking about them, and seeing the Church so terribly rent and torn, durst not proceed in their public devotions, but went forth of the Church.
And as all this was done within the Church, and unto the Church; so there were other accidents without the Church; of which I will give you a touch. There was a bowling alley near unto the Churchyard, which was turned up into pits and heaps, in manner almost as if it had been plowed. At the same time also at Brixton near
We are also certainly informed that at the same time as near as it can be guessed, there fell out the like accident unto the Church at Norton in Somersetshire, but as yet we hear of no persons hurt therein. Also it is related by a Gentleman who travelled in those parts at that time, he being since come to London, that where he was the lightning was so terrible, fiery and flaming, that they thought their houses at every flash were set on fire, in so much that their horses in the stable were so affrighted that they could not rule them.
This Church of Wydecombe, being a large and fair Church, newly trimmed and there belonging to it a very fair steeple or Tower with great and small pinnacles thereon, it being one of the famousest Towers in all those Western parts; and there being gathered a great congregation, to the number, as is verily believed of at least 300 persons.
Master Lyde, with many others in the Church did see presently after the darkness, as it were a great ball of fire, and most terrible lightning come in at the window, and therewithal the roof of the Church in the lower part against the Tower to rend and gape wide open, whereat he was so amazed, that he fell down into his eat, and unspeakable are the might secret wonders the Lord wrought immediately, of which, because thou hast the general Relation before; I will give thee this as near as can be discovered in the order and course thereof, which first began in the Tower, and thence into the Church, the power of that vehement and terrible blast struck in at the north side of the Tower, tearing through a most strong stone wall into the stairs, which goes up round with stone steps to the top of the leads, and being gotten in, struck against the other side of the wall, and finding not way forth there, it rebounded back again with greater force to that side next the Church, and piercing through right against the higher window of the Church, took the greatest part thereof with it and likewise some of the stones, and frame of the window, and so struck into the Church, coming with a mighty power it struck against the north side wall of the Church, as if it were with a great cannon bullet or somewhat like thereto, and not going through, but exceedingly shaking and battering the wall, it took its course directly up that aisle straight to the pulpit or set where Master Lyde sat, and in the way thence going up it took all the lime and same of the wall, and much grated the stones thereof, and tore off the side desk of the pulpit, and upon the pulpit on the side thereof it was left as black and moist as if it had been newly wiped with ink.
Then it goes straight up in the same aisle, and struck off all the hinder part of the Warriners head, the brains fell backward intire and whole into the next seat behind him, and two pieces of his skull, and dashed his blood against the wall, the other piece of his skull fell into the seat where he sat and some of the skin of his head, flesh and hair was carried into the Chancel. Some of his hair to the quantity of a handful, stuck fast as with lime and sand newly tempered upon one of the bars of the timberwork partition between the Church and Chancel. And one man who sat next to the Warriner in the same seat, was scalded and all burnt on that side next the Warriner, from the very head to the foot, and no hurt at all on the other side. And in the second seat behind him was another struck in a most fearful manner, for he was so burned and scalded all over his body, from his forehead downward below his knees, insomuch that he was all over like raw flesh round about, and which is most wonderful his clothes not once hurt; neither his head nor hair, who notwithstanding died not then, but lived in great misery above a week after.
But to go on in our Relation. It is supposed (it having been since by divers judiciously viewed) that here the power or force divided itself two ways; one part whereof struck out of the window over their heads, which tore out and carried away some great stones out of the wall with the window, and further they could not trace it, but with the force of the stroke at going forth, it struck the lime and sand on the wall with many small stones, or grit, so forcibly that the lime, sand and grit returned back like hail-shot to the other side of the wall where men did sit and struck into their faces, much disfiguring them, and smote into the wall and into the timber of the partition, some of which stones could not be picked out till the next day following.
But the other part of the force descended to the bottom of the wall just before the Warriners seat, and there pierced in, heaving up all the wall in that place, rending and tearing it from the very ground, as high almost as the height of a man, there it broke through into the Chancel and about the number of eight boys sitting about the rails of the Communion Table, it took them up from the seats and threw them all on heaps within the rails, and not one of them hurt, and one of them having his hat lying upon the rail, it was cut and burned half away.
Then it went directly over to the other side of the Chancel, and struck Master Hill mortally in his head, so that he died that night; but his son, sitting as close by him as one man can sit by another, for the seat would hold but two, he had no harm at all, not so much as once singed. But it struck against the wall so forcibly, that it bear in the wall behind him as if it had been shot against with a cannon bullet, as it is expressed in the former Relation; but there not going through, it recoils back again, coming about the Chancel, as it is conceived, and tore out violently one of the great side stones of the Chancel door against which it smote, cleaving it all to pieces, and there it is supposed it went forth; but some reasons there are to think it did not, for none of the pieces of the side stone were carried out with it, but fell down within the Chancel: besides, the consideration of the mighty strange and secret works thereof in the body of the Church, for there it had rent and tore and flung about marvellously.
The seats where men and women sat were rent up, turned upside down, and they that sat in them had no harm; also many of those pews and seats rent quite from the bottom as if there had been no seats there, and those that sat in them, when they came to themselves, found that they were thrown out their own into other seats three or four seats higher, and yet had no harm. And moreover all the wood, timber and stones were torn all to pieces, and violently thrown every way to the very walls of the Church round about.
One man sitting upon the Church Beer, at the lower end, the beer was struck and torn, and he that sat thereon was thrown into one of the pews by the wall side, a good distance off.
Many also, both men and women, being very much burned and scaled in divers places of their bodies, and after diver manners, to the number of fifty or sixty, among whom Mistress Lyde, the Ministers wife was one, who suffered herein as it is related in the former, and also Mistress Ditford her gown, two waistcoats, and linen next her body, burned cleaned off; and her back, also very grievously down to her waist burned and scalded, and so exceedingly afflicted thereby, she could neither stand nor go without help, being led out of the Church. And one ancient woman was so terribly burnt, and her flesh torn, especially her hand, the flesh was so rotten and perished, her hand is cut off that it might not endanger her arm; and many of those that were then burned and scalded have since died thereof.
And furthermore, all the roof of the Church is terribly torn, and a great part thereof broken into the Church by some great stones that were torn off the Tower; and all the other part hangs fearfully, all ragged and torn in divers places, ready to drop down; it tore likewise all the windows, shook and rent the Church walls in divers places, but the Chancel roof had little or no hurt. Moreover, a beam was burst in sunder which fell down between the Minister and Clerk, yet hurt neither. Nor was there in all this time anyone hurt either with stick or stone, but only one man that had a little bruise on his back; and as there was least hurt done where the timer and stone fell most, so on the contrary, where no timber nor stone fell, there was most hurt done. And all this while, after the first terrible noise and lightning, not one in the Church can remember they either heard or saw anything, being all deadly astonished.
And when the lightning was past, the people being still in amaze, not one could speak a word to another, but by and by Master Rouse came a little to himself, standing up, spake as in the former Relation, and speaking to Master Lyde, he also thereupon began to recover himself, and answered as well he could tremblingly, as is expressed before, not knowing of any hurt that was done either to his wife or any else; but they looking about them, saw a very thick mist, with smother, smoke and smell, insomuch, that they nor any there saw the danger over their heads. But they too going forth together at the Chancel door, they saw the dog whirled up some height from the ground, taken up and let down again three times together, and at last fell down stone dead, all the lightning being past, neither could they see anything at all near the dog.
Then presently the rest of the people scrabbled forth the Church as well as they could; the mist and smother going away by degrees, but not quite gone in half an hour after. And being come forth they saw their danger, which before they knew not; for the Tower and Church was grievously cracked and shattered; And some of the stones on the Church and Tower torn off and thrown every way round about, and huge weight stones split all to pieces, some thrown distant from the Church at least an hundred yards. And one great stone like a massive rock, was carried off the pinnacle all over the east end of the Church and over the Churchyard and into another close over the hedge, there it grazed, breaking up the ground deeply, and as it is imagined it was done by that massive stone, which was carried at least ten yards beyond, and there bruised the ground very deep, where it lay unmoveable.
And on the other side of the Church, there is a bowling green, torn up and spoiled with stones as before; among many others there fell therein one great broad stone, like a table, and in the fall was broken all to pieces, they being struck edgeways into the ground, also many great stones were sunk so deep on all sides the Church, that some were struck in even with the ground, and some lower. Some stones were thrown over Master Rouse his house an hundred yards from the Church, and sunk into the earth not to be seen, but only the hole where the stone went down; and Master Rouse his house, on that side next the Church, was torn up, the covering carried off, and one of the rafters broke into the house.
Then a while after, before night they adventured into the Church to fetch out the dead bodies, some whereof being brought forth, and laid in the Churchyard; there was then present a woman, being till that time much astonished, coming better to herself, upon sight of the dead bodies remembered that she brought her child to Church with her, they then going in to seek for it, found her child going hand in hand with another little child, being met coming down one of the aisles, and had no hurt, nor seemed not be anything frighted by their countenances; neither was there any children in the Church hurt at all: but the other childs mother was gone home, never remembering she had a child till it was brought to her.
But as strange a thing as any of these was that, concerning Robert Meade the Warriner; he being not missed all this while, immediately Master Rouse his dear acquaintance remembered him, and seeing him not, nor none knowing what was become of him, Master Rouse stepping to the window, looked into the Church, where the Warriner used to sit, and there saw him sitting in his seat, leaning upon his elbow, his elbow resting upon the desk before him, he supposed him to be asleep or astonished, not yet come to himself, he calling to awake him, wondered he made no answer, then his love to him caused him to venture into the Church, to jog him awake, or to remember him, and then to his much grief he perceived his friend to be a dead man; for all the hinder part of his head was clean cut off and gone round about his neck, and the forepart not disfigured, as they supposed when they drew near him.
The Lord of the Manor of Wydecombe hearing of this sad accident, sent his man, David Barry, that night thither, to hear what news and to see what hurt was done, but it being dark, he could see nothing that night, but only hear their Relations. But on Monday, the day following, they came to take notice, and view the ruins of the Church, and what accidents had fallen out; then all this Relation was made apparent to him, and I may safely say, to thousands more of witnesses, that are ready to give testimony to all this Relation.
But having seen and observed as much as they could about the Church; the Tower being locked up, what hurt was done there, was as yet unknown, there being then a motion made to open the door to see what hurt, no man was found willing to adventure, much less ascend up therein, all the people being as yet in a terrible fear; the remembrance of their great hurts and dangers, being so fresh in their minds; for some being to be buried in the Church that afternoon, as namely Master Hill, and Robert Meade, their graves being close by one another; the Minister read the burial to both at once, and when he came to those words, Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the fall whereof making a sudden noise upon the coffins, made them all in a great fear run out of the Church, tumbling over one another, supposing that the Church as falling on their heads.
But the said David resolved to venture himself to discover what he could, and calling for the key to open the door, it was brought by the Sexton, yet they all persuaded him not to venture, for the Tower was so crazy, torn and shattered, that they were all of opinion it might fall, as they might well judge by the outside; but he putting in the key to open the door, it would not unlock it, but run quite through; then the Sexton, he trying also could find no lock, and yet the door still fast, then an iron bar being used to force it off the hinges, it could not be done thereby, till at last he espying the bolt of the lock shot into the staple, desired them to hold the door up with the bar, that he might put in his arm to put back the lock, and found there all the wood and wards of the lock gone; then the door being with much ado forced open, the said David was to go up first, and the Sexton to follow him, where he found so much rubbish and stone tumbled down, that he could hardly creep up; he having his sword by his side, it troubled him, he put it off, wishing the Clerk to hold it while he made way; but as they ascended, there came down the stairs a most loathsome smell beyond expression, as it were of brimstone, pitch and sulphur; he notwithstanding adventured higher, but the Sextons stomach and courage being overcome, partly by his fear, and also by the smell, he returned back in a great fright, complaining he was poisoned.
A multitude of people being there to observe the discovery, come from divers places thereabouts, to see and hear of this spreading ill news, as daily multitudes do resort thither for that purpose, they all stood at a distance, waiting what could be found, but they not knowing what was become of him, because the Sexton was so frighted, none daring to come near to look after him, But he getting (with great difficulty, and danger of his life at every step) up to the first story, there he viewed it, and found no hurt done, but getting with greater difficulty up to the bell room, he tolled all the bells to see if they were sound or no, then the people much rejoiced, supposing he was well.
Then looking overhead he saw all the joists and timber under the leads carried away, all rent and torn fearfully, except one beam under the middle which was bowed down, and a great number of stones lying on the leads in a very strange and dangerous manner, but his heart encouraging him to venture yet higher, he attempted the leads, and getting up to the door, he saw a great danger over his head, at the sight whereof his heart began to fail him, for the stones were carried clean away under the inside next the Church, and on the outside so shaken that very little upheld them, then espying yet more danger then before, he saw a great stone over his head, (as he supposed) ready to drop down upon him, that he knew not whether to stay or go down, for fear of the falling thereof, then attempting to throw it down, cried as loud as he possibly could, being at the top, to stand clear, for fear of danger he catching hold on somewhat over his head, hung by his hands, and with his feet touched the weighty stone, which tumbled down the stairs, never resting till it cam to the bottom; then all the people at the fall thereof thought he was killed, but he presently coming down into the bell room, tolled the bells again, and thereby removed their fear.
The coming down lower, in one place in the stairs, close by the place where the Tower was most rent and shaken, there he espied a thing very strange to him, as if it had been a cannon discharged full of powder, and as if a bullet withal struck and shook it, and finding no way out, recoiled back to another side, and there rent out a great part of the Tower, with mighty stones; and but a little above it, there was a round patch, as broad as a bushel, which looked thick, slimy and black, and black round about it to which he put his hand, and felt it soft, and bringing some thereof in his hand from the wall, came down the stairs to the people, and showed them that strange compound, all much wondered thereat; and were affrighted, none knowing what it might be, it was like slimy powder, tempered with water, he smelling thereto, it was so odious even beyond expression, and in a far higher degree of loathsomeness, then the scent which was in the Church or Tower when they first smelt it, it being of the same kind; they supposing that strong smell come from that, which did overcome the Sextons and this fearchers stomach almost.
Yet all this while found himself reasonable well, though much offended with smells; and going home with Master Lyde to supper, he lodged at Master Rouses, and went well to bed, and an hour after, he felt something upon him (as he thought) on the outside of his waistcoat and belly, as if it were a cord twisted about him, two men pulling it with great strength, which gripped him in that unspeakable manner three or four times, that he though himself cut in sunder therewith, not having any breath, nor none knowing what to do to him; he could take nothing down at present to ease him but by and by ridding his stomach by vomiting, being in a great and terrible sweat all this while, in so much that the sheets wherein he lay might have been wringed, at last came up such a loathsome vomit that smelled of the same nature than that did which he brought of the steeple, and after this taking some rest he was very well in the morning.
All which most sad and lamentable spectacles were done (as it were) in a moment of time.
This is the sum of those dismal accidents and terrible examples happening in the place aforesaid. And the main drift in the publication of this great judgement, is for thy humiliation and edification, not only to acquaint thee with the great and mighty works of Gods power and justice, who in a moment can do mighty things to us, and arm the creatures against us at his own pleasure, but also to move pity and compassion in us towards our brethren who were patients therein, not judging them greater sinners then ourselves, but believing, That except we also repent and sin no more, we shall likewise perish, or worse things befall us. Which Relation you can difficultly read without sighs, nor understand without tears. I know it is the fashion of too too many to question and talk, and make things of this nature, but a nine days wonder: But let us not deceive ourselves any longer, but consider, we have been lookers on a great while and others have been made our examples, and felt the smart at home and abroad, whilst we have gone free, but we know not how soon our turns and changes may come; those accidents might as well have happened to us as them, but the Lord therefore in much mercy fit us both for the worst of times and the best of ends. I end all with that prayer in our Letany, commending thee and this to the blessing of the Almighty.
From lightning and tempest, from plague,
pestilence and famine, from battle and murder,
and from sudden death.
Good LORD deliver us.
Tho. Wykes. R.P. Ep.Lond.
A great storm in 1821 wrought havoc to the Clovelly fishing fleet. [top]
These were the days when newspapers were few and far between and not easily circulated. Accounts of such exceptional events were produced on small handbills and often kept for years in the neighbourhood. These descriptions were usually in prose, but sometimes verse was employed, with quaint halting and abrupt lines. Events like these were reasons why Admiral FitzRoy's Storm Barometers were installed around our coasts for public safety. The following was issued by T Eyres of Launceston.
ON THE MELANCHOLY EVENT
STORM ON THURSDAY NIGHT
Which destroyed nearly all the Fishing Boats and Nets at CLOVELLY and
PEPPERS COOMBE, with a loss of Thirty Lives.
Painful the task is to record
Thursday's fatal stormy night!
Dispensations of the Lord,
Whose commands are always right.
To relate the various Wrecks,
Or pangs of friends, and sufferers say,
Is more than my muse expects,
In this inefficient lay.
Ships at sea becalm'd were rolling,
Ere the direful storm began,
Since its pow'r -the bell is tolling,
For each mangled, lifeless man.
Home-bound Barks, strove for their havens,
Hoisted every sail they could,
As the homeward steering Ravens,
Seek at night the shelt'ring Wood.
From the South' calm, quick did advance
The North's bleak devouring gale,
Embitt'ring all! Death's fatal lance
Hundreds did alike assail.
Ship's embay'd were cast on shore;
Others foundered at sea;
Ah! Lost seaman! You no more
Another tempest will survey.
O! Clovelly! Neighb'ring Creek,
Thy Fishermen with hearts serene,
Elate with hope, that day did seek,
To profit by the Herring-seine.
Sixty boats or more they put out,
With nets complete and boats well-mann'd
With Sea or Landsmen free from doubt,
That they should feel God's chast'ning hand.
At the gale began,
The Boats were then in the offing,
Soon, consternation to a man
It shed, - and make their bosoms wring!
In haste they got their nets on board,
For three hours row'd, tow'rds the Pier,
Trusting for safety from the Lord,
To whom was made the heartfelt pray'r.
At last they anchor'd off the shore,
Anxious their property to save,
Waiting tide in the Pier to moor,
Which brought them to a Wat'ry grave.
Those who saw their fellows sinking,
Whilst in angry waves they rode,
Had little time, or pow'r for thinking,
How to reach their dear abode!
Some their anchors partly weigh'd
And some few did cut their mooring,
Time was not to be delay'd,
Tempests louder still were roaring.
All around was devastation!
Drowning men, with wild dismay,
Cry'd to those who kept their station,
And those upon Clovelly Quay.
Mingled shrieks, and hollow groans,
Pierced the hearts of those on shore!
Deep was heard the Widow's moan,
Mothers wail, and Friends deplore.
Pitchy-dark the night became,
Raining though each trying hour,
Horrid howling sea, the same,
Threat'ning each boat to devour.
Alas! But few Boats reach'd the ground,
Out of all their little Fleet,
Where the living could be found,
Kneeling all unto Death's feet.
Mountain-breakers lav'd the shore,
Here they did encounter much,
More than anguish felt before,
To trust the waves the feelings touch.
This was all that they could do,
Leap into the foaming strife,
Hurl'd to the shore, in hopes to view,
Mother, Lover, Friend or Wife
On each rough returning wave,
Grappled they the pebbly strand,
Creeping whilst it did not lave,
Nails worn off an either hand.
Ev'ry Landsman did his best,
And rush'd amid the dashing foam,
To rescue lives, bruis'd and distrest,
That few more waves would be their doom.
Many souls that in were wash'd,
And their cries distinctly heard,
Were on the rocks in pieces dash'd,
Were none could help the most endear'd.
Awful, indeed, in the extreme,
"Help and mercy" was the cry,
beating on rocks, life's little stream
full-soon was spent and doom'd to die.
One kind Father, with his Son,
In his boat so terrified,
Exclaim'd, "my lad, my life is done!"
Dropt in the Boat and sudden died.
Sev'ral Boats crowded together,
Like the weather-beaten sheep,
Trying to assist each other,
But were all lost in the deep!
Such tremendous surges dashing,
Danger was increased thereby,
Dismal! Boats each other crashing!
Sinking-souls met their destiny.
When the morning dawn'd to see
Wrecks and Corpses line the coast,
Who could a spectator be,
Or hear, and not bewail the lost!
Thirty souls alike did perish,
More than Forty Boats were wreck's,
Wives, Friends, Children, let us cherish,
Nor treat them with cold neglect.
Poor Clovelly's sole dependence,
Nets and Craft thus gone their whole,
Many poor souls must needs defendants,
With hearts their mis'ry to console.
Some that were lost belong'd to
And different parts of
Let us hope their earthly downfall,
May exalt their Souls to Heaven.
THE TEMPEST PROGNOSTICATOR [top]
A Tribute to Victorian Inventiveness and Extravaganza
This extraordinary weather predictor was originally designed by Dr George Merryweather who, from studying the instincts of the natural world, devised an apparatus with leeches to ring a bell in advance of severe weather. Because of the leeches natural desire to rise to the top of a jar or tank in advance of thunderstorms and heavy rain, he designed the bottle to have a kind of mouse trap affair at the top. When the leech tried to go to the very top of the bottle, he would surely set the trap off and this would cause the corresponding hammer to ring the bell at the top. Once rung, the hammer would need resetting so the observer would always know, even after an absence, that the bell had been rung. The more leeches that rang the bell meant that a storm was more likely. He called these twelve leeches a jury
Its proper name was the "Atmospheric Electromagnetic Telegraph, conducted by Animal Instinct" The result was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Dr Merryweather tried to persuade the government to put these instruments around the coasts of Britain and instruct people in their use. Fortunately for our modern day weather forecasters, Admiral Fitzroys Storm Barometers were used instead! A more scientific approach to weather forecasting. Perhaps if Dr Merryweather had been successful we would see our modern day forecasters consult their leeches along with sea weed and fir cones!!!
We have taken nearly 3 years of research and development as well as many hundreds of hours work to produce this replica, which is the only workable model in existence. The design is based on Dr Merryweather's essay to the Whitby Philosophical Society, which he read on 27 February 1851. The pillars and base, as well as the originals for the cast metal items, were hand carved in our workshop several parts have been 24 carat gold plated and the bottles were blown in our own glass room. All the metal work was specially produced by our craftsmen.
Leeches have long been known to be sensitive to weather changes and during dedicated research for the Prognosticator Philip Collins has kept leeches himself, to note their habits, and even offered his arm for their feeds! His comment on them is Leeches have an uncanny ability to sometimes predict the weather; they are unlikely to replace barometers despite their lower cost and small size, due perhaps to their unattractive appearance and a rather disturbing method of maintenance, (although they do not hurt much). Barometers only cost money, not Blood!
There is another copy (a non-working facsimile), made in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, which is housed at The Whitby Museum. We are very grateful for the assistance during research of this device of the curators and staff of Whitby Museum, do visit them if you can they are a great bunch of folks. find out more about them by following this link http://www.durain.co.uk/
(taken from "The Weather Book" dated 1863)
Having often noticed peculiar effects on certain instruments, used as weather glasses, that did not seem to be caused by pressure, or solely by temperature, by dryness, or by moisture - having found that these alterations happened with electric changes in the atmosphere that were not always preceded or accompanied by movement of mercury in a barometer, and that, among other peculiarities, increase or diminution of winds, in the very 'heart' of the trades, caused effects on them, while the mercurial column remained unaltered, or showed only the slight inter-tropical diurnal change (as regular there as a clock), we have long felt sure that another agent might be traced.
Considerably more than a century ago what were called 'storm glasses' were made in this country. Who was the inventor, is now very uncertain; but they were sold on old London Bridge, at the sign of the "Looking Glass".
Since 1825 we have generally had some of the vials, as curiosities rather than otherwise, for nothing certain could be made of their variations until lately, when it was fairly demonstrated that if fixed, undisturbed, in free air, not exposed to radiation, fire or sun, but in the ordinary light of a well-ventilated room, or, preferably, in the outer air, the chemical mixture in a so-called storm glass varies in character with the direction of the wind - not its force, specially, though it may so vary (in appearance only) from another cause, electrical tension.
As the atmospheric current veers towards, comes from, or is only approaching from the polar direction, this chemical mixture - if closely, even microscopically watched, - is found to grow like fir, yew, or fern leaves - or like hoar frost - or even large but delicate crystallisations.
As the wind, or great body of air, tends more from the opposite quarter, the lines or spikes - all the regular, hard, or crisp features, gradually soften and diminish till they vanish.
Before and in a continued southerly wind the mixture sinks slowly downward in the vial, till it becomes shapeless, like melting white sugar.
Before or during the continuance of a northerly wind (polar current), the crystallisations are beautiful (if the mixture is correct, the glass a fixture, and duly placed); but the least motion of the liquid disturbs them.
When the main air-currents meet, and turn towards the west, making easterly winds, stars are more or less numerous, and the liquid dull, or less clear. When, and while they combine by the west, making westerly wind, the liquid is clear, and the crystallisation well defined, without loose stars.
While any hard or crisp features are visible below, above, or at the top of the liquid (where they form for polar wind) there is plus electricity in the air; a mixture of polar current co-exisiting in that locality with the opposite, or southerly.
When nothing but soft, melting, sugary substance is seen, the atmospheric current (feeble or strong as it may be) is southerly with minus electricity, unmixed with and uninfluenced by the contrary wind.
Repeated trials with a delicate galvanometer, applied to measure electric tension in the air, have proved these facts, which are now found useful for aiding, with the barometer and thermometers, in forecasting weather.
Temperature affects the mixture much, but not solely; as many comparisons of winter with summer changes of temperature have fully demonstrated.
A confused appearance of the mixture, with flaky spots, or stars, in motion, and less clearness of the liquid, indicates south-easterly wind, probably strong - to a gale.
Clearness of the liquid, with more or less perfect crystallisations, accompanies a combination, or a contest, of the main currents, by the west, and very remarkable these differences are - the results of these air currents acting on each other from eastward, or entirely from an opposite direction, the west.
The glass should be wiped clean, now and then, - and two or three times in a year the mixture should be disturbed, by inverting and gently shaking the glass vial.
The composition is camphor - nitrate of potassium and sal-ammoniac - partly dissolved by alcohol, with water, and some air, in hermetically sealed glass.
There are many imitations, more or less incorrectly made.
Those camphor glasses used by the writer lately were prepared by Messrs. Negretti and Zambra. There are numerous others, some of which are inexact in chemical composition; and are not nearly so sensitive.
ADMIRAL FITZROY [top]
Captain Fitzroy retired from active service in 1850; he was made Rear-Admiral in 1857, Vice-Admiral in 1863 and he died in 1865. He was a man of many talents and energies, but his consuming passion was the weather. M.P. for Durham, Governor of New Zealand, Meteorological Officer to the Board of Trade, he was also an associate of Darwin in his work on HMS Beagle and published his Weather Book in 1863. He was a great innovator. He set up weather stations to communicate with the Meteorological Office, produced weather charts and weather forecasts. His whole approach was that of a scientist - a scientist with imagination. He was concerned not only to observe but to interpret.
Admiral Fitzroy is most commonly remembered because of a most distinctive type of barometer to which he gave his name.
In 1864 he was able to claim the preservation of life and property resulting from the widespread use of his barometer. 'Explanatory manuals and blank forms for diagrams have been extensively circulated among the coasters and fishermen, who are all now much influenced by and very thankful for the benefits of this act of their Government'.
Today the Fitzroy Barometer is a useful Barometer, one that can still be 'read' as well as having considerable decorative charm, and as Admiral Fitzroy himself commented, is one of the most valuable instruments ever contrived for investigating the nature and laws of the wonderful ocean of air in which we live.
WILD OATS [top]
Many antique mercurial barometers incorporate a hygrometer, these were actually operated by part of a wild oat. The upright stem referred to is more commonly called the Oatbeard obtained from the wild oat seed. When magnified one can see that its structure is that of a twisted fibre, like that of a rope, and has been used for its natural ability to twist to the right when moistened, and to the left when drying. The rate of movement will vary from oatbeard to oatbeard as they vary slightly in length and thickness. Some turn two or three revolutions when moistened and some will turn even more. This action stands the seed upwards with the aid of the tail, or arm, which is set at right angles to enable the seed therefore to locate a crack or crevice in the soil structure of the ground in which to drop, thereby increasing its chances of propagation.
The use in the hygrometer dials of antique barometers was commonplace up until approximately 1840 when some makers must presumably have tried to cut corners on production costs. Generally barometers not originally fitted with wild oatbeards are of poor quality in some of the finer details. This tendency seemed to increase as the years went by, perhaps the start of mass production! And more profit! Although there are fine examples of operational hygrometers with oatbeards after 1840, they seem to be almost non existent after the 1870's. The typical barometer which did not usually have an oatbeard fitted is the 'onion' or 'tulip' design barometer. A cross section of the middle of the hygrometer dial often encountered on such barometers, fig. 2, and of the earlier style, fig. 1 - which actually works (!) - illustrates this progression. When using an oatbeard, some support is needed, even when only slightly encumbered with a dried grass pointer, to enable the pointer to revolve near enough parallel to the dial and not twist up to the glass or down to touch the dial. This is provided by a brass tube surrounding the oatbeard. It is interesting to note that on some early stick barometers circa 1790 and earlier, which are fitted with oatbeard hygrometers, the allowance for length of the beard is greater than most normal wheel barometers of later date. It is perhaps possible that in the 18th century larger oatbeards were more commonly available or found than the ones which are used today. As an experiment wild oats have been grown which have oatbeards of approximately 1/2" long and operate well when used as described, but accuracy is just not available; the best one can hope for is a comparative indication. The divisions on the dial are almost meaningless. Although few people observe their hygrometers, the only satisfactory course when restoring them is to make it as near the original as possible.
ADIE'S SYMPIESOMETER [top]
Alexander Adie, born in Edinburgh in 1775, was apprenticed to his uncle John Miller, a leading 18th century Scottish instrument maker, and became his partner in 1804. Adie had a great interest in meteorological instruments and in 1818 he invented an improved air barometer, known as the sympiesometer, and obtained a British Patent No. 4323.
Adie's sympiesometer was made by both himself and others. It has a bulb filled with hydrogen and another bulb which, with part of the connecting tube, contains coloured almond oil. A thermometer is also mounted. The scale of pressures is made to slide against a fixed scale of temperatures, both being graduated. To use the instrument, the thermometer is first read and an index pointer on the slide is set to correspond with the reading of the thermometer. The pressure is then read from the sliding scale opposite the level of the oil in the tube and the pressure reading can be recorded on the small dial at the base of the sympiesometer.
The sympiesometer was calibrated by comparison with an ordinary barometer in a pressure-vacuum chamber, and the scale was calibrated by varying the temperature with the pressure constant at some mean value. The correction for temperature will, of course, be exact only at this pressure.
Adie had his sympiesometer tested on ships in the Tropics, the Arctic, and near the coast of Scotland. All the reports received seem to have been enthusiastic. A letter from the Commander of the Isabella, one of the ships on the Ross expedition to the Arctic, states:
"The Sympiesometer is a most excellent instrument, and shews the weather far better than the marine barometer. In short, the barometer is of no use compared to it . . . in my opinion it surpasses the mercurial barometer as much as the barometer is superior to having none at all."
In 1829 the well known Scottish scientist James Forbes commented: "as a marine barometer, its superiority in accuracy and utility, as well as convenience, seems fully established".
We have handled old examples of these in the past and have found some to be still working after 100 years. Our replica is another quality facismile of this original instrument. Although we do not suggest it is as accurate as a conventional barometer, it certainly is an intriguing variation of a barometer.
BAROMETER WORLD LTD
MERTON, DEVON. EX20 3DS
TEL: 01805 603443 FAX: 01805 603344
THE MAGDEBURG EXPERIMENT [top]
National Science Week can be praised for encouraging people throughout the country to enter into many types of science projects. This year we were fortunate to be grant aided by Copus, the committee of public understanding of science, to re-enact the complete Magdeburg Experiment. For those readers who are not aware of this it is a 17th century experiment first carried out by Otto Von Guericke in Magdeburg, Germany. Otto Von Guericke, 1602 - 1686, was an incredible natural scientist. In 1654 he designed a vacuum pump to withdraw air from vessels. In 1643 Torricelli had made the first barometer, after taking over notes from Galileo and in those days work on the vacuum was very much in the forefront of pioneering science. It is without doubt that Otto Von Guericke, considered to be the father of the vacuum, was a showman and he carried out a number of public experiments on vacuums and pressure. Robert Boyle took over much of the continuation and furtherance of his work in Britain.
The original experiment grew out of smaller hemispheres and indeed such was the cost of these hemispheres in productions that even the rich Otto Von Guericke could not afford to continue all of this work as he may have liked to. But in 1657 he demonstrated in front of Ferdinand III, and other people, the tremendous weight of air around us. He believed that the air presses down upon us in an almost unseen force. To prove this he evacuated two very heavy large hemispheres, after having placed them together with a leather seal. This leather seal would certainly have had some thick grease or fat, possibly beeswax melted into it to provide an airtight seal. With the use of his newly invented vacuum pump he then evacuated the hemispheres, which stayed together under the pressure of air outside. Using an increasing number of horses he then began to try and pull them apart. Horses at that time were thought to be and recognised as being very strong; they were used daily in ploughing and working the land, as well as for war horses and transport. Von Guericke progressed to 16 horses, although I have heard in later discussions and writings that he was considering using a larger number of horses.
On Saturday 18th March we at Barometer World organised this re-enactment on the Old Bowling Green at Torrington. Despite being aware of the experiment, and having seen photographs and a video when it was performed in Germany previously, this was the first time ever in the United Kingdom that this experiment took place with 16 horses; it is only seeing the experiment in the flesh that brings home the tremendous forces involved in holding the spheres together. With the 16 horses accustomed to daily working on farms, brought together especially for this occasion, pulling and straining to pull the hemispheres apart one really gets a feel for this immense weight of air around us in which we live all the time and in which the daily variations are indicated on the barometer, which itself indicates the approaching weather changes. Fortunately on the day the weather was dry. In the morning it was slightly overcast but lovely and sunny in the afternoon. The pressure was high at 1035 mb, further ensuring that the hemispheres would be held firmly together. Very occasionally they will pull apart due to low pressure, particularly at high altitude and if the horses pull with exceptional force. Before the main experiment a number of small experiments were conducted with children pulling on small hemispheres and eighteen men pulling against two horses. In the afternoon the horses easily overcame the strength of eighteen men. It was experiments such as these that encouraged early scientists, and indeed meteorologists to study the air pressure changes and to interpret the wonderful weather, which fascinates so many of us today. Next time you look at your barometer try and remember that it is indicating the current pressure but that normal average pressure is about 15 lb per square inch pressing down. We are used to this phenomenon and indeed we would suffer greatly if the pressure reduced. Our whole being depends on this pressure and the air that we breathe.
USE OF BAROMETERS FOR FISHERMEN [top]
It has been well known that barometric pressure changes, as shown by a barometer, affect fishing and the way fish behave, especially game fish because of the neutral buoyancy of their swim bladders.
Low air pressure will cause the fish to go slightly deeper using a greater head of water to compensate and continuing high pressure tends to cause fish to rise.
If the air pressure is at 1010 millibars & above and rising, very good fishing can be expected.
If the pressure is below 1010 millibars and rising, fishing will be poor but improving.
If the pressure is above 1010 millibars and steady, good fishing can still generally be expected.
If below 1010 millibars fishing will normally be poor but may improve if the barometer remains steady for several days.
If the barometer is falling from above 1010 millibars the fishing will become poor.
If the air pressure is below 1010 millibars and falling then fishing is likely to be very poor.
The best fishing is likely to be when the air pressure is between 1010 & 1022 millibars and the barometer is in a rising or steady state.
Tight lines to you all!
15th Sept 2001
SHARK OIL BAROMETER! [top]
Yes! believe it or not our cousins in Bermuda have used the oil from sharks livers put into a clear bottle and hung outside to predict the weather for centuries. Here at Barometer World we are researching this unusual barometer and whilst early indications are not too favourable we are expecting a fresh shipment of oil from Bermuda in the next few months. We will then be able to expand more on the information about this type of barometer. After many trials (still on going at barometer world) we have a number of shark oil barometers on display. Further work is needed in finding a suitable liquid to thin the oil so it stay fluid in our colder climate.
Pictures here is one of our shark oil barometers, hung outside, the different layers of oil (or sediment and clearer oil) is clearly visible. Thanks to dedicated shark fishermen in Bermuda we will be recieveing a further yield of oil in the next few weeks- ready for more tests. Some more information will be available in my next book (nearly written) on alternative weather predictors. - Reserve your early copy by contacting us! Publication due mid 2003.
15th Sept 2001 [top] .
I have had the pleasure of meeting many people during my time, Mrs Nina Cooper being one of them, She kindly rallied to the challenge a few years ago and wrote what is a very good outline of the history of the barometer - plus a few other things. It is regretable that it was not published and I offer it here only for personal use and reserve all copyright in it which Mrs Cooper and I jointly own. No part of it may be reproduced or used without permision in writing from us.
Light Satirical Sketch Approx. 25,000 words
I, Nina Daphne Cooper, hereby assert and give notice of my right under Section 77 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 to be identified as the author of this book.
Mrs. N. D. Cooper
Devon EX20 3EB
Chapter One How It Started
Chapter Two The Penny Drops
Chapter Three First Steps in Trade
Chapter Four The Ubiquitous Instrument Conclusions
This book is designed for plain and simple people like the writer. People who are intrigued by the mystique of barometers and by the fascination they exert over so many intelligent men and women - mostly men. It is not concerned with technical details. It contains no detailed descriptions of designs and types, no descriptions of experiments in scientific language, and no reproductions of line drawings, ancient or modern. All these can be found in abundance in the many serious books already written about barometers. Some of these are listed at the end of the book.
This book is about what they are, how they evolved, and why they are still useful. The barometer was one of the great scientific developments of the 17th century. All were essential steps in the progress of mankind towards a more healthy, well-informed and well-regulated existence. None of them sprang into being out of nothing. They were all the result of long years of slow and painful thought about something or other, much hindered by those who should have known better. This little book is a light-hearted look at some of those years.
Anyone researching barometers cannot fail to be eternally indebted to W.E. Knowles Middleton, the Canadian author of "The History of the Barometer". I gratefully acknowledge the help that that great compendium of scientific knowledge has been to me.
How It Started
What is a barometer? The name is derived from two Greek words - "baros" meaning weight, and "metron" meaning to measure. It is therefore an instrument for measuring weight - in this case, the weight, or pressure, of the atmosphere. It is the deductions from these measurements of atmospheric pressure that produce useful things like weather predictions and the height of mountains. As in so many cases, the barometer was invented when they were looking for something else. In about 320 BC the great genius Aristotle declared that there could be no such thing as a vacuum. It was impossible, he said, and everyone believed him. That is the danger with experts. People believe them.
It was to be one thousand three hundred years before people began to question seriously Aristotle's views about the vacuum. Of course, there were sceptics in his day, just as there are now. A man called Democritus, who was born thirty-six years before Aristotle, denied that a vacuum was impossible. Lucretius, who was born about eighty-six years after the sage, also insisted that a vacuum was possible.
Both of these men were, of course, treated with the contempt reserved nowadays for people who deny the infallibility of television pundits. Down the centuries, from time to time, reservations were expressed about Aristotle's dictum, but they were always brushed aside.
Aristotle had, however, realised that air has weight. "..... in its place," he recorded, "every body has weight, except fire, even air. It is proof of this that an inflated bladder weighs more than an empty one." Unfortunately those who followed him as the years went by could not accept this bit of common sense. How sad that he was supported with blind loyalty when he was wrong about the vacuum, but deserted when he was right about the weight of air! Such is life!
Aristotle's followers believed that everything was made up out of combinations of the four basic elements - earth and water, which were heavy, and fire and air which were light. Another idea that had become accepted down the centuries was that there is in the air a sort of invisible fluid, which they called "aether". This stuff, they maintained, was finer than air and could pass through solid matter.
Then came the Renaissance. It was triggered off in Italy in the 14th century when people began to study the literature and records of ancient Greece and Rome. The ideas contained in those old records swept like a cleansing wind through minds that had been conditioned by the rigid and tyrannical teachings of the medieval Church. Waves of independent thought rolled over Europe and laid the foundations for the invention of the great scientific instruments of the 17th century. The greatest of these were the telescope, the microscope, the air pump, the pendulum clock, the thermometer and the barometer. This brings us to Torricelli.
Evangelista Torricelli was born in 1608, near Faenza in Italy. His parents died when he was very young, and he was brought up by an uncle who was a monk. This was very fortunate for the boy, as at that time all schooling was in the hands of the Church, so his uncle could ensure that he had a good education. Torricelli studied mathematics and went on to university in Rome. Whilst there he became an ardent admirer of Galileo, the great scientist and astronomer. Torricelli wrote that he felt "fortunate to have been born in a century which was able to know and write the praises of a Galileo, an oracle of nature."
Galileo had made a telescope that showed him that the planet Jupiter has four moons circling it. This supported the theory already put out by Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, that the earth moves round the sun, not vice versa as the theologians claimed. Galileo published his discovery and thereby fell foul of the Church.
Probably because he was held in such high esteem, Galileo was dealt with lightly. He was spared the burning at the stake, which was the customary fate of heretics, and instead was summoned to Rome. There the Pope himself pressured Galileo into promising to publish a denial of Copernicus' theory. This he did, but a few years later he asserted its correctness again. This time he was sent for by the Inquisition, who threatened to use torture unless he once more denied his beliefs. Again he complied, and retired to Florence, where he lived under virtual house-arrest until he died.
By 1641 Torricelli had become a distinguished mathematician in his own right. He must have corresponded with his hero and impressed him with his ability, because in that year Galileo invited him to come to Florence. It must have seemed like an impossible dream come true to the young mathematician, who at once abandoned his work in Rome and set out for Florence.
In spite of his problems with the Church, Galileo had been appointed official philosopher and mathematician to the Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany. This Duke was of a scientific turn of mind, and was later to make some interesting observations of his own. It must have been a thrilling step-up for Torricelli to assist the great scientist under the eyes of his august master.
The joy was short-lived though. Within a few months of Torricelli's arrival in Florence Galileo, now old, blind and sick, died and left his new collaborator jobless, homeless, and probably penniless. This in turn must have been a harrowing time for Torricelli as he packed his bags and faced the prospect of going back to his old masters in Rome.
Fortunately, Duke Ferdinand had seen enough of his work to have been impressed, and he now offered Galileo's old post to Torricelli. It is not hard to imagine the switch-back of emotions as the new official mathematician came out of the depths of despair into even greater heights of joy than he had experienced before.
Secure in his new appointment, Torricelli soon proved himself able to cope with the job. He wrote books on mathematics, and became famous for his optical lenses so that people came to Florence from far and near to have their spectacles made up with Torricelli's lenses. More important from the point of view of the barometer, he took up Galileo's work on hydraulics.
Galileo, like Aristotle before him, had had his blind spots, oracle of nature though he undoubtedly was.
"Note that all the air in itself weighs nothing," he had written in 1612. ".....nor let anyone be surprised that all the air weighs nothing at all, because it is like water." Strange that he could not see the sense of Aristotle's example of the bladders!
Galileo had not doubted the possibility of the vacuum though. In the same year, 1612, he had read a book in which the author claimed that a vacuum could not exist because it would be impossible to recognise it either by the senses or the intellect. "If the vacuum cannot be recognised by either the senses or the intellect," Galileo wrote scornfully in the margin of the book, "how have you managed to find out that it does not exist?"
It is strange that Aristotle and Galileo, who lived some two thousand years apart, should have been so neatly at opposite ends of the same stick. Aristotle could not accept the vacuum, but recognised that air has weight. Galileo insisted that air is weightless, but found no difficulty in accepting the vacuum. Yet both were undoubtedly "oracles of nature". One wonders what Aristotle would have made of Galileo. Clearly the latter was no blind follower of the former. It just shows how careful one has to be in accepting the pronouncements of experts.
Happily, Galileo's followers were more enlightened than Aristotle's. Torricelli, taking up the work where his master had left it, became involved in the question of siphoning water. As far back as 1630 a man named Baliani had asked Galileo to explain why he had failed to get water to siphon over a hill 21 metres high. Siphon or suction pumps were well known at the time. They were used in Italy to pump out the wells so that they could be scoured out before refilling with fresh water - a very necessary procedure in that climate. They used the same principle by which one now gets petrol out of a car tank.
Galileo had told Baliani that the failure was due to an "attractive force" in the vacuum but Baliani had come to believe that it was caused by air pressure on the water. Galileo, of course, would have none of that. By the time Torricelli took over Galileo's work the arguments for and against the vacuum and air pressure were waxing furious, and all over Europe people were doing experiments to prove or disprove one or the other. Torricelli did something quite unique. Instead of doing just a few isolated experiments he designed an instrument which "might show the changes of the air, now heavier and coarser, now lighter and more subtle", as he wrote to a friend.
In the same letter Torricelli explained that in order to establish that air had weight it was necessary first to produce a vacuum, but that it was the pressure of the air that made the production of the vacuum so difficult. This was a piece of clear thinking almost unparalleled, and by itself would have put him leaps ahead of his competitors. However, he went on to make his instrument, and thereby justly earned the title of father of the barometer.
Torricelli's experiment was made with two four-foot glass tubes, sealed at one end and filled with mercury, and a bowl also full of mercury. When the tubes were turned up- side down in the bowl the mercury ran out of them for a while then stopped. Why did it stop? Torricelli believed that the weight of the air on the surface of the mercury in the bowl, in which the ends of the tubes were immersed, was preventing any more running out. In theory, the space at the top of the tubes must be a vacuum, since if air could pass back up through the mercury to fill that space the mercury would keep on running out, and no air could get in through the glass into that space. But how to prove it?
It was then that Torricelli really showed his mettle. He had water poured over the mercury in the bowl, and the tubes were lifted gently until their open ends reached the water. At once all the rest of the mercury left the tubes and the water rushed in with great force. If the space behind the mercury had not been a vacuum the water could not have got in. Torricelli explained that "..... on the surface of the liquid in the basin presses a height of fifty miles of air." The first barometer had worked.
Readers who are more intelligent than the author may find that these explanations of experiments give rise to questions such as "why did the mercury leave the tubes and the water rush in?" etc. The answers to those questions may be found in any public library. As far as this book is concerned, it did, and it proved the point.
All the same, Torricelli thought he had failed because he had not been able to find out "when the air is coarser and heavier, and when it is more subtle and light". This had been his real objective. How often when looking for one thing we find another!
There was great excitement among the scientific community when the result of Torricelli's experiment became known, some accepting the result with enthusiasm, others contending against it bitterly. The historic background was not conducive to widespread publicity, since the German states were locked together in the Thirty Years' War, and in England people were busy with their own Civil War. In France the regent, Anne of Austria, was ruling in the name of her infant son, Louis X1V, through her chief minister, the "eminence grise" Cardinal Mazarin. All over Europe the rule of the Church of Rome was being questioned or opposed. In China the last of the Ming emperors hanged himself, and Velasquez was painting in Spain, Rembrandt in Holland.
But in Italy, close under the eyes of the Pope and the Inquisition, there was less chance for freedom of thought. It is true that there were many clerics who were deeply interested in the scientific questions of the day, but they kept a very low profile. Torricelli was not the only one bent on solving the mysteries of nature, but fears of being branded a heretic were well based. This was probably the reason why the great experiment received less attention in Italy than anywhere else. After all, Torricelli had the example of Galileo before him. The latter had been a legend in his own lifetime, but Torricelli was a virtual newcomer. The Church was less likely to spare him the rack and the stake. It might also have been the case that Duke Ferdinand was unwilling to have another of his official mathematicians at odds with the Pope. He might have feared that he himself would become involved as a supporter of heresies. He declared a "triumph" for his employee, and left it at that. On the other hand, perhaps it was just a case of "a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and among
his own kin."
It was in France that the experiment roused most interest, and it was at Rouen that it was first carried out after Torricelli had done it. Pierre Petit, the Inspector of Fortifications there, did it with the help of his friend, Blaise Pascal. They inverted the tubes of mercury into the bowl and after they had seen the mercury fall they argued about the implications. Pascal could not believe that the space at the top of the tube was a vacuum. Perhaps air was getting in through the pores of the glass? If that were so, said Petit, why did not more air get in and the mercury continue to fall? They argued about this for a long time, looking, as Petit said afterwards, “with wonder and astonishment at the appearance of this apparent or veritable vacuum". Then they poured water over the mercury in the bowl, as Torricelli had done, and when they lifted the tubes above the level of the mercury the water rushed in. This convinced both of them about the vacuum, but neither believed in the pressure of the air. They thought up all manner of fantasies to explain it away.
Pascal was something of a showman, and after this he took to performing the Torricellian experiment before admiring audiences all over France. This earned him the scorn of more serious scientists. As time passed, Pascal claimed to have initiated, or been involved in a number of important experiments, but his claims have been disputed down the years and his standing as a genuine contributor to the development of the barometer must be in doubt. Early in this century a great controversy broke out about him when a book was published in France accusing him of being a liar and a fraud. He was defended as vociferously by some as he was denigrated by others. One of the experiments that Pascal claimed to have suggested was the famous Puy-de-Dome, which was the next great step forward in the barometer story.
In addition to the doubts about his own claims, there is the fact that Pascal was a friend of the French philosopher Descartes. The latter was, and continued to be, one of the most hostile to Torricelli's findings. Descartes is best known for his Latin tag "Cogito, ergo sum" - or, "I think, therefore I am." One would imagine this to be obvious to anyone with half a grain of common sense, but Descartes has been elevated to the ranks of the seers and revelators on the strength of it. He involved himself in scientific matters - and was usually wrong - and even after the success of Torricelli's experiment had been repeated many times he continued to maintain vehemently that there could be no such thing as a vacuum.
All empty spaces, he declared, were filled by the “subtle matter" called aether, which took different forms according to circumstances. "Imagine the air to be like wool," he wrote to one of his unfortunate pupils, "and the aether which is in its pores to be like eddies of wind which move hither and thither in this wool......"
One might be forgiven for thinking that Descartes had been blessed with an over-active imagination, had it not been for another of his foibles. He believed that animals had no feelings, and to prove it nailed the feet of his wife's dog to the floor-boards. (She left him). In view of all this it is a marvel that anyone ever took the man seriously, but he did make one contribution to the development of the barometer. He produced a paper scale, marked off in lines to show the movement of the mercury, and this scale was used in the Puy-de-Dome experiment, which Descartes, like Pascal, claimed to have thought of first. How many more, one wonders?
At eight o'clock on the morning of the 19th September 1648 a small group of gentlemen assembled in the garden of a monastery near the foot of a mountain called Puy-de-Dome, in France. The group consisted of two clergymen, two lawyers, a doctor and a French scientist named Perier. It is not known whether he was an ancestor of the firm that sells bottled water, but it is known that he was Pascal's brother-in-law. This might have prompted the latter to claim an involvement in the experiment. He said that he had suggested it to Perier, but Perier never said so.
Perier was to carry out the experiment, and he had brought the others along to watch and make sure there was no trickery. He now set. about filling his bowl and glass tubes with mercury and setting them up. Twice he performed the experiment while his guests looked on and marvelled. They took note that the mercury in the tubes - which were three feet long - dropped down to a little over 26 inches on Descartes' scale when the tubes were reversed in the bowl. Satisfied so far, Perier refilled one of the tubes and set it up in the bowl again, and instructed one of the monks to watch it all day and note any movements of the mercury. He and the rest of the party then set out to climb the mountain, taking the other tube and another bowl of mercury with them.
It is a rather affecting picture that comes to - mind, of these five serious gentlemen struggling up the mountain - it was 3000 feet - carrying their three foot glass tube of mercury and with more of the stuff sloshing about in the bowl. It is a picture that recurs frequently over the next few hundred years, and it makes one wonder about present-day attitudes to mercury.
There is no doubt it is toxic if not handled with care, the fumes being particularly so when heated, but these early scientists dabbled in the stuff with merry abandon without, so far as we can tell, exhibiting any of the signs of mercury poisoning. It is a fact too that in the early 1930s there was a gentleman working for the great barometer makers, Negretti and Zambra in London, who had attained the age of 93 after filling mercury tubes since he was 14! And all that time he had boiled it!
When Perier and his companions reached the summit of the mountain they repeated the experiment, and found that when they inverted the tube into the bowl the mercury fell to a level three and a bit inches shorter than it had down in the garden. This, as Perier wrote afterwards, "ravished us all with admiration and astonishment, and surprised us so much that for our own satisfaction I wished to repeat it." This he did, on five different locations on the summit, all with the same result - a reading of 23 and a bit inches on Descartes' scale. Then they began the descent.
Halfway down Perier repeated the experiment, and found that the mercury in the tube after it had been inverted into the bowl now measured 25 inches. That is to say, one and a bit less than the one down in the garden, but one and a bit more than the readings on the summit. They were all "ravished" again when they realised that the height of the mercury varied in proportion to the height of the mountain. This meant, as they quickly understood, that the air was lighter, or less dense, at the top than it was at the bottom. It also meant they had found a way of measuring the height of mountains.
Back in the monastery garden the monk on duty assured them that the mercury had not moved all day. Perier at once set up the other tube and repeated the experiment again. They were ravished for the third time when the mercury in each tube measured exactly the same, as did the space above it. Torricelli's tubes had been used as barometers for the first time.
The immediate result of this was that all over Europe there was a great outbreak of men climbing mountains carrying glass tubes and bowls full of mercury. There must have been a great upsurge in the glass-blowing trade at that time, and also in the demand for mercury.
While all this was going on an 11-year-old English boy, accompanied by his elder brother and his French tutor, set out on a tour of the Continent. The year was 1638, and the Honourable Robert Boyle, son of the 'Earl of Cork, had just completed three years at Eton and was to finish his education in Europe.
Robert was one of 14 children, nine of whom had survived the perils of birth. His mother had died when he was still very young, and Robert wrote of her later that he "would ever reckon it among the Chief Misfortunes of his Life, that he did ne'er know her that gave it to him". Boyle's father had followed a custom of the time, and sent his younger children out to be brought up by what Robert described as a "Country Nurse" who taught him plain living. As he was only eight when he went to Eton, he must have been very young indeed when sent away from the mother he could not remember.
He was a serious-minded boy, unlike his elder brother Francis, and at Eton he had been marked out for his addiction to study. It was reported that he had to be forced out to play games, and he described himself as having a "Volatile Fancy". He admitted to being much troubled by "wandering thoughts" which he disciplined by concentrating on "the Extractions of the Square and Cubic Roots and specially those more laborious Operations of Algebra...."!!! At eight years old?
While at Eton, Robert developed a mistrust of physicians. He had experienced what he called a "Tertian Ague" while visiting his eldest brother in London, and in spite of all the influence available to an aristocratic family, no one could cure it. Even the Queen's (she was Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I) doctors could not find a remedy, but when young Robert returned to Eton he reported that he had been cured by "Good Air and Dyet, which Fysick could not give". On another occasion when he was smitten with the ague that was to afflict him all his life, the school doctor sent him a purge to "giue the Fatall Blow to the Disease". Robert, who had had some of this already, protested so violently that the maids of the house where he lodged replaced the purge with syrup of prunes. When they told him what they had done he laughed so much that he said later "thereafter Agues and he have been a perfect Stranger." But it was not so. The ague did return, and his mistrust of doctors never left him either.
Robert was to spend six years on the Continent, studying and sight-seeing. After a leisurely progress through France, and a prolonged stay at his tutor's home in Geneva where Robert worked at rhetoric and logic - both of which he hated - mathematics, geometry and fencing, which he loved, and dancing, which he detested, they came to Italy.
It would be possible to believe that the 12 year-old Robert Boyle was fated to arrive in Florence almost at the moment when the aged Galileo died. Would it be too fanciful to think that perhaps the great man's mantle - or a corner of it - was to fall over the newcomer? How sad that they did not meet. What would they have said to each other - the old sage at the end of a great career, and the precocious young boy just starting out on one?
Though he was not to meet Galileo, Robert studied his works, and may have met Torricelli, though there is no record of it. He wrote in his diary that he saw "the Great Duke's brothers" at the tournament - that would be the Grand Duke Ferdinand - and that he "visited, in his Gouernor's company ...... the choicest Bordellos; whither resorting out of bare curiosity, he retain'd there an unblemished Chastity....."
When it was time for them to return to England, Robert, his brother and his tutor, made their way to Marseilles. Here an unpleasant shock awaited them in the form of a letter from the Earl of Cork. While his two sons had been enjoying the benefits of a privileged life on the Continent the Earl had been quite ruined by the Irish Rebellion. His estates laid waste and his houses burned, he had raked together his last £250 with which to bring his boys home, and had entrusted the money to one of his agents. Unfortunately the wretched Earl was already heavily in debt to the man, who put the money into his own pocket. Robert, Francis and their tutor were therefore stranded and penniless at Marseilles.
Making the best they could out of their predicament as counselled by their unhappy father, the boys separated, Francis working his way to Ireland to fight the rebels, and Robert returning to Geneva with his tutor. He was to spend two more years there before returning to England, and during that time more disasters struck at home. Later in that same year of 1642 the King and Parliament declared war on each other, and in September 1643 the old Earl of Cork died.
In February 1643 the Earl had written in his diary "my choice dun mare I sent to Lismore to be kept and dressed carefully for my son Robert when god shall send him home from his Forreign Travailes; and appointed Mr Pomfret to oversee and ride her gently". In his will he left Robert the family estate of Stalbridge in Dorset, so the lad had a good horse and a home of his own to come back to - not bad for seventeen. He had, however, no money for the journey!
It was about the middle of 1644 when Robert Boyle at length returned to England. By that time he had become familiar with all the latest ideas and inventions on the Continent, and his "Volatile Fancy" had been caught by the scientific advances being made.
It was not an auspicious home-coming. The country was riven with Civil War and his family, like so many others, was split between the two sides. Two of his brothers had been killed fighting for the King in Ireland, and his sister Katherine, Lady Ranelagh, had married into a Parliamentary family. The latter turned out favourably for Robert, since his estate was not sequestered, as the family lands in Ireland were when the Parliament won the war.
Strangely for a young man of seventeen the war seems to have almost totally passed him by. In all his letters that have survived, he mentions it only once, and that was during the four months it took him to get from London to Bristol. His only comment on the disruption to normal travel caused by the war was to write to his sister Katherine "Bristol was generally infected with three epidemic diseases namely, the plague...fits of committee, and consumption of the purse ...” It was probably his detachment from events around him that would make him such a great scientist.
He found Stalbridge very much run down, and set himself to pull it together. In his journals he recorded that he had discussed the crops and stock and working practices with his farm workers, and had taken steps to improve all three. Nor did he neglect his other interests. He set up a laboratory, complaining bitterly when an enormous earthenware furnace he had ordered arrived as a heap of rubble.
He did experiments on vacuums, using and improving the air pump invented a few years earlier by the German Otto von Guericke. Boyle was doubtful about the claims for Torricelli's experiment, and conducted many tests of his own to try and establish whether or not a vacuum was present at the top of the tubes. He was never to be quite sure about that. He also experimented with manures, medicines, plants and dyes and "engines of motion" - anything that attracted his enquiring mind.
He wrote pamphlets too. Not, as one might expect, on the unhappy state of the country in which his family were leading citizens, but mostly on religious subjects with a few scientific ones. For example, "Of Dung", "Of Atoms", "Of Cold", "Of Chymistry and Chymists"...
Boyle was in touch with members of the "Invisible Society". This was a group of men, mostly at Oxford, who were challenging many accepted ideas. It is claimed that this was the origin of the Royal Society, which was to be established later by that man of assorted and doubtful talents, King Charles II, but that is not certain. Boyle was to become a leading member of both.
In 1648 he went to the Netherlands, where he visited the famous Anatomy School at Leyden and observed the dissections carried out there. In 1654 he was in Ireland, whence he wrote to a friend: "I live here in a barbarous country ...... since I want glasses and furnaces to make a chemical analysis of inanimate bodies, I am exercising myself in making anatomical dissections of living animals..." There speaks the born scientist!
Boyle went on to say that his experiments had shown him "more of the variety and contrivances of nature, and the majesty and wisdom of her author, than all the books I ever read." What a pity his reverence for nature did not extend to compassion for the animals he was torturing. What a strangely divided mind he must have had.
In 1665 Boyle published his essay "An Invitation to a free and generous Communication of Secrets and Receipts in Physicks," which showed that his mistrust of doctors was as strong as ever.
In about the same year Boyle moved to Oxford, where he built a laboratory and settled down to serious scientific work. He acquired an able assistant named Robert Hooke, who was to have a distinguished scientific career himself. As Boyle was much troubled with bad eyesight Hooke became well-nigh indispensable to him, and they worked together on developing the lessons of the Torricellian tubes, as well as other subjects. Hooke was to claim in after years that Boyle did not give him credit for many of their successes. This is still a common complaint by scientific assistants, and it is still a common fault of their masters.
In 1660 Boyle published his book "New Experiments Physico-Mechanical touching the Spring of the Air, its effects etc." This included his experiments with air pumps, one of which consisted of putting a mouse into a sealed container, pumping all the air out, and observing the effect on the mouse of being left in a vacuum. This became one of his show-pieces, which he would perform before visiting VIPs.
Unlike Descartes, Boyle did not believe that animal have any feelings. Indeed, in 1647 or thereabouts he had published an essay criticising cruelty to them. How he squared this with "exercising" himself in dissecting them alive, and in suffocating mice for the entertainment of foreign bigwigs, is impossible to imagine. But he did it. One can only assume there is something in the scientific mind that makes it possible.
Boyle was not the first man in England to use the barometer, but he was the first to give it that name. In 1663 he wrote a book called "New Experiments touching Cold" and in it he wrote "...consulting the barometer (if to avoid circumlocutions I may call the whole instrument wherein a mercurial cylinder of 29 or 30 inches is kept suspended after the manner of the Torricellian experiment) ..." This is the first recorded use of the word.
The name caught on fast and became general, only being rivalled by "baroscope." In 1664 Boyle's assistant Hooke wrote to a Mr. Beale saying "Sir, concerning what you say about your baroscope, I can say nothing..." And in 1665 Henry Oldenberg, writing in the "Philosophical Transactions" stated that "modern philosophers, to avoid circumlocutions, call that instrument, wherein a cylinder of quicksilver, of between 28 and 31inches altitude, is kept suspended after the manner of the Torricellian experiment, a barometer or baroscope..."
The new instrument had at last acquired a name of its own, even if only as a by-product of the desire to avoid circumlocutions! That there was a need to avoid using many words where one would do is evident from the above quotations!
There was a time when it would have been true to say that every schoolboy knew Boyle's Law. However, due to the great advances in education since the Second World War, it is doubtful if there would now be more than a handful who could spell it, much less understand it. His Law - " That the volume of a gas becomes smaller in proportion to the amount of pressure applied to it " - became one of the basic tenets of chemistry. Boyle also discovered - no doubt thanks to the mice - that air is made up of several gases and that only part of it is essential for breathing and keeping fires alight - namely, oxygen.
But in spite of his successes with the air pumps and air, and the expiring mice, Boyle still had trouble with the vacuum. He could not quite accept that there really was a vacuum at the top of the Torricellian tube. His doubts may have been due to the fact that it was possible to see through that space, and because a magnet could attract metal through it. This was not unreasonable in a way because so little was known at that time about the transmission of light and magnetism. It was, though, another example of intelligence not accepting what common sense could see with half an eye.
Like Pascal in 1646, Boyle wondered if air could penetrate some kinds of glass. He recognised that the
air round the earth is different from the air in space, but he linked himself again with the dreadful Descartes when he wrote "the air round the earth should be regarded as if it were a heap of little bodies, lying one upon another, as may be resembled to a fleece of wool". How could a man who had discovered so much about the air have such a blind spot? It seems that the brighter the intelligence the blanker must be the space where common sense should be.
In 1668 Boyle left Oxford and settled in London, where he devoted himself to the work of the Royal Society until his death in 1691. One of the first experiments demonstrated at a meeting of the Society, soon after its foundation in 1660 by a newly-restored King Charles 11, was the "Quicksilver Experiment" as it was often called. Boyle had been present then, as he was again later that year when a plan was put forward for a "Triall of the Quicksilver Experiment upon Teneriff". At that time it was believed that the peak on Teneriffe was higher than any in Europe - a mistake the barometer would eventually correct - but not this time. The "Trial" never took place. Perhaps no one wanted to do the climbing.
They repeated the experiment again on the 16th January the next year, and for a royal occasion in 1663 the President, Lord Brouncker, asked the members for suggestions that might entertain the King. Christopher Wren wrote from Oxford: "It is not every yeare, will produce such a Master Expt. as the Torricellian, and so fruitful as it is of New Expts. and therefore the Society hath deservedly spent much time on it and its offspring". It seems to have become their party piece!
In spite of his troubles with the vacuum and the "heaps of little bodies" in the air, and excluding his treatment of animals, Boyle more than deserves his high reputation down the centuries. He made and improved many different types of barometer, researched the calcinations of metals, the properties of acids and alkalis, specific gravity, refraction of light, crystallography, ways of extracting salt from seawater for the benefit of mariners, and he built a "hydrostatical device" for detecting counterfeit
He wrote the first-ever book on statistics, then known as "political arithmetic", which seems to be a far more appropriate name than the one that has replaced it. Boyle also dabbled in alchemy! That a serious scientist should emulate the medieval alchemists seems at first sight rather shocking, but there was some reason in it. Boyle had come to believe that all matter is composed of certain basic elements, as Aristotle's followers had. Unlike them, he had a glimmering idea of what those elements might be. It would have seemed quite reasonable to suppose that, if one could rearrange those elements, one could change one form of matter into another. Not such bad reasoning for more than two hundred years before the atomic physicists.
In 1676 Boyle announced to the Royal Society that if mercury were mixed with gold it would generate heat. On hearing about this discovery of Boyle's the "whiz kid” of the scientific community, Isaac Newton, wrote to the Secretary of the Royal Society warning that if this discovery were made public it would cause very serious social harm. It must, he insisted on no account be published.
Exactly what sort of social harm Newton had in mind is hard to imagine. He, of course, is remembered as the inventor of calculus and the reflecting telescope, among other things. He might be rather annoyed to think that he is best remembered for a story that an apple fell on his head and taught him about gravity. He too was experimenting in alchemy, so one is bound to wonder about his motives in writing his rather pointless letter. Was he jealous lest Boyle achieve a success that Newton felt was rightly his? Without doubt the man who first turned base metal into gold would not only have mastered the secrets of nature, he would become wealthy beyond belief. We can only wonder, but there is an interesting contrast here between the 68-year-old Boyle, who eagerly announced his findings, and Newton, half his age, who wanted them kept under wraps.
At the same time as he was researching the elements of nature, exercising himself on the animals, and so on, Boyle was using his position as a director of the East India Company to further the spread of Christianity in the East. He paid for large quantities of the Scriptures to be translated and distributed, and set up the "Boyle Lectures" to defend Christianity against the growing scepticism of his age. Towards the end of his life Boyle became the guru of the scientific community in England, and also to a great extent on the Continent. In 1669, for example, the Grand Duke Cosmo of Tuscany - successor to the Grand Duke Ferdinand II who had reigned there when Boyle was a boy - came to London. Boyle entertained him with the mouse and air pump experiment, and with a more harmless one in which he poured two clear liquids together, whereupon they turned bright red. This seems to have thrilled his visitors more than the one with the mouse, which says something for their good taste.
For all Boyle's distrust of doctors, they clearly had great faith in him. During the great plague of 1666 Hugh Chamberlin, one of a family of famous physicians, sent Boyle his plans for combating the disease. Would Mr. Boyle be so good as to give his opinion of the plans, or suggest a better way of proceeding?" wrote the respectful physician. There is no record of Boyle's answer.
Chemistry was the branch of science in which Boyle excelled above all others. In 1849, some 250 years after his death, an article in the "British Quarterly Review" hailed him as "the son of the Earl of Cork and the father of modern chemistry" and he has been viewed in that light ever since. This should not over-shadow the contribution he made to the development of the barometer. His endless experiments on ways to achieve a perfect vacuum and greater accuracy, with different styles and materials, laid the foundations for much of the later work.
Valuable though his work was, Boyle was not the first man in England to use a barometer. That honour goes to a doctor from Halifax, Henry Power, who in 1650 repeated the Puy-de-Dome experiment on a smaller. scale. He recognised that it was the pressure of the air that determined the height of the mercury in the tube, but he could not believe in the vacuum. Of those who did he wrote scornfully "some others are so fond to believe this deserted cylinder to be an absolute Vacuity, which is not only non-philosophical, but ridiculous.”!!! The great question was still not settled.
John Wallis recorded that the Invisible Society used to enquire into "Physick, Anatomy, Geometry...the weight of air, the Possibility and Impossibility of Vacuities, and Nature's abhorrence thereof, and the Torricellian Experiment with Quicksilver".
Another member of that Society was Theodore Haak, a German who had lived in England for some years. He wrote to a French scientist: "We have tried it (i.e. the Torricellian experiment) two or three times in the company of men of letters and of quality, with much pleasure and astonishment .... However, they still won't decide that there is a true vacuum behind the Quicksilver..."
It seems that neither education nor blue blood could convince those scientific gentlemen of the
evidence of their own eyes.
Experiments of all kinds continued to be carried out feverishly under all sorts of conditions. In 1674 a learned judge, Sir Matthew Hale, became so indignant with all the arguments that he wrote a furious condemnation of the idea that air pressure could prevent the mercury running out of Torricelli's tubes. This was answered with equal rage by John Wallis, and soon the controversy had spread outside the purely scientific community. "Nature abhors a vacuum" became a catch-phrase of the time, and remained in circulation for many years.
By the end of the 17th century it had become evident that more attention was being paid to the barometer in England than anywhere else. Could this have been due to a dawning awareness that it might have something to do with the weather?
The Penny Drops
The Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany has up to now been an influential but shadowy figure in the background, but now he moves to centre-stage for a while.
As we have seen, Duke Ferdinand was of a scientific turn of mind, and he had supported and encouraged Galileo and Torricelli in their work in spite of the disapproval of the all-powerful Church. From the 1640s - possibly from the time of Torricelli's great experiment - he had been interested in the properties of the atmosphere, and sometime about the middle of the 17th century he organised a series of weather observation stations. These were the first-ever attempts to compare and contrast the details of the weather over a large area. His stations stretched through Italy via Florence, Pisa, Vallombrosa, Curtigliano, Parma, Bologna and Milan, and on to Innsbruck, Osnabruck, Warsaw and Paris.
The stations were instructed to observe and record air pressure - for which Torricelli's tubes were used - and humidity, wind direction, and the state of the sky. Instead of Descartes' paper scale the Italians used an artistic arrangement of tiny glass beads fused to the outside of the tube to show the movement of the mercury. It was recorded at Florence that the Duke “... who was active in these experiments...found the mercury to fall six degrees (i.e. six of the glass beads) between evening and the next morning. In which night the air was very full of water, and in consequence heavier, and should ...make the quicksilver rise...”
On 28th December 1657 the famous Italian scientist Giovanni Borelli, who was also involved in these recordings, wrote to a friend that the Grand Duke had made “a new and curious observation” of his own - to wit, that mercury falls in humid weather. Why it should do this was a great mystery - not to be finally solved for another 150 years - and it so intrigued the Grand Duke that he set up an Academy to enquire into it. Borelli was one of the leading figures in the Academia del Cimento, to give it the proper name, and he led many of their experiments.
He left detailed descriptions of the new, graceful and more accurate equipment they devised for doing Torricelli's experiment, and of their long series of observations. They experimented at the top and bottom of tall towers and mountains at all times and in all weathers, and their detailed observations showed that the height of the mercury varied rather more according to the season and the weather than according to the heat or cold. They also showed how the vertical height of the mercury “is
independent of the inclination of the tube”
It is unfortunate that the records of all but one of the Grand Duke's weather stations have been lost over the years. Those of Florence do survive, however, and they make interesting reading. With the aid of their glass beads and their four-foot tubes the Florentines made the first systematic records of the variations in air pressure, and struggled to understand them.
It was to be another hundred and eighty-six years before Captain Edward Sabine, a Fellow of the Royal Society, would be able to persuade the British government to set up meteorological and magnetic stations round the British Empire. His urgent and enthusiastic insistence on the value of such stations was met at first with the bureaucrats' customary revulsion when faced with the necessity of making a decision. At length they responded in the traditional way, by setting up a committee. Fortunately, Sabine was a member of the committee, and his ideas made such progress that it took only three years for the committee to agree that such stations should be set up. During the following two years, 1840 and 1841, a number came into existence. But we digress, and must return to the 17th century.
Grand Duke Ferdinand's Academy only lasted for ten years, and made no more startling discoveries. Perhaps that was why it was closed down. However, four things were now becoming apparent to all save a frenetic minority. First, that the space at the top of the Torricellian tube was a vacuum. Second, that it was air pressure that prevented all the mercury from running out of the tube. Third, that this pressure varied from time to time according to the height of the land, and could therefore be used to measure the height of mountains if calculated properly, and fourth, that the changes in air pressure had some connection with the weather.
While vexed questions about air pressure and vacuums continued to be argued back and forth between the diehards and the progressives, Christopher Wren - he did not become Sir Christopher until 1673 - was designing a "Weather Clock", as he called it. This was the first-ever meteorological recording instrument, although it did not record air pressure. Hooke later took over the design and improved it, and his instrument was described by one Nehemiah Grew in a catalogue of the Royal
Society's collections in 1681. "A Weather Clock", Grew listed, "Begun by Sir Chr. Wren ….. to which other motions have been added by Mr. Robert Hooke, Professor of Geometry in Gresham-College …. it hath six or seven motions, which he supposeth to be advantageously made together ….. a pendulum clock, which goes with three-quarters of a 1001b weight, and moves the greatest part of the work. With this, a barometre; thermometer; rain-measurer; ..... a weather-cock, to which subserves a piece of wheel-work analogous to a way-wiser; and a hydroscope ..... all working upon a paper falling
off a rowler which the clock also turns."
Despite the fact that Nehemiah Grew clearly suffered from the technical man's well-known inability to put thoughts into words - as is well illustrated today by the instruction manuals for computers - it is possible to recognise in his description the ancestor of the modern barograph. Not bad for three and a half centuries ago. A barograph is a barometer that records itself.
It is a great shame that neither Wren's Weather Clock nor the designs for it have survived. Apart from being the first instrument designed to indicate the weather, it pioneered the principle of “discontinuous recording”. This means that the various parts only move when they have something to do, instead of moving all the time. It results in much less wear and tear, and so prolongs the life of the equipment..
Wren's right to be regarded as the inventor of discontinuous recording has been challenged on behalf of the Comte d'Onsenbry, but this is ridiculous. Wren began working on his Weather Clock fifteen years before d'Onsenbry was born, and Hooke had finished his work on it three years before the Comte saw the light of day. For these reasons it would seem precocious beyond belief, even for a Frenchman, for d'Onsenbry to have developed discontinuous recording before Wren.
That this is not an isolated example of the hi-jacking of other people's ideas by the French is illustrated by the comment of a German scientist in 1779. Johann Friedrich Luz wrote that ".... we are already accustomed to the ways of the French, who are pleased to ignore discoveries on purpose, especially those of foreigners, and then, making a small alteration, to pass them off as their own."
Many years after Wren had produced the prototype a very splendid mercury barograph was made for King George III by the famous clockmaker, Alexander Cumming. It still exists in Buckingham Palace, although it is believed not to be working. King George paid £1178 for it, which was a massive sum in those days, even for such a rare and beautiful instrument. Cumming called it a “clock barometer”.
It was only about twenty years after Torricelli's first experiment that Hooke wrote to Boyle about weather forecasting. "I have also..." he wrote enthusiastically, "constantly observed the baroscopal index (the contrivance, I suppose you may remember, which shows the small variations, of the air) and have found it most certainly to predict, cloudy and rainy weather, when it falls very low; and dry and clear weather, when it riseth very high, which if it continueth to do I hope it will help us one step towards ..... thereby being able to predict, and forewarn, many dangers may be prevented, and the good of mankind much promoted".
Perhaps Hooke had been observing his wheel barometer, of which more anon, and if so his subsequent problems may have been due partly to its inaccuracies. On 13th December the same year he wrote again to Boyle. "I have lately observed many circumstances in the height of the mercurial column, which do very much cross my former observations ..... I have taken notice also of two or three very odd particulars in it lately, which have crossed several other observations".
All the same, Hooke might have been less disappointed in his hopes of being able to predict the weather if he could have known that, three hundred years later, it would still be causing "odd particulars."
In 1688 George Sinclair published his book "The Principles of Astronomy and Navigation etc." and in it he gave the details of the scale he had put on his "weather glass". It was marked off into six half-inch divisions, each of which was further divided into five "degrees". Against each of the half-inch marks he had inscribed the weather for that measurement - "Long Fair: Fair: Changeable: Rain: Much Rain: Stormy: Tempests". This seems to have been the first attempt to line up the height of the mercury in the tube with a defined weather condition on the scale. If so, it was an unhappy thing, for the words on the barometer dials have been misleading people ever since.
As time went on people began to expect their barometers to tell them exactly what the weather would be doing. The makers would do a few calculations of their own and slap on the relative words. Every make of barometer, and often every individual instrument, could register a different level for varying weather conditions. For example, Daniel Quare, arguably the greatest maker of them all, believed that a height of 31 inches of mercury in the tube would bring "Fair or Frost, Dry Serene" and the mercury would have to fall a massive and. improbable three inches before there would be any risk of a storm. That was in 1700, and it was not until the middle of the 19th century that Negretti and Zambra, the doyens of the later years of the mercury barometer, brought some common sense to bear. In their "Treatise on Meteorological Instruments" which was published in 1864, they expressed the view that "if tempests happened as seldom in our latitude as the barometer gets down to 28 inches, the maritime portion of our community at least would be happy indeed." Sadly, little notice was taken of this bit of wisdom, the public continued to expect their barometers to tell them fairy tales, and the nonsense went on.
At about the same time as Negretti and Zambra were pointing out the unreality of the legends written on barometers, Admiral Fitzroy was beginning to put his long observations on climate and barometers to practical use.
Fitzroy is the best-known name in weather fore-casting. He had been head of the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade for some years, and in 1863 he persuaded that Department to set up suitable out-door barometers of his own design at towns and villages round the coasts. The words and indications on these were aimed at those who were to use them - professional fishermen and sea-farers, and they were plain and to the point. Fitzroy added rhyming couplets based on his observations of wind direction.
“When the wind shifts against the sun
Trust it not, for back it will run.”
“First rise after very low
Indicates a stronger blow."
“Long foretold - long last,
Short notice - soon past."
Fitzroy's efforts were criticised by the purists, who maintained that no attempt should be made to foretell the weather until all the relevant theories had been proved. The Times was particularly acid about Fitzroy's plain and practical language, condemning "the singularly uncouth and obscure dialect employed by the Admiral in his Explanations." All these genteel critics missed the point that Fitzroy's instruments, and his explanations, were based on first-hand knowledge.
While people who understood how a barometer worked realised the futility of precise weather predictions, it became the fashion to add a mass of irrelevant and quite useless information to that already inscribed on the instrument.. The boards on which barometers were mounted became bigger and bigger as lists of the height of mountains all over the world, or details of the climate of remote regions, were inserted amongst the ornate carvings and inlays. Most of the information was inaccurate anyway.
During the 19th century great efforts were made to have accurate barometers in laboratories and scientific institutions, where exact measurements were necessary, but such exactitude was never needed for domestic purposes. The only words needed on a barometer scale would be "up" or "down", and the reader would deduce the rest from the amount of movement. Still, the search for accuracy and the devising of appropriate legends probably kept a lot of scientists out of worse mischief for some two and a half centuries. They began by trying to improve the scale of measurements.
One of the difficulties with the earliest barometers was that it was so difficult to read the movements of the mercury exactly. When a barometer was set up and kept in one place the movements were so slow and small that they were scarcely visible on Descartes' paper scale or the Italians' glass beads. How to measure these tiny movements so that they could be recorded was the first major problem to be attacked in the search for accuracy.
They tried everything. The first thing to decide was where the measurement should be taken. The surface of the mercury as it moved in the tube was not flat. It formed a curved upper surface, called a meniscus, and much anguished thought was given to the question of whether the measurement should be taken at the top of the meniscus or at the edge of the mercury against the glass.. As with everything else, opinion was divided and much argument ensued.
Of course, the difference would be infinitesimal, but it was to be many years before it would be appreciated that not all barometers need to be accurate to that degree. Perfect accuracy is only required for the instruments that set the standard, such as the ones at the Kew Observatory for example. As long as it is known by how much the ordinary barometer differs from the standard - in other words, is calibrated to it - the fact that it is going up or down is enough. However, this particular
penny did not drop for a long time.
In 1664 Hooke produced his famous wheel barometer, in which the movement of the mercury was translated into the movement of a pointer on a large dial. The dial was marked out into divisions of one-hundredth of an inch. This new shape of barometer became immensely popular, more because it could be lavishly decorated than because it was accurate. All over the world, wheel barometers have been produced in countless thousands, right down to the present day. Always attractive, and often beautifully decorated and crafted.
At the same time there was much experimenting with liquids other than mercury, and water was an early favourite. The idea was that water, being lighter than mercury, would show more movement and so be easier to measure. It did not work, because of course there is a certain amount of air in water anyway, so it spoiled the vacuum. Without a vacuum at the top of the tube the barometer could not function properly. Water barometers became quite the thing, however, until this was realised.
In 1654 the German Otto von Guericke - the one who had invented the air pump - built an enormous water barometer and set it up in the town square of Magdeburg, of which he was mayor. It was as tall as a house, and the tube was made of sections of lead pipe, except for the top one, which was glass. Inside the glass the tiny figure of a man floated on a cork, which moved up and down with the movement of the water.
This huge barometer, with its little manikin bobbing up and down in some miraculous fashion, was no doubt a great tourist attraction in Magdeburg, but it did nothing to improve the accuracy of barometers in general.
The fascination with giant barometers seems to have persisted down the ages. Seven years after the Magdeburg model had started the trend Richard Townely, of Townely Hall in Lancashire, got together with some of his friends and put one up beside his house. This too became a great attraction. Then in 1669 Boyle built a giant water barometer up the side of his house, but he had another motive besides the novelty. He wanted to find out how high water could be raised by suction, and used his improved air pump - based on von Guericke's invention - to draw up the water by placing it on the roof.
How many more of these giants have been made is unknown, but they are still around in the 20th century. The latest water version is the one in the Barometer Museum at Maartensdjik in Holland, where the proprietor has built one that is entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest barometer in the world. It is 3.5 metres high, or not quite 40 feet.
Two other twentieth century giants have used oil instead of water. The first of these was the monument put up in 1908 at Faenza in Italy to commemorate the birth of Torricelli three hundred years earlier. The monument consisted of a barometer over thirty feet high, surmounted by an allegorical figure and surrounded by fountains. It was beautiful, and a fitting tribute to one of Italy's most famous sons, but unfortunately it was decided to fill it with olive oil. At first glance it would seem that olive oil would also be the most fitting material for such an occasion in that country, but it was not a happy choice. The air trapped in the oil caused it to froth in the warm Italian sun, so that it was impossible to take measurements. The oil was removed and boiled to extract the air, but when put back it was found to have thickened so much that it could not reach the scale of measurements at the top of the tube. One can imagine Torricelli stirring gently in his grave and murmuring "Why, oh why,
did they not use mercury as I did?"
A more recent oil-filled barometer on a giant scale is the 40-foot monster fixed to a wall in the Physics Building of the University of Leicester. This was put up in about 1991, and uses a high grade medicinal liquid paraffin. Since this is larger than the one in Holland one can only suppose that it is a contender for the Guinness Book of Records certificate. What scientific advantage the scientists who put it up had in mind is not clear.
But we must go back to the early days. The next idea was to have two liquids in barometers, and once again water was the first choice. It was not successful, for the same reason that the all-water barometers were not successful. They went on to try almost everything that came to hand - turpentine, linseed oil, almond oil, spirits of wine, methyl salicylate, glycerine, urine …. the list goes on and on...
In 1668 Hooke had another try, this time using the mercury and water idea. His "double barometer" consisted of a U-shaped tube with mercury in one side and water in the other. As the mercury moved in response to the air pressure it either pushed the water up the other tube or let it fall. This model too became very popular and Hooke was much praised for it, but more for its novelty than its accuracy. It was more accurate than the "wheel" model though.
Over, the following years Hooke produced many variations of the liquid barometers, as they came to be called. He was the first to make a three-liquid barometer in a rather desperate attempt to make the movements more visible. Since he was the first to do this, it is only to be expected that someone would claim to have done it before him. In this case not one, but two Frenchmen made the claim, well after Hooke's instrument had become successful and established. In 1695 Guillaume Amontons declared that he had suggested the idea ten years previously, which would have been 1685, when Hooke had made his prototype. Thirteen years after Amontons, in 1708, Philippe de la Hire made a three-liquid model which he said was an improvement on an old French version. Neither of them mentioned Hooke. Perhaps he would not have worried.
In desperation, some tried to solve the problem by hanging two barometers side by side. One would be a straightforward mercury type, the other a two- or three-liquid one. The mercury one, which you could hardly read at all, would be fairly accurate. The one you could read would be wildly astray.
Sir Samuel Morland produced a "balanced barometer" which was an arrangement of weights and moving arms that caused a pointer to indicate the height of the mercury on an enlarged scale. This kind of barometer looks to have been as cumbersome in operation as it is to describe in plain English.
The balanced barometer is chiefly notable because the afore-mentioned Sir Matthew Hale ridiculed it, along with a lot of other things, in his pamphlet entitled "Essay touching the Gravitation or Non-Gravitation of Fluid Bodies". Hale suffered from the delusion, not uncommon among the judiciary, that he knew everything about everything. A real scientist, one Dr. Goddard, remarked coldly that Sir Matthew had failed entirely to understand what they were talking about, but the judge's "Essay" did achieve something. It was picked up and read by Francis North, Lord Guilford, who had already demonstrated that he was a man of great common sense - which is even rarer now than it was then.
Lord Guilford had been invited to join the Royal Society, but had declined the invitation on the grounds that he was too busy. He did though find time to take the first steps in getting barometers out of the laboratory and into the average home - but of that more later.
After reading Hale's "Essay" Lord Guilford weighed in with a defence of the balanced barometer that was hailed at the time, by those who claimed to understand it, as a sound drubbing for the judge. Unfortunately it was so involved and technical that it could not be condensed into a book of this size.
Sir Samuel Morland next went on to invent the "diagonal" barometer. This looked rather like a boomerang, and makers often fitted a mirror or a picture between the two arms. Then there were L-shaped barometers and conical barometers, and what has since been called the "Air Barometer".
The latter was an idea of Boyle's, who thought that it might be possible to dispense with liquids altogether, and instead use a glass or metal ball suspended at the end of a balance. Von Guericke had the same idea, but neither of them developed it. Had they done so they might have stumbled on the aneroid. But it was to be another two and a half centuries before anyone would do that.
The more arcane designs were largely confined to the laboratories, as the London clock-maker John Smith revealed in 1688 when he published his little book. Called "A Complete Discourse of the Nature, Use and Right Managing of the wonderful Instrument the Baroscope or Quicksilver Weather Glass" it gave an over-view of the trade at the time, and seems to have been good value for sixpence. Smith listed three types of barometer then in general use. First, the straight tube "as ascribed chiefly to the Noble Boyle"; second, the type "with the tube whose top inclines, as devised by Sir Samuel Morland," and third "the wheel-baroscope invented by the ingenious Mr. Robert Hooke".
Smith had no doubts about which was the best. "But of these three sorts," he stated firmly, "the last two are seldom used ..... Sir Samuel's being such as will not admit of any regular figure, and Mr. Hooke's being very dear and costly.” Perhaps Smith found that Boyle's straight instrument was more profitable to produce than the others. He seems to have been hardly fair in complaining that Morland's was inaccurate, since they all were, more or less. Many barometer makers copied Morland's design, including the great Daniel Quare himself. There is an example of the diagonal barometer in the History of Science Museum in Holland. It is nearly 100 years old, has a slanting tube nearly ten feet long, and it still works! Of course, it is not very accurate. Also in Holland is a modern version of the diagonal type. This is at the Barometer Museum at Maartensdjik, where the proprietor has made one with a slanting tube twelve feet long.
Smith may have found Hooke's wheel-barometer "very dear and costly" because of the demand that they be highly decorated. Intricate inlays of ivory, rare coloured woods, and, later, mother-of-pearl were combined with superb carving. There were very few plain wheel barometers made in those days.
There next ensued the great debate about the relative values of siphon and cistern barometers. The former consisted of a simple bent glass tube with a valve fitted, while the latter, as the name implies, included a container for the mercury - the descendant of Torricelli's glass bowl.
The siphon type was developed to its greatest level of accuracy by the Frenchman Jean Andre de Luz, and he remains the undisputed master of this type of instrument, although others, including Boyle, had experimented with it before he did. De Luc was chiefly interested in the measuring of mountains, so one of his main objects was that the barometer should be portable. Portability is something we shall consider later, so it is enough here to note that in 1749, when de Luc perfected his version of the siphon type, it was not much more portable than the others.
The supporters of the cistern type joined the fight with enthusiasm. All sorts of rather bizarre contraptions were produced to try and make the scales more readable, including fixing a microscope to the side of the barometer tube. It brings back the picture of those men on the mountain tops, struggling now not only with broken tubes and spilt mercury, but also trying to focus a microscope! The idea was taken seriously, but it did not catch on.
The siphon versus cistern controversy eventually divided opinion into two camps across Europe. In the east, and in Russia they held by the siphon. The rest of Europe - and presumably the British Empire as well - put their faith in the cistern. The cistern was the more accurate of the two, while the siphon was easier to carry about - but not much.
Then, early in the 19th century, Fortin produced his barometer. Nicolas Fortin was a Frenchman. Born in 1750, he grew up under the ‘ancien regime’ in France, saw the ferocities of the revolution and experienced its ensuing tyrannies. He was one of the greatest of the French barometer makers, and after the revolution he was largely responsible for the re-establishing of his craft in Paris, while Napoleon was writing the name of France in blood all over Europe.
Fortin did not invent anything new. He took three familiar ideas and combined them to make the most reliable barometer yet produced. He used a glass cistern with a leather bag attached to the bottom. A fine ivory pointer was fixed inside the top of the cistern, and the leather bag compressed so that it pushed the mercury up to touch the pointer. Then, as the mercury rose or fell in the tube the level against the pointer would alter, and the movements could be measured in this way.
This simple arrangement, at once became wildly popular, and has remained so to the present day. Probably more Fortin barometers have been made and sold than any other single version of the instrument.
The next great help to accuracy was the coming of electricity. The electric telegraph system was set up in 1854, and from that moment scientists were impelled to apply electricity in every possible field of human activity. Barometers were no exception, and when tiny electrically-controlled pointers could be used to follow the movements of the mercury it became relatively easy to read the measurements. Nevertheless, the most useful discovery in the search for accuracy was that mercury could be cleared of all air if it was boiled.
The first person to record boiling the mercury for a barometer was the Frenchman Charles Francois Cisternhay du Fay, who was a soldier, scientist and administrator. Du Fay said that he had learned the method from a German glass worker. The first step was to push an iron wire with a cotton swab on the end through the tube, then pull it out and seal one end of the tube with a blow-lamp. After cooling the tube, the wire was put back, without the swab, and the mercury was poured in until the tube was about a third full.
The next step was to hold the tube, slantwise over a charcoal fire until the mercury boiled. The bubbles of air that formed would be dispersed by moving the wire up and down, and the tube would be turned over the fire until all the mercury had boiled. Then more mercury would be poured in on top of that already boiled, and the same process repeated. Then the last third of mercury would be poured in, but that would not be boiled. Why not, one wonders?
Du Fay recorded the first known boiling of mercury sometime between 1720 and 1730, and the next mention of it comes in an article in the periodical "Philosophical Transactions" of 1738. In this Charles Orme, who had invented a diagonal barometer with a multiplicity of tubes, described the boiling process after first, distilling the mercury – “…...which curious and fatigueing operation is continued for the space of four hours”. He was using a tube 49 inches long, and it must have been no small task, after spending four hours distilling it, to boil the mercury in such a tube over a charcoal stove. One has a vision of the operator crunching about in a layer of broken glass, his feet and the floor awash with spilled mercury, and his hands blistered and scalded from the fire. But then, Negretti and Zambra, and presumably all the other makers too, were using exactly the same method right up to the outbreak of the Second World War, so there must have been ways of doing it.
Thirty years after Orme's article was published Paul d'Albert, Cardinal of Luynes, set a record for boiling out tubes of mercury when he, with the help of his man Santinello-Cappy, successfully operated on a tube 1.1426 inches in diameter. It was to be sixty years before anyone claimed to have boiled out a tube with a bigger diameter than that, so it was quite an achievement for the old clergyman, even if the hard work was done by his man. It would seem that he was a fair-minded man, because he was one of the few scientists who included their assistants in the reports of their achievements.
At the same time as he was establishing this record, the Cardinal issued a warning that anyone wishing to fill a barometer of similar size should do it in a large room, with no gold or silver or gilded furniture about.. Also "….above all, in a small room, this penetrating vapour is able to injure the health, and it is for that reason that I had my barometer filled in a very great orangerie, of which the door and all the windows were open."
One cannot help but wonder how many people's health had been injured since they started boiling mercury, and whether the good old Cardinal's warning was the result of personal observations. However that may be, his advice was largely ignored, even down to the present century. In 1921 an issue of the magazine “Amateur Mechanic” contained an article on “Barometers: Renovating and Making”, in which there were two photographs. One shows the amateur mechanic squeezing mercury through a handkerchief into a saucer, and the other shows him filling the tube with mercury from a “small, clean cardboard box lid". Both operations are taking place over a rather nice little highly-polished table in what appears to be his sitting room. No open doors or windows.
After instructing that the mercury must be shaken down little by little to drive out the air bubbles, the article adds: “Before refilling the tube it is advisable to heat both tube and mercury to get rid of every trace of moisture.” Not a word to echo the Cardinal's wise advice of more than a hundred and fifty years before! Amateur mechanics who, followed these instructions too often might well have become rather poorly, and they would definitely have had a pretty poor barometer.
"The Amateur Mechanic" was not the only magazine urging people to make barometers. They are very simple things to make, and well within the scope of any amateur who does not understand the scientific principles involved. In an issue. of "Amateur Work", also published in the 1920s, an article entitled "How to Construct a Barometer" advised that ".....It (i.e. the mercury) must then be caused to boil for a few moments in a thin glass flask or large test tube. ….While still hot it is to be introduced by successive portions into the open end..." “Amateur Work” did give a warning of sorts: "In the last-mentioned operation" it adds, "some caution is necessary to avoid cracking the tube" !!!
One has a mental picture of enthusiastic amateurs bending over the kitchen stove, boiling mercury in jam jars and being exquisitely careful not to crack the tube when filling it with the hot mercury. Now, at the end of the 20th century, things have gone to the other extreme, and the very word "mercury" produces shivers of apprehension. Schoolchildren are not allowed to look at it, and its presence in a room almost starts a panic rush for the doors. There is reason in all things.
Boiling the mercury, to get rid of the air, and distilling it to get rid of traces of other metals, made a big improvement in the accuracy of barometers. The cleaner the mercury, the less dirt of any kind would stick to the tube and so impede the movement of the mercury. Some very accurate barometers were produced once this practice became general. It is on record that one that had been installed in the Colaba Observatory in Bombay in 1841 was still working in 1940 without ever having had to be cleaned or repaired. In 1935 it was compared with the standard barometer at Kew and was found to have an error of only 0.001 inch. This was truly remarkable.
Another mercury barometer, which was sent to Toronto, also in 1841 - perhaps these were the fruits of Captain Sabine's labours - was used daily until 1946, and during all that time only needed cleaning. It is obvious then that very accurate barometers were being made from early in the 19th century onwards. It should be remembered that all barometers are inaccurate to some degree - that is to say, they will vary in their movements - and this does not matter for general purposes. It is only for scientific purposes that a barometer needs to be very accurate, and the standard ones, like the instrument at Kew, are those against which all others are calibrated.
All through the 19th century there was immense competition all over Europe to be the first to produce a perfectly accurate barometer. By the late 1870s a Russian scientist was bitterly lamenting the fact that "…..the more accurate measurements with the standard barometer can so far be made only in winter, during the period of sleighing, as at any other time the vibrations produced by wagons going past in the streets set the mercury in the tube in motion and this makes accurate settings impossible".
The Russian may not have been the only one to suffer. in this way. There is a story, which may be
apocryphal, that during the heyday of steam trains Kew Observatory experienced similar difficulties. It has been said that in those days a railway timetable hung beside the standard barometer, with instructions that it was to be consulted before a reading was taken. If a train was due to pass by, sufficient time must be allowed to elapse for the vibrations to subside. The more things change, as the Frenchman Alphonse Karr said in 1849, the more they stay the same…. .
First Steps in Trade
For many years barometers lived exclusively in the laboratories, or in the homes of wealthy men connected with the scientific societies, like the Royal and the Invisible Societies. Groups such as these had proliferated all over Europe, from the beginning of the 17th century onwards, and the barometer, like other scientific instruments, hardly ever emerged from their hands. In England, the barometer owed its emergence into ordinary life to that man of supreme common sense, Francis North, Lord Guilford.
Guilford had long noted, as had so many others, that there was a connection between the movements of the mercury in the barometer and the weather. Whilst the rest were beavering away in their laboratories, Guilford took the opposite course. His brother Roger recorded that, in about 1670, Francis “could not fix in his mind any certain rules of indication (i.e. of the weather) but rather the contrary, viz: that events failed as often as they corresponded with the ordinary expectation. But he would not give it over for desperate, and hoped that a more general observation might generate a better prognostic of the weather... And that must be expected from a more diffuse, if not an universal use of it, which could not then be thought of; because the instruments were rare, and confined to the cabinets of the virtuosi……Therefore his Lordship thought fit to put some ordinary tradesmen u on making and selling them in their shops…….”
I have underlined the words in the above quotation to emphasize the very sensible ideas of his Lordship. They show the way in which the exercise of simple common sense differs from the processes of genius.
Lord Guilford's open and practical mind realised that the more barometers were used by more people the more their behaviour would be observed, recorded and analyzed. This simple fact had not occurred to any of the great men, who were experimenting in the seclusion of their own little cells and squabbling over who had done it first.
As soon as Lord Guilford carne to this conclusion he sent for Jones, a clock-maker from Inner Temple Lane.. "….. and having shown him the Fabrick," wrote Roger North, "and given him proper cautions in the erecting of them, recommended setting them forth for sale in his shop; and, it being a new thing, he would certainly find customers." Jones followed this advice, and became the first man in England to sell barometers to the public.
Not content with giving Jones the "proper cautions" - presumably about the necessity of keeping them upright - Lord Guilford kept his eye on Jones. After a while he observed that Jones was neglecting the barometer trade for "other operations that he was more used to..." as Roger put it. Wasting no more time with the dilatory Jones, his Lordship sent for Henry Wynne, a well-known clock and instrument maker from Chancery Lane "and did the like to him, who pursued the manufactory to great perfection, and his own no small advantage; and then others took it up…" It is a pity that we do not know which kind of barometers Lord Guilford recommended.
It followed that public interest led to more information being circulated about the behaviour of the instruments in different weathers, and also to public demand for more accuracy, and both these results helped in the development of the instrument, as the wise Lord Guilford had thought they would.
Apart from inaccuracy, the real weakness of the early barometers was the problem of moving them. They had to be kept upright if the mercury was not to spill and spoil the vacuum, and tubes would break easily enough when carried in jolting wagons over 17th century roads. The more the trade in barometers expanded, the greater was the demand for a truly portable model. Hitherto this demand had come only from those faced with the task of climbing mountains with glass tubes and bowls of mercury, as in the Puy-de-Dome experiment, but now the trade was demanding barometers that could be transported safely round the country.
Boyle had made the first portable barometer in 1668, and it had so impressed the Royal Society that "….the Society being put in mind to give order for the making of portable barometers, contrived by Mr. Boyle, to be sent into several parts of the world not only into the distant parts of England, but likewise by sea into the East and West Indies, and other parts, particularly to the English plantations, as Bermudas, Jamaica, Barbados, Virginia and New England; to Tangier, Moscow, St. Helena, the Cape of Good Hope and Scanderoon..."
This plan, like the "Triall" on Teneriffe, was never put into practice, which was probably just as well. Boyle's instrument might have been portable in the sense that it could have been safely carried across a room, but it is hard to imagine the beribboned model in the picture surviving a journey to the snows of Moscow or the plantations of New England. The Royal Society does seem to have made rather a habit of forming great schemes and not implementing them.
At least a dozen ideas were mooted from time to time for making the barometer more portable. It started, not surprisingly, with Pascal after he carne down from the Puy-de-Dome in 1648. He tried simply turning up the lower end of the tube so that the mercury would be less likely to spill, and this also made the tube shorter. However, as it did away with the bowl of mercury, it meant that there was only the pressure on one end of the tube to make the mercury in the other end rise or fall. Consequently, the movement was even less than before, reading it was more difficult, and the results less accurate.
Boyle had experimented with these bottle barometers, as they were called, without achieving much more success than Pascal had. Then someone - it is not on record who did it first - had the idea of blowing a little pear-shaped bulb at the end of the tube before turning it up. This, apparently, did not impair the accuracy as much as Pascal's method, and it became the general practice. From the end of the 17th century right up to well into the 19th barometers of this bottle type were popular for domestic use. They were more moveable than the old straight tubes, although not really portable. They were cheap and easy to make, and they became vastly popular with the trade, especially on the Continent. In England they were most popular by a short head from Hooke's wheel barometer. They were not much good on mountains though.
The next idea was to make special tubes. It had been found that a frequent cause of breakages was the mercury hitting the top of the tube when the instrument was moved. Daniel Quare tried to prevent this by pinching in the tube a little below the top and thus making a narrow neck which would slow down the flow of mercury. This idea was included in his design for a portable barometer for which he applied for a patent in 1695. King William III - Dutch William - granted the patent, the first ever given for a barometer. It was described as "A portable weather glass or barometer, which may be removed or carried to any place though turned upside down without spilling one drop of quicksilver or letting any air into the tube, and that nevertheless the air shall have the same liberty to operate upon it as upon those common ones now in use with respect to the atmosphere…."
The news of Quare's application for a patent caused much consternation among the trade in London, and the Clockmakers' Company - one of the ancient city guilds - held a meeting to discuss it. On 3rd June 1695 they recorded that “…. upon a motion and discourse concerning Daniell Quare and his endeavouring to obtayne a Patent for the sole makeing of portable Weather-Glasses, it was resolved and ordered that the Company doe forthwith endeavour to put a stop to the passing of that Patent.”
They failed though, and on 30th September that year, after the patent had been issued, the Master and Wardens of the Company made a report " …. of their proceedings against Mr. Quare's Patent for portable Weather-Glasses, and that the Patent was passed, and there may be suits of law or trouble to some Members who make or sell those Weather- Glasses. It was unanimously voted and ordered that the Company will defend any Members of the Company or their servants, and also Mr. John Patrick (who assisted the Company) in any action or suits brought against them on that account".
John Patrick was not a clock-maker. He described himself as an instrument maker only, so possibly he had been helping the Clockmakers with advice about barometers. There is, so far as can be ascertained, no record, of any lawsuits being brought by Quare for infringement of his patent, so either his portable barometers were not copied, or he did not care.
His design appears to have been quite effective for an occasional move, but not for continuous movement as in travelling. It is hard to see how it would justify all the claims made for it in the patent application, since it did not solve all the problems of portability. The experiments went on.
The demand for a truly portable barometer increased steadily as the European powers extended their territories overseas. All over the American continent, in India, Africa and countless other countries round the globe, men were surveying hitherto unknown lands. One of their greatest difficulties must have been getting over rough ground, through jungles, and up mountains without having their three or four-foot glass tubes smashed on the way.
In desperation, they tried taking along quantities of tubes and mercury separately and assembling them on site, working on the theory that they could not break or spill the lot. Apart from the fact that the theory itself was open to question, it does not take much imagination to see a group of earnest Europeans freezing in the Himalayas, or sweating in the foothills of the Atlas, while trying to pour mercury little by little into a glass tube with an internal diameter of less than half an inch. And then spending an eternity of time tap, tap, tapping it to get rid of the air bubbles. It was not a good way to make reliable barometers. One wonders if they ever tried to boil out the tubes, and what the locals thought of it all. Not surprisingly, the idea did not catch on.
It was not until the middle of the 18th century that any sort of mathematical relations between the height of mountains and air pressure were worked out, but from the Puy-de-Dome onwards men were struggling with it. The more they progressed in their calculations, the more the necessity for accurate portable barometers became apparent. Bottle barometers having proved unreliable and vulnerable, the next idea was the folding barometer.
The first of these was made in 1688 by the Frenchman Amontons, he who later claimed to have first suggested the three-liquid type.. His folding instrument had three folds, with a different liquid in each. It was never practicable. Someone else - it is not known who - made one that had a sort of hinge in the middle of the tube, but how the mercury would cope with that is beyond comprehension. In 1896 an Englishman named H. Goold-Adams was actually granted a patent for a folded barometer very similar to Amontons, but nothing came of it.
For a long time then attention was focussed on the cistern - that is, the container of mercury into which the tube fits, and which replaced the open bowl used by Torricelli. All kinds of materials, from wood to iron and leather, and all levels of mercury were tried. The idea was that, if the cistern did not hold much mercury, the barometer could be carried upside down. In that position the mercury could run out of the cistern and fill the tube, and if it was all in the tube it would not spill. At the same time the vacuum would be safe at the other end of the tube.. It would only then be necessary to avoid smashing the tube. Not easy when the barometer was being carried on horse-back or on the head of a porter.
Perhaps the most desperate attempt was the iron barometer. These were truly unbreakable in every sense, but also quite, useless, since the gas given off by the metal affected the vacuums and made them totally unreliable. The most successful of the early attempts to produce a truly portable barometer was undoubtedly the siphon design of Jean Andre de Luc, who has already been mentioned in connection with the search for accuracy. De Luc was a keen mountaineer and was therefore chiefly interested in being able to measure mountains accurately. He blamed the current failure to produce a reliable way of relating mountain height to air pressure on inaccurate barometers. And of course he also badly needed to be able to carry them safely. So, sometime in 1749, he set about making one himself.
De Luc improved on the design made by Boyle in 1668, and made a barometer with a stop-cock to prevent the mercury hitting the top of the tube. It was designed to be carried upside down, as some of the modern ones are. De Luc recorded that the first of his new instruments lasted him twelve years without giving any trouble. De Luc was an amateur, but the professionals soon took up his ideas and his portable siphon barometer became very popular in the domestic trade and in laboratories. Sadly though, not with other travellers. They still managed to break the tubes, and even when the tubes survived the journey, the instrument was inaccurate. Or so they claimed.
De Luc answered their criticisms with lofty disdain, telling them that they did not understand how to use his barometer. Whoever was right, it is acknowledged that de Luc's was the nearest thing to a truly portable barometer until Fortin introduced his new model early in the 19th century.
We have already encountered Fortin when discussing the question of accuracy. It was about 1809 when he produced his portable version. It was a cistern barometer, as opposed to the siphon type of de Luc, and Fortin added the luxury of a tripod on which to stand the thing. This must have been a real blessing to the travellers who had hitherto been obliged to try and hold the barometer steady while reading the minute movements of mercury. Fortin even went to the lengths of hollowing out the legs of the tripod so that the barometer fitted into them, thus making one neat package of the lot. A sensible arrangement that deserves the highest praise.
Fortin's new model was received with delight by both mountaineers and travellers of all kinds and also by the domestic trade, since the novelty appealed to non-travellers as well. Countless numbers of his portable instruments were made and sold all over the world, and it was proved to be at once more accurate and more portable than de Luc's siphon. For some reason that is quite inexplicable, however, the siphon types continued to be most popular in Russia and eastern Europe, and their lack of accuracy put developments in those countries some years behind the rest.
Had Fortin produced his portable barometer by 1797, instead of a few years later, no doubt General Bonaparte would have taken those with him when he invaded Egypt in that year. As it was, he had to make do with a portable made especially for him by the Director of his School of Air Ballooning, Nicolas Jacques Conte. This barometer was made entirely of high grade steel, which meant of course that the level of mercury could not be read as the tube was not glass. Instead the whole thing would be taken apart when travelling, and before it was re-assembled the mercury in the cistern would be weighed. After use the mercury in the cistern would be weighed again, and the difference would indicate how much had gone up into the tube, or not. This weight of mercury would then be measured to find out how much that in the tube would have moved.
It must have been a most laborious and long-drawn-out performance. It is not known how many of these instruments Napoleon took with him into Egypt, but they must have been a pretty awkward burden for the poilus or pack-animals who had to carry them, and a nightmare for the men who had to set them up and fill them. Weighing and measuring tiny amounts of mercury might have been well enough at the School of Air Ballooning, but quite a different thing amongst the drifting sands of the desert.
Speaking of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt brings to mind the fate that awaited his navy there at Nelson's hands, and this makes one think of marine barometers. It is not known exactly when a barometer was first taken to sea, but no doubt enterprising sailors of all nations would have been experimenting with them long before officialdom got round to doing anything. In 1667 Robert Hooke read a paper on the subject to the Royal Society. Hooke seems to have had a talent for spotting future uses for the barometer. In this case he detailed the benefits that would follow the use of barometers on board ship, and then listed the difficulties of so doing, caused by the motion of the vessel. He suggested several ways of overcoming these difficulties, but it seems the Royal Society was not impressed, because for once they did not set up a scheme to implement them.
Later, Hooke had another idea, and he read another paper to the Royal Society. This time the barometer was to contain two thermometers, one with mercury and the other with spirit of wine. They would be calibrated against each other on land, and the variations recorded so that they could be adjusted when at sea. Hooke was sure "...only by the help of two such weather glasses all the pressures of the air may be practically discovered at Sea and consequently the mutations of the weather may perhaps in great measure be timely discovered by the inquisitive and Diligent Mariner."
Hooke's cautious plugging of his idea did impress the Society this time, and he was asked to make one of these barometers and bring it to their next meeting. Presumably it was not a success, because nothing more was heard of it, but thirty years later the great astronomer Halley praised it. He had taken one of Hooke's barometers on the famous voyage during which he had charted the variations of the compass, and he declared "... it never failed to prognostick and give notice of all the bad weather we had ... and I conclude that a more useful contrivance hath not for this long time been offered for the benefit of navigation." It seems strange that not more notice had been taken of Hooke's barometer, if it was so good. Halley was a reliable witness. Perhaps Hooke had offended some of the great men of the Society.
One of Hooke's first ideas had been that if the flow of mercury in the tube was restricted it would make the barometer less susceptible to the movement of the ship. It was not until the 1770s, more than a hundred years after he had mooted the idea, that it was taken up by Edward Nairne. He made a barometer with this feature, and also fixed it on gimbals and added a weight at the bottom so that it would always be upright, even when the ship was rolling. In 1773 Captain Constantine John Phipps, second Baron Mulgrave, published an account of his "Voyage towards the North Pole Undertaken by His Majesty's Command" and in it he described a barometer "made by Mr. Nairne ..." which he said had been very satisfactory. This would have been largely Hooke's barometer.
Improvements and adjustments were made to Nairne's barometer over the following years, and in 1818 Alexander Adie virtually re-invented Hooke’s original marine barometer. He called it a sympiesometer, from the Greek words for "compress" and "measure", and his description for the patent calls it "an improvement on the air barometer." The improvement was largely in the scale used. Before putting it on the market Adie had it tested in ships sailing round the coast of Scotland, in the Tropics, and to the Arctic. All sent in favourable reports, and Adie's sympiesometer became the favoured instrument on ships, but it was not popular for mountain work. It was not, said the mountaineers, accurate enough for their calculations of height. This was probably true. Mountain work required precise mathematics, while at sea all that was required was that the mercury should go up or down to a greater or less degree.
The wider use of Adie's barometer now revealed a new and apparently insurmountable problem. Whilst satisfactory in every other way, it always shattered when a warship fired her guns. This weakness defeated all the stratagems of-both sailors and scientists until, forty-two years after Adie had produced his sympiesometer, that splendidly practical man, Admiral Fitzroy, designed a shock-proof rubber mounting for the tube. A barometer with this fitting was hung over, under and beside a gun whilst a ship fired continuous broadsides. It survived unscathed. With only slight adjustments, such barometers continued in use for many years to come.
Another practical man comes to our notice next. In 1875, in a talk to the Royal Meteorological Society, a certain Commander C. George RN described his way of filling barometer tubes. His equipment consisted of a tube and cistern with two rubber stoppers, and a length of twisted cat-gut with a piece of calico at one end and the upper part of a crow's feather at the other.
Some of the professionals in his audience were seen to smile patronisingly as the enthusiastic sailor described his method. Others no doubt regarded his efforts with a certain lofty disdain as he explained that, when travelling, he carried the piece of cat-gut inside the tube. When he desired to set up the barometer he first wiped out the tube with the calico. The twisted cat-gut was then pushed back down the tube, feather end downwards. The mercury was poured in, and the feather pulled up and down to trap the air, which was guided to the surface by the twists in the cat-gut.
We do not know what comments the audience made about this homely way of solving the problems of transporting barometers, but presumably they were restrained, to say the least. However, they had not heard the last of Commander George.
Three years later the Royal Meteorological Society listened to another man describing his methods with barometers. Frederick Bogen was demonstrating his "Standard cistern-siphon barometer" which had an iron cistern and two tubes. The latter were filled by simply pouring in the mercury – no tapping, no boiling. Bogen assured the Society that "Thirty-five years of practical experience on the West Coast of South America, in the capacity of mining engineer and director of scientific undertakings, enable me to form a tolerably correct idea of what is required in this line, and I hope the Fellows of this Society will admit the superiority of this new barometer over other forms".
The Fellows of the Meteorological Society did no such thing, and roundly condemned Bogen’s instrument. The laugh was on them though when, three years after Bogen's talk, a scientist at Kew Observatory came across the reports of George and Bogen’s methods. He decided to test them against the "Kew Standard" - the one against which all other barometers were tested. Whipple - that was the scientist’s name - found that George's method with the cat-gut, the calico and the crow's feather, produced a better result than Bogen’s with the cast-iron cistern. Then Whipple tried something else. He filled Bogen's barometer using George’s method. The result was an amazingly accurate barometer. Here is yet another proof that experts are seldom as clever as they like to think they are.
All these efforts to improve the accuracy and portability of barometers resulted in some success but such improvements were rendered academic by the arrival of the aneroid. The name is derived from the Greek words for "without" and "liquid" because the aneroid is made entirely of metal. Consequently it disposes at one stroke with all the problems of breaking glass tubes and spilling mercury and the need to keep the instrument upright, and so on.
Like all the other examples we have seen, the aneroid did not spring into being out of nothing. While the fore-mentioned attempts to solve the problems with different liquids, tubes and materials were going on, the great German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz had an idea. He is renowned chiefly for the calculating machine he invented in 1673 - although, to be fair, it should be mentioned that Pascal of the Puy-de-Dome had made one thirty years earlier. Anyway, Leibnitz was a great mathematician, and towards the end of the 17th century he was engaged in correspondence with the Swiss mathematician Johann Bernouilli. In one of his letters, dated 7th June 1698, Leipnitz mentions his idea that it might be possible to use a "little closed bellows which would be compressed and dilate by itself as the weight of the air increases or diminishes". Then on 29th July in the same year he shows that he has been thinking seriously about making a barometer from such a bellows, for he says, apparently rather wistfully, that he would very much like a bellows made of durable material for a barometer.
For the next four years nothing more is heard about Leibnitz' little bellows. Perhaps he spent the time trying to get one made of suitably durable materials. Perhaps he had trouble finding someone who could make what he wanted. Perhaps he was too busy with other things. Whatever it was, he was not very successful, because on 3rd February 1702, he wrote again to Bernouilli talking about a "portable barometer which could be put in the pocket like a watch; but it is without mercury, whose office the bellows performs, which the weight of the air tries to compress against the resistance of a steel spring." Clearly therefore the barometer worked by a little bellows was still very much in Leibnitz' brilliant mind, but had not yet escaped into action.
Bernouilli replied that such a bellows would be vulnerable to the effects of humidity, and Leibnitz countered this with a further explanation. "I should like to use a metallic bellows in which the folds will be furnished with strips of steel. In this way the effects you fear will be nullified."
It seems that Leibnitz never managed to get his little bellows, because he died fourteen years after writing the above letter without producing his pocket barometer.
The next step towards the aneroid was made by a man named I. E. Zeiher, who produced a barometer designed for use at sea. It was made up of a cylinder with two pistons. It was an unreliable way of creating and maintaining a vacuum, and it is only noteworthy because it was a completely metal, or "elastic" barometer, as they were called at first.
The next performer on this stage was Nicolas Jacques Conte, the man who made the steel barometer for Napoleon. In that same year, 1797, Conte produced something which might have been what Leibnitz had in mind - or as near as makes no difference. The drawings show a scallop-shaped object, heavily striped with what look like metal bands. It had a heavy iron or brass back and a thin steel top. It was found to be not at all reliable because it reacted too strongly to changes in temperature, so Conte abandoned it in disgust. His "elastic barometer" would probably have sunk without trace if it had not figured in the long-running Vidie v. Bourdon legal battle.
Lucien Vidie was, like Conte, a Frenchman. He had been trained as a lawyer but did not take to the work, being of a quiet and retiring nature. He therefore went in for steam engineering and worked on the improvement of pressure gauges. At that time columns of mercury were used for these, and in the course of his work Vidie became interested in barometers. He took up the search for a workable, all-metal instrument, and in due course produced one very similar in design and appearance to the one that Conte had made. Later, he was to swear that he had no knowledge of it at the time.
As with the search for the vacuum, those who were searching for the "elastic barometer" were up against the expert know-alls. It was widely believed that all metals were porous, so that no vacuum could be maintained in a metal chamber. In 1844, a year after Vidie had produced his first instrument, the French Academie des Sciences published a report which insisted that there was no elastic limit in metals. In other words, even the smallest pressures would deflect the metal in an "elastic" barometer.
Vidie knew he was on the right track, but before taking out a patent he sent one of his barometers to Pierre Armand Lecomte de Fontainmoreau, head of a patent agency in London, and asked him to pass the instrument on to Andrew Pritchard. Pritchard was a retired manufacturer of optical lenses, and presumably was known by Vidie to have had experience of barometers.
In due course Pritchard was to report that "... in or about the month of August 1843 I ascended to the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral with an instrument made according to the specification and drawing so submitted to me...for the purpose of testing its fitness for measuring heights and... the experiment was successful". This was part of Pritchard's evidence when Vidie's case eventually came to court.
Pritchard told Vidie that his new barometer was of great potential value. Vidie, no doubt encouraged by this good opinion, took out his first patent. He called his invention the "aneroid" barometer, and this became the name by which all that type of instrument would be known from then on. Vidie's retiring nature inhibited him from applying for the patent in his own name, so he entrusted the business to the above-mentioned Pierre Armand Lecomte de Fontainmoreau, whose agency worked in both London and Paris. Vidie was not mentioned by name in the application. He was referred to simply as "a certain foreigner residing abroad". The patent was duly issued in London in 1844.
Vidie's next problem was to get his invention produced in quantity. In 1845 he refused to accept 100 of them which he had ordered from a well-known clockmaker named Redier because they were unsatisfactory. Vidie was taken to court by Redier, who had influential friends.
Francois Arago was a leading member of the Paris Academie des Sciences. He was a good scientist, but an over- bearing, self-important-. man, much given to ensuring his own pre-eminence. He had long been a friend of Redier's family who lived at Perpignan, and had known Antoine Redier since he was a boy. Recognising his talents, Arago had sent the boy to Paris to apply for entrance to the Horological School being set up there by the government.
Young Redier justified Arago's confidence by coming top of the entrance examination, and in due course went on to work for one of the leading French clockmakers, Henri Robert. During this apprenticeship Redier did some repair work at a Paris convent, where he came to know the nuns, and eventually became a Catholic. Helped by the nuns and the Jesuits, he acquired the business, of a well-known clockmaker, Ducherin, and so became established in a prosperous business. He not only made clocks, but also produced instruments of all kinds, and in collaboration with several scientists he invented a number of devices such as recording machines.
Redier also wrote poetry, plays and pamphlets, and was sufficiently well thought of to be made a member of the Legion d'Honneur in 1863. He became an officer of the order in 1878, and died in 1892 leaving eleven surviving children out of a total of fourteen. He was quoted as saying that he would leave no riches other than his eleven children and his sixteen grand-children.
Redier has been credited with several barometers built into church towers and other public buildings in Paris, but the only one that can be attributed to him definitely is that in the tower of the church of St. Michael with St. Bartholomew in Dalston, London. An article about this barometer appeared in the "Bulletin of the Scientific Society" (No. 25. 1990). The authors, Arthur Middleton and Jeremy Collins, concluded that this barometer built into the fabric of the church tower was made by an English firm to Redier's specifications. The details of Redier's life were published in a later issue of the "Bulletin …", No. 28.1991, in an article by Richard Chavigny.
Now, to return to Vidie and his troubles. In 1845 the case against him came to court. Redier called the well-named Arago as an expert witness, and the Academician weighed in against Vidie with, immense pomposity. The man was a fool, stormed Arago, to expect the barometers to be any good when only the year before the Academie des Sciences had issued its adverse report on the elasticity of metals.
Another witness called by Redier was Bunten, who made barometers for the Academie. Bunten told the court that the instruments made by Redier to Vidie's specifications were quite satisfactory. In the face of these two formidable witnesses the court predictably awarded the case to Redier. Vidie, lacking influential friends, had to pay damages.
This must have been a traumatic experience for a man of Vidie's sensitive and retiring nature, but, as so often with such people, he might suffer but he was not to be crushed. He now set up his own workshops, employed his own workmen, and had the instruments made up under his own eyes. The results were satisfactory, but then a new problem beset him. Because of Arago's tirade and the court's verdict, no one in France would buy his barometers.
No doubt remembering the favourable opinion of Andrew Pritchard, Vidie came to England and managed to interest the well-known maker, E. J. Dent, in his invention. The aneroid at once became wildly popular throughout Britain, especially among mountaineers and sailors. It was said that in a very few years Vidie had sold over five thousand in England, but less than a hundred in France. Here we see the pernicious effect of expert opinions once again.
Showing remarkable goodwill, Vidie presented one of his aneroids to the Academie des Sciences. It was considered by a committee of the members, who issued a lukewarm and indifferent report. In 1848 Vidie sent one of his instruments to Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich. For six months Sir George compared the aneroid with a standard mercury barometer and on 8th May 1849 reported his findings. "I do not perceive," he wrote, " that the differences follow any law depending on the height of the barometer, or on the height of the thermometer, or on their changes. I think that, upon the whole, the reading of the aneroid barometer has diminished a very little with time; but the apparent diminution is so small that its existence is uncertain."
Restrained though this report is, the simple fact that the variations between the aneroid and the standard mercury barometer were too small to be measured was enough. It must have given Vidie great encouragement, and he was to need it.
At the great Exhibition in Paris in 1851 Vidie showed his aneroid barometers. A Paris instrument maker named Bourdon exhibited a new steam-pressure gauge and also a barometer almost identical to Vidie's. Charging Bourdon with infringement of his patent, Vide had his competitor's instruments impounded.
The case came to court in March 1852, and was decided in Bourdon's favour. His case had been that Vidie's aneroid was a copy of Conte's, which had been made in 1797, and for which no patent had been issued. It must, therefore, be in the public domain.
Vidie swore that he had never seen or heard of Conte's instrument before he produced his own. He appealed, and lost. In 1853 he appealed to the highest court in France, and lost again. In 1858 he managed to bring the case to court once more. This time, thanks to a brilliant lawyer, and also perhaps to the fact that the contempt of Arago and the Academie des Sciences was fading from the public mind, he was awarded damages of 25,000 francs. Bourdon appealed, and the amount was reduced to 10,000. By now it was 1861. Vidie's original patent had expired and he was refused a renewal. Such is so often the fate of those who do not please the experts.
This was another example too of the flash operator getting the profit while the one who did the work gets
nothing. In this case it seems particularly ironic that the French should have scorned and discarded the fellow-countryman who was undeniably the first to make and name the aneroid barometer. They had, after all, acquired a reputation down the centuries for claiming to be first when they had not.
Vide's aneroid, a flattened capsule, was a much better barometer, than Bourdon's curved, flattened tube. Bourdon made a fortune out of his inferior design, while Vidie died in 1866 little better off financially for having invented the aneroid, and no doubt none the better for all the spite and injustice he had suffered.
It did not take long for the inferiority of Bourdon's design to be discovered. On 5th October 1859, the Director of the Osservatorio del Collegio Romano, Father Secchi, ordered a special aneroid. "It goes without Saying," he wrote from Rome, "that I want Vidie's construction, not Bourdon's, which is worth nothing."
The aneroid continued to be developed as the quality of metals improved. One of the last of its developments was the pocket-sized barometer that Leibnitz had envisaged sixty- three years before. Admiral Fitzroy persuaded the great makers, Negretti and Zambra, to work on a pocket-sized aneroid, and these came on the market in 1861, the year Vidie's first patent expired. As usual, the experts were not impressed, but one member of the Royal Meteorological Society recorded that he had carried one of these little instruments for 20,000 miles and had found it perfectly satisfactory.
It is a sad foot-note to a man's life that only five years after he had designed the barometer that withstood the firing of the ship's guns, and only four years after he had instigated research into the successful pocket aneroid, Admiral Fitzroy committed suicide by cutting his throat. He came from a family subject to depressions, and one in which suicide had already occurred, but it is thought there were other causes for his act. He had been Governor-General of New Zealand, but his leniency towards the Maoris had made him unpopular and he had been recalled. A few years later his wife and their beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter had died. And then there was the voyage of the Beagle…
Fitzroy had commanded the ship on which Charles Darwin had made the celebrated voyage round the world during which he laid the foundations for his theory of the origin of species. Fitzroy, a devout Christian, had been horrified to find that he had conveyed and helped the man whose new ideas had discredited the teachings of the Bible in the eyes of many people. At a meeting at Oxford in 1860 Fitzroy had publicly declared his shame that he had been involved in that voyage. After that he had seemed to decline steadily.
Darwin, of course, went on to be hailed as the great discoverer of the truth. What, in fact, had he done? He had developed a theory. That is all. In all the discoveries since the Beagle sailed on her historic voyage round the World more than a hundred and sixty years ago, not one example has been found of one species evolving out of another. Not one.
At about the time of the above-mentioned meeting at Oxford, the scientist Thomas Huxley drew a sketch of the kind of creature that would have existed during this sort of evolution. It was half bird, half reptile, with teeth in its beak and feathers in its tail. Some years later the fossil of just such an animal was discovered in a quarry in Germany, except that the head was missing. This discovery was hailed as proof of Darwin's theory and Huxley's genius. Both became installed in the public mind as prophets of the truth.
Then, in 1985 some hundred years after the fossil had first been displayed in the museums of Europe, a group of scientists examined it minutely. They reported that in their opinion the impressions of the feathers on the tail had been added to the original impression, and had been made by pressing chicken feathers into a compound including powdered limestone. So much for the first proof of Darwin's theory.
Then there was the case of the Piltdown Man - half man, half ape. This was exposed as a fraud in 1953, forty years after this too had been hailed as proof that mankind had evolved from apes.
And that is all. Darwin's theory is still just a theory, no more provable so far than the Bible story of the Creation. It is a pity that the churches in Darwin's day did not react with more confidence and faith to the proclamation of the new ideas. Had they just smiled gently and said "Prove it," they would have hoisted the scientists on their own petard. Darwin's theory conflicts with the second law of thermodynamics. The Bible story conforms to that law. Sadly, the churches went in for hysterical condemnations of the most extreme kind, which offended many reasonable people.
This shows how important it is to separate facts from theories, and to be wary of those who confuse the two.
The Ubiquitous Instrument
By the middle of the 18th century the age of the great barometer makers was well under way. The arrival of the aneroid did not kill off the mercury barometer. There was not much to choose between them for accuracy by that time, and the mercury type was so much more attractive. The two would go on being sold right up to the present day.
The last problem to confront the makers of mercury barometers was luminescence. The first person to record noticing this was one Jean Picard, of the Paris Observatory, who in 1676 happened to carry a barometer into a darkened room, and saw that as the mercury was shaken up and down it gave off light.
Picard reported this strange event, and there was talk of investigating it, but nothing more was heard about it officially until 1694, when Philippe de la Hire, whom we have met before in this book, referred to Picard's observation. De la Hire wrote that after Picard saw this light in his barometer he examined several instruments belonging to other people, but they gave off no light when taken into a dark room. Picard had then given some of the mercury from his barometer to de la Hire, who made a barometer with it, but it gave no light. Picard had died in 1682, and de la Hire had taken the barometer that had shown the light and refilled it with the mercury that Picard had given him, but there was no light.
At about this time the Director of the Paris Observatory, Cassini, noticed that his barometer had begun to be luminous in the dark, and soon after that de la Hire said that Picard's original instrument was showing light again. He found that the light in Picard's old barometer was different from that in Cassini's. In Picard's the light was on the surface of the mercury, but in Cassini's it filled the vacuum at the top of the tube.
In England it was John Patrick, he who had helped the Clockmakers' Company in their case against Quare's patent, who brought the phenomenon to public attention in about 1700. He claimed that it required "the solution of the most profound naturalist," and the challenge was taken up by Johann Bernouilli, the man to whom Leibnitz wrote about his "little bellows." Bernouilli found that his own barometer gave a little light when it was moved ,and from this he deduced that the cause could not be old mercury, as some maintained, since his barometer had only been filled four weeks before. He made another instrument using very pure mercury. It gave no light. He tried filling the tube by using an air pump and sucking the mercury up the tube, and in both cases there was some light. Bernouilli thought that when the tube was filled in the ordinary way, by pouring in the mercury, tarnish was formed which would prevent the light appearing.
Bernouilli next decided that a "very subtle substance" must come out of the mercury when it was shaken, and that at the same time a less subtle substance must get in through the glass, and these would combine to cause the light. This was going right back to the dreadful Descartes, and it is astonishing that a man of Bernouilli's intelligence could have produced such theories. The Academie des Sciences in Paris - most of whom were pupils of Descartes' anyway - swallowed them whole, and set about making a luminous barometer of their own. They tried it on 3rd July 1700, and it failed.
Then a committee was appointed to carry on the attempt. They failed too, and when they reported this to Bernouilli he told them sharply that they had not done it properly. He told them that he had partly filled a phial with clean mercury, pumped out the air, and got a bright light when he shook it.
In England, Francis Hauksbee decided that the light was caused by friction, and pointed out that when loaf sugar was broken up it too gave out light. Perhaps it would be of interest to note that in those days all sugar came in lumps, and cooks had to crush it up if they wanted soft sugar. In her Book of Household Management the great Mrs. Beeton constantly instructs cooks to “... pound up x lbs. of sugar” in her recipes. She did not mention anything about it giving off light, but since she was writing some hundred years after Hauksbee mentioned it, perhaps it was no novelty by then.
Hauksbee experimented with mercury shaken up in a varnished pot, whereupon, in 1719, Bernouilli accused him of plagiarism. The usual controversy ensued, with Bernouilli refusing to admit he was wrong and Hauksbee writing books to prove that he was. Somebody called Barthius made the very sensible point that no one yet knew exactly what light was, but this seems to have been brushed aside in the insistence on "subtle substances" that could not be shown to exist.
Charles Francois Cisternay du Fay, who first recorded boiling mercury in the tube, found that his method always produced light. This confirmed an idea already dawning on some that only barometers in which some air remained would produce light. It will be remembered that du Fay did not boil the last third of the mercury.
It was 1745 when C. F. Ludolff, a German scientist, experimented by shutting the top of a barometer - that is, just the tube part - into another glass container into which he had put some bits of paper and cotton. He pumped the air out of this second container, and then alternately blew air in and out of the barometer cistern. This moved the mercury up and down the tube without moving the barometer itself. The bits of paper and cotton flew about and attached themselves to the barometer tube. Ludolff made further experiments and found that barometers that do not produce light do not attract the bits of paper.
Other people had begun to make similar experiments, and it became clear that the light must be electrical. Quite
why the movement up and down the tube should produce an electrical charge in mercury when there is some air present was still being debated well into the 20th century. But at least they got away from the subtle substances.
Now we must return to the 17th century for a while. When Daniel Quare applied for his patent in 1695 he did so with the intention of making very high quality instruments. These would be turned out in quantity in his London workshops and sent away to be sold elsewhere - in this country and abroad. Quare, like Rolls and Royce later with cars, set out to make the best in the world, regardless of any other consideration. And he did. The fact that so many of his instruments have survived, in comparison with those of his competitors, is a testimony to his superb workmanship.
There is a wonderful example of Quare's work at Ascott, the National Trust house at Wing in Buckinghamshire. It is almost six feet high and stands on a brass tripod. The case, which is also brass, has twisted "barley sugar" columns and other fancy designs. Another Quare barometer, this time one of his portables, is in a museum in Florence. It bears the legend "Faits Partatifs par Dan Quare A Londres".
Quare's are the best, but not the oldest, surviving barometers. There is one in the Landes-Museum at Kassel in Germany, made by Gaudron of Paris, which dates from 1675 and is apparently one of the oldest in the world.
By the end of the 18th century everyone knew about barometers, and the myth that they foretell the weather was
universally accepted. Many of the complaints about inaccuracy were due to this misconception. After all, if your barometer indicates "Much Rain" and you get a thumping storm you would conclude that the barometer was at fault. In fact, as we have seen, it would be the maker's imagination that would be at fault. It cannot be too often stressed that all a barometer does is to move in response to the pressure of the air. When that pressure is high the weather will be good. When it is low the weather will be bad. How good, or how bad, can be judged by the amount of movement.
The realisation that barometers would indicate weather changes, and how and why, came slowly, as we have seen, but once that understanding was reached progress was rapid. Regarded by many as something magical, it became indispensable to the farmer, the sailor, the mountaineer, the traveller and every self-respecting householder.
It was at this stage that the Italians appeared on the scene in England. It had been soon after 1670 that Italian hawkers, like the one on the cover of this book, began to sell barometers all over the European mainland. Most of them came from northern Italy, from the district around Lake Como, and they were following in the footsteps of many past generations of their countrymen.
The mountainous country of northern Italy provided a sparse living for the people, and during the winter months the farmers and shepherds would turn their hands to crafts of all kinds. These skills were handed down from father to son, and the things they made would be carried north over the Alps by many hundreds of the younger generation, to be sold in the more prosperous areas of Europe. These travelling salesmen would spend a few years abroad and then return home, to settle down with their families and in turn pass on the trading to their sons. They were quick-witted, intelligent people, and they learned fast. Once Torricelli's experiment had evolved into the barometer they began adding it to the religious images, laces, silks, thermometers, musical instruments and telescopes that were already their stock in trade. As has been noted, the barometer is a fairly easy thing to make, and the ones these people sold all over the Continent were attractive, if not of very good quality.
The Italians did not come to England to sell barometers until the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There had always been Italian acrobats, artists and musicians in England, but they had been few. There were several reasons for the tide that began to flow in the last years of the 1700s.
Prior to the French revolution the markets they could reach over land, or down the great rivers, would give them plenty of trade. After the revolution, and the subsequent ravaging of the Continent by Napoleon, things were very different. They would naturally look towards the one major country that had not been over-run by the French - England.
Although it had escaped invasion, England had been fighting Napoleon for nearly twenty years, and by the time he was finally defeated at Waterloo her wealth had been drained away and she was bankrupt. Unlike the Continental countries that had been invaded, however, England had retained her stability and her national institutions. Furthermore, the countries of the New World were clamouring for the products of her industrial revolution, so that her recovery was comparatively swift. As prosperity grew, the rise of the wealthy middle classes brought an enormous demand for consumer goods of all kinds, and the enterprising Italians took advantage of that rising demand.
Soon after 1790, their markets in France closed to them by the revolution, they began to come to England. Looking-glass makers, picture framers, bird cage makers, ice cream makers and sellers, and thermometer, telescope and barometer makers arrived in a growing tide. There were also of course large numbers of relatively unskilled people who followed their traditional occupation of hawking their countrymen's wares round the countryside.
The early arrivals made for London and settled in the Clerkenwell area, perhaps because its narrow streets and little enclosed courts reminded them of home. Those who prospered would send home for relatives to join them, and soon the place became so full of Italians that it was known as "Little Italy". They kept very much to their old ways, holding religious processions on the saints' days, and turning out for church in their traditional dress. In 1863 a new, Italian style church was opened in Clerkenwell by Cardinal Wiseman. In a later newspaper article, Geoffrey Fletcher described it as “a slice of unadulterated Italy dropped into workaday Clerkenwell". The church escaped the bombing of the Second World War, which devastated much of the area.
Although “Little Italy” became the centre for Italians in England, they were not by any means confined to the capital. By the middle of the 19th century there was hardly a town in England or Scotland of any size that did not have at least one Italian barometer maker, plus of course others in different trades.
The early settlers pursued their callings with varied success. The mosaic floors of Victorian pubs and public lavatories were mostly laid by Italian immigrants. The hawkers quartered the countryside, selling their multifarious wares. Ice-cream sellers pushed their brightly painted barrows through the streets, crying “ecco una pocco” - or, “here is a little” - from which the expression “hokey-pokey” derives, as Londoners mimicked them. The Gattis established their famous West End restaurant and made ice-cream respectable and fashionable. Barometer makers like Negretti and Zambra, Ronchetti, Casella, Tagliabue and Corti, to name but a few, set up and developed their businesses.
The barometer makers formed a close community and kept in touch with their less fortunate countrymen. The smaller firms would buy tubes and other parts from those with more extensive workshops, and assemble them into cases marked with their own names. The cases were often made at home by Italian wood-carvers, or in the case of English makers, by local cabinet makers. They would be paid a few shillings each for the cases, which would be finished off in the workshops of the bigger firms.
This practice became virtually universal, and it is very difficult to know whether the name on a barometer is that of the maker, or even if any single maker was involved. Even well-known makers bought in from each other. For example, Negretti and Zambra regularly supplied sixteen other makers in London alone, and an even longer list throughout the country. Research shows that barometers with the names of country makers on them were usually bought in from the Italians in London, and then sold with the retailer's name on the case. An example of this comes from the Devonshire firm of jewellers and clockmakers, W. J. Cornish of Okehampton.
In the early 1920s, when he was fourteen, Mr. W. Cornish went to work as an apprentice for his uncle, who had founded the firm. Now in his eighties, Mr. Cornish remembers that his uncle bought barometers from the London firm of O. Comitti, and he marvels at the fact that they used to arrive in one piece after the rail journeys of those days. Devon was still a fairly out of the way place in those days - stage coaches had been running there until about 1910! It was the coming of the railway that opened it up, but the farmers wanted barometers before the railways came. How did they manage to transport them safely?
Mr. Cornish recalls that almost the only work done on barometers in his uncle's workshop was repair work, and that usually came down to the filling of tubes. The farmers would come into town on Saturdays, so Friday afternoons in the workshop were spent filling tubes in readiness for the demand on Saturday morning. It seems there were always farmers needing tubes replaced because they had broken the old ones or spilled the mercury.
Mr. Cornish speaks of those Friday afternoons with some emotion. The awful tedium of pouring mercury into the tube by little and little, and endlessly tap, tap, tapping it to get all the air bubbles out! No doubt a 14-year-old would get impatient sometimes, and a tube would get broken, and the whole weary process would have to be started again. Similar activities would have been taking place in the shops of jewellers and clockmakers all over the country. At least they did not boil the mercury. That would not have been necessary for the instruments they were handling.
One is struck yet again by the fact that there was so little change in the method of manufacture over the centuries. Nearly halfway through the twentieth century barometers were still being made in the ways used by Quare and du Fay.
During the Second World War most makers were working on government contracts, and there is a chilling story in connection with that. Many of the instruments for aircraft and ships were finished with luminous paint, and the idea spread that working with this paint would prevent women becoming pregnant. There was great competition therefore to work in the paint shop, and some women tried to make sure by licking the brushes, usually with fatal results. At that time no one knew enough about it to realise the danger, and by the time it was suspected it was too late for some unknown number of women.
The Italian barometer makers had a great influence on the trade in England. They added a touch of Latin grace and elegance to the rather heavy, florid styles previously in vogue. The instrument was often as much a status symbol as a means of predicting the weather, and many of the barometers made in the last century are works of art in their own right. To possess one of these scientific instruments in a uniquely beautiful case would stamp a man as having good taste - an attribute much prized in those days.
A retired farmer from Ashreigny in Devon recalls that on his twelfth birthday he went to see his grandfather, who lived a few miles away. The old man had a barometer that was his pride and joy. It bore the name "Gilardone. Exeter", had been made in about 1852, and had hung on the wall of the farmhouse ever since. The twelve-year-old had long regarded the barometer with wonder and envy, and he could hardly believe his ears when his grandfather told him it was to be his. Now that he had reached a sensible age, and would soon be a man, he should take charge of the precious instrument.
Wondering how his grandfather could make such a sacrifice, the boy set out for home, carrying his present. He could not take the short cut across the fields by which he had come, because the old man had told him sternly that he must keep the barometer perfectly upright all the time. By the time he reached home he was drenched with sweat, his legs were aching from his four-mile tramp, and his arms were absolutely dead.
After due consideration, the barometer was hung in the hall, where it remained until, in 1993, it went away for cleaning. It had served three generations over the first century of its existence, and will serve more in the second.
The demand for barometers by ordinary people all over the country was such that in about 1860 the firm of Louis Casella in London produced an agricultural, gardener's or cottage barometer. This was a simple, straight stick type instrument that could be hung in a garden shed as well as in the home. It was made of solid mahogany and cost twelve shillings and sixpence (62 ½ pence in modern coinage) and it became very popular. Other makers followed suit.
The sea-coast barometers were being made by Negretti and Zambra to Admiral Fitzroy's design, as well as his marine barometer for the navy. They were also producing a special barometer for balloonists. In addition, they had the government contract for miners’ barometers. It had been found that air pressure declines before an explosion, and accordingly, the Acts of Parliament for regulating mines laid down that "... after dangerous gas has been found in any mine, a barometer and a thermometer shall be placed above ground in a conspicuous position..." These barometers were calibrated for use 2000 feet above or below sea level.
It is impossible to calculate the number of lives that have been saved down the years by the use of barometers. Fitzroy's coastal instruments must have saved a fair number of inshore lives. His improved marine barometers must have warned many a captain to reef his sails or run for shelter. Add to these a percentage of mountaineers, aviators, miners and balloonists, and the barometer has more than repaid the long years of its development.
Now that we have skimmed through the development of the barometer from its beginning more than sixteen hundred years ago, it is time to take stock. What does it all tell us?
Opinions will vary of course, but I suggest that there are two lasting impressions. The first is that the barometer has been a great help in the progress of mankind. The second is that it might all have been done much quicker if it had not been for the experts.
What is an expert? The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as meaning a "person having special skill or knowledge", and tells us that it derives from the Latin for "experience." Clearly the Romans knew what to put their trust in. But looking back over the fore-going pages, one is bound to say that it was not experience that typified the experts, but theories.
The make-up of the word is interesting. "Ex" means, according to the same dictionary, either "former, out-dated, out of, sold from, excluding" or "remove, expel, free from". None of these seems a very happy beginning for the all-knowing, all-seeing, super-beings that experts are cracked up to be. There is nothing about experience in any of it - quite the opposite in fact.
Then there is the rest of the word - "pert". The dictionary defines this as meaning “saucy or impudent in speech or conduct". Again, is this what we think of when we hear the word “expert"? Put the two parts of the word together and we have a "former or out-dated, saucy or impudent person". Does this description really fit the experts we have encountered in the fore-going pages? Sadly. I think we have to say that, in the main, it does.
Let us go back to the beginning, when men began to question Aristotle's declaration that there could be no such thing as a vacuum. The Church, which claimed to be the sole recipient of divine wisdom, blindly supported the pagan Aristotle against the Christians who not only said a vacuum was possible, but proved it. This does not seem to fit somehow.
All through the following centuries we have seen those who claimed to know the answers, from Descartes to Darwin, supporting theories which could not be proved and presenting them as facts. Often in the face of theories that had been proved.
The cause of all this must be a lack of basic common sense. It is amazing how stupid clever people can be. They get carried away by their dogmas and theories until they cannot see the obvious. It is not a matter of not seeing the wood for the trees. They cannot even see the trees.
What of the present? Has the barometer out-lived its usefulness? Is there any point in leaving it up there in the attic, or hanging in the hall, when no one looks at it because they watch the weather forecasts on television? And are modern experts any more reliable than their predecessors?
Let us remember that day in October 1987,when a weather man said "... someone has phoned in to say there is a storm coming, but I don't think we need to worry about that". A few hours later southern England was swept by a hurricane ...
At the Meteorological Office they have some of the oldest, and also some of the best, barometers in the world. Does no one ever look at them? On that day in 1987 barometers all over the south of England were dropping like stones. Anyone who understood their function - and surely the experts at the Met: Office must do that – would have known, if they had looked, that there was something more than just a storm corning. Or would they?
What went wrong? Apparently, the weather men did not have their high-tech equipment in the right place. But a barometer is always in the right place.
There is another interesting little quote from one of the weather men. On 8th May, 1993, just before the one o'clock news, the weather forecast included the comment "... if you live in the north of England your barometer may be showing ‘Set Fair’ while outside it is pouring with rain. This just shows that a barometer does not tell you everything".
This seemed an extraordinary thing for a weather expert to say. Did he really not understand how a barometer
works? Readers of this little book will by now be better informed but to make sure, here is an example.
Last night the forecast on the radio was for showers of rain in this area. This morning when I looked at my barometer I saw that the needle was on "Fair" but it had started to rain outside. I saw that the needle had moved the equivalent of two inches from its previous place at "Very Dry". That is a big drop, so I expected considerably more than a shower. Very soon afterwards the rain increased to a downpour that lasted till well after mid-day. So much for hi-tech weather forecasts.
I would not like to give the impression that it is only weather experts who get it wrong. We suffer all the time from politicians who get it wrong, doctors who get it wrong, pollsters who get it wrong, judges who get it wrong - they all do it. The more they get it wrong, the more they hand over decisions to more and more expert experts.
What is to be done? We must be extremely careful about anything that emanates from experts. Keep a tight hold on our blessed common sense, and remember that every "break through" can easily become a "breakdown” and that today's derided idea could be tomorrow's great leap forward. Lastly, we can watch our barometers, and see how often - or how seldom - they agree with the weather men. And which is more often right!
1. The History of the Barometer, W. E. Knowles Middleton 1964.
2. The Life of the Honourable Robert Boyle, R. Maddison 1970.
3. Antique Barometers, Edwin Banfield 1976.
4. The Italian Influence on English Barometers, Edwin Banfield 1993.
5. A Treatise on Meteorological Instruments, Negretti & Zambra 1864.
6. Amateur Work, Ward, Lock & Co. 1922.
7. The Amateur Mechanic, Waverley Book Co 1921.
8. Bulletins of the Scientific Instrument Society
No. 16 1988
No. 25 1990
No. 28 1991
9. Le Grand Barometre de l'Exposition de Faenza, B. Latour. Cosmos, No.1239. 1908.
10. Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol.11.
11 False Prophets, Alexander Kohn. 1986
( Subject to permission where necessary)
1. Philip Collins with the "Farmer's Boy'" barometer before cleaning.
6. Boyle’s barometers.
7. Sir I. Newton.
8. Admiral FitzRoy
9. Philip Collins with the “Farmer’s Boy” barometer after cleaning.