Three hundred years ago, the British Parliament famously established rewards and funding for improved methods of finding longitude at sea. The 1714 longitude rewards of up to £20,000 (worth at least £1.5 million in today’s money) attracted diverse intellectuals, inventors, entrepreneurs and daydreamers to develop schemes. These financial incentives rejuvenated the centuries-old ‘search for the longitude’, which had begun to seem hopeless.
Cambridge University historian Dr Alexi Baker has researched the fascinating story of Jane Squire, the only woman to participate openly in the search for longitude. Earlier historians dismissed Squire as ‘nutty’ or ‘strange’ but Baker’s pioneering research reveals a fascinating individual whose life sheds new light on the search for longitude. Squire’s experiences also illuminate the roles played by gender, class and religion in early science and mathematics.
However, Squire is the only woman known to have pursued the longitude without concealing her gender. Her complex and educated (if impractical) scheme drew the attention of learned and influential individuals, from the female intellectuals known as ‘bluestockings’ to the Pope.