Mudge, Thomas (DNB00)

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MUDGE, THOMAS (1717–1794), horologist, second son of Dr. Zachariah Mudge [q. v.], was born at Exeter in September 1717. Soon after his birth his father became master of the grammar school at Bideford, and there Thomas received his early education. The mechanism of watches, however, interested him much more than his school studies, and in 1731, when he was only fourteen, his father bound him apprentice to George Graham [q. v.], the successor of Thomas Tompion, the eminent watchmaker of Water Lane, Fleet Street. Graham formed a very high estimate of his pupil's ability. On the expiration of his articles Mudge took lodgings, and continued to work privately for some years. One of the best watchmakers of the time for whom he constantly worked was Ellicot. When the latter was requested to supply Ferdinand VI of Spain with an equation watch, Mudge was entrusted with the construction of the instrument, although Ellicot's name was attached to it when finished, in accordance with the usual practice. Subsequently, when explaining the action of the watch to some men of science, Ellicot had the misfortune to injure it, and, being unable to repair the damage himself, he had to return it to Mudge. This circumstance reached the ears of the Spanish king, who had a mania for mechanical inventions, and he employed Mudge to construct for him a much more elaborate chronometer. This watch, which was made in the crutch end of a cane, struck the hours and quarters by solar time, and the motions of the wheels at the time of striking were revealed by small sliding shutters. The king constantly spoke admiringly of the maker.

Mudge had been admitted a free clockmaker on 15 Jan. 1738. In 1750 he entered into partnership with a former fellow-apprentice, William Button, and took the old shop at No. 67 Fleet Street, where the firm constructed for Smeaton a fine watch, with a compensation curb, and also made Dr. Johnson his first watch in 1768. In 1760 Mudge was introduced to the Count Bruhl, envoy extraordinary from the court of Saxony, who henceforth became a steady patron. During his partnership he also invented the lever escapement, the first instrument to which this improvement was applied being a watch made for Queen Charlotte in 1770.

In 1765 Mudge had published 'Thoughts on the Means of Improving Watches, and particularly those for the Use of the Sea,' and in 1771 he quitted active business and retired to Plymouth, in order to devote the whole of his time and attention to the improvement of chronometers designed to determine, with the aid of the sextant, the longitude at sea. The improvement of timekeepers for this purpose had long been an object of solicitude with the government, and a reward of 10,000l. had been offered by parliament in 1713 for a chronometer which should determine the longitude within sixty geographical miles ; if within thirty geographical miles, twice that reward was offered. John Harrison (1693-1776) [q. v.] ultimately obtained the larger reward in 1773 for a chronometer which only erred four and a half seconds in ten weeks. Further rewards were, however, offered in the same year for a more perfect method, and Mudge felt confident that he could attain the degree of exactness required. In 1776 he was appointed king's watchmaker, and in the same year he completed his first marine chronometer. He submitted it to Dr. Hornby, Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, who tested it, with satisfactory results. It was then committed to Nevil Maskelyne [q. v.], the astronomer, for some more protracted tests at the observatory (1776-7). The board of longitude in the meantime gave Mudge five hundred guineas, and urged him to make another watch in orderto qualify for the government's rewards, the terms of which required the construction of two watches of the specified accuracy. Mudge forthwith set about making two more timekeepers, which were known as the green and blue chronometers (one of them is still preserved in the Soane Museum, and is in going order). These were submitted to the same rigorous tests as the first, but, like it, they were described by the astronomer royal as not having satisfied the requirements of the act. A controversy ensued, in which it was stated that Maskelyne had not given the timekeepers fair trial, but that they had gone better in other hands both before and after the period during which they had been under his observation. Mudge's case was strongly urged in a pamphlet issued by his eldest son, entitled 'A Narrative of Facts relating to some Timekeepers constructed by Mr. T. Mudge for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, together with Observations upon the Conduct of the Astronomer Royal respecting them,' London, 1792. Maskelyne retorted in ' An Answer to a Pamphlet entitled A Narrative of Facts . . . wherein . . . the Conduct of the Astronomer Royal is vindicated from Mr. Mudge's Misrepresentations' (1792), and the controversy closed with the younger Mudge's ' Reply to the Answer . . . to which is added . . . some Remarks on some Passages in Dr. Maskelyne's Answer by his Excellency the Count de Bruhl' (1792). Mudge was supported throughout by M. de Zach, astronomer to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, who had observed the variations of the first of Mudge's chronometers for two years, and by Admiral Campbell, who carried the chronometer on voyages to Newfoundland in 1785 and 1786 respectively. This chronometer was afterwards stated by Thomas Mudge junior to vary less than half a second per diem. It is curious that Harrison entertained similar grievances against Maskelyne, and it waa currently supposed that the astronomer had a scheme of his own for finding the longitude by lunar tables which disposed him to apply ultra-rigorous tests to the chronometers.

In June 1791 Mudge's son presented to the board of longitude a memorial, stating that although his father's timekeepers during the time of the public trial had not been adjudged to go within the limits prescribed by the Act, yet as they were superior to any hitherto invented, and were constructed on such principles as would render them permanently useful, the board would be justified in exercising the powers vested in them, and giving him some re ward in recognition of his labours. The memorial proving unsuccessful, he carried a petition to the same effect to the House of Commons, and a committee was appointed, on which served Pitt, Wyndham, Bathurst, and Lord Minto, to consider the value of Mudge's invention. The committee, having been assisted by Atwood and other eminent watchmakers and men of science, finally voted Mudge the sum of 2,500l. He died two years after receiving this reward at the house of his elder son, Thomas, at Newington Place, Surrey, on 14 Nov. 1794. He had married in 1757 Abigail Hopkins, a native of Oxford, who died in 1789, leaving two sons. The younger son, John (1763-1847), was, on the recommendation of Queen Charlotte, presented to the vicarage of Brampford-Speke, near Exeter, by the lord chancellor in 1791. The elder son, Thomas (1760-1843), born on 16 Dec. 1760, was called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn, practised as a barrister in London, and successfully advocated his father's claims to a government reward. For some time he conducted a manufacture of chronometers upon his father's plan, and gave some account of the enterprise in 'A Description, with Plates, of the Timekeepers invented by the late Mr. Thomas Mudge, to which is prefixed a Narrative by his Son of the Measures taken to give Effect to the Invention since the Reward bestowed upon it by the House of Commons in 1793 ; a Republication of a Tract by the late Mr. Mudge on the Improvement of Timekeepers ; and a Series of Letters written by him to his Excellency Count Bruhl between the years 1773 and 1787,' London, 1799. He supplied some chronometers to the admiralty and also to the Spanish and Danish governments ; but the venture obtained no permanent measure of success. He was also a correspondent of James Northcote [q. v.], to whom he sent a copy of verses on the ' High Rocks ' at Tunbridge Wells, and other trifles. He died at Chilcompton, near Bath, on 10 Nov. 1843. By his wife, Elizabeth Kingdon, sister of Lady Brunei, the mother of the famous engineer, he had several children. A fine portrait of Thomas Mudge the elder, belonging to Mrs. Robert Mudge, was painted for the Count de Bruhl by Nathaniel Dance, and was engraved by Charles Townley and L. Schiavonetti. It shows a face which is remarkable for its look of patient intelligence and integrity.

[S. R. Flint's Mudge Memoirs ; Universal Mag., 1795, p. 311 ; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Nichols's Anecd. viii. 31, ix. 675 ; R. W. Worth's Three Towns Bibliography and Hist. of Plymouth, p. 470; Frodsham's Account of the Chronometer; E. J. Wood's Curiosities of Clocks and Watches ; Atkins' and Overall's Clockmakers' Company, 1881, pp. 169-70 ; Smith's Mezzotinto Portraits, pt. i. p. 189 ; Georgian Era; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.