Matthew Fontaine Maury/5
History of the “Wind and Current Charts” — Letter from Captain Phinny of the Bark Gertrude — Great races between four clipper ships, sailing from New York to San Francisco by the “Wind and Current Charts” — One Ship wins the race of 16,000 miles by three hours — The Senate of the United States proposes to remunerate Maury for his “Wind and Current Charts”, but never carried out their proposal — Annual savings to the commerce of the world effected by the charts — Abstract Logs — Sailing Directions — Physical Geography of the Sea — Maury’s rule of conduct in scientific investigations — The Brussels Conference — Honors conferred upon Matthew Fontaine Maury by the governments of foreign countries.
It will be remembered that when Maury took up his first appointment as sailing-master, he observed the want of trustworthy charts to show the winds and currents encountered by mariners. He then resolved, if an opportunity was allowed him, to supply this great desideratum from the old ship’s log books which, since the establishment of the United States Navy, had been stored away in the Hydrographic Department as rubbish.
Maury now extracted, with much labor, all the valuable information they contained. He also collected data relative to the voyage between the United States and Rio de Janeiro from every reliable source. The first chart of his series and the first sailing directions were at length completed. They were not at first appreciated; but Captain Jackson, commanding the ship H.W.D.C. Wright of Baltimore, determined to trust the new chart and follow the new track. The experiment was a complete success, for he made the voyage out and back in the time often consumed by the old traders in the outward passage alone. There was now no hesitation about the use of the new charts and sailing directions which were furnished as they were issued, to the masters of vessels bound for foreign ports, who were invited to join Lt. Maury in collecting data for making other charts and new sailing directions. An active interest was soon excited, and in all parts of the world he had intelligent and zealous assistants.
The following extract is taken from a letter of one of these faithful co-laborers, Captain Phinny, of the American ship Gertrude, written to Lieutenant Maury in January 1855:
“Having to proceed from this to the Chincha Islands and remain three months, I avail myself of the present opportunity to forward to you abstracts of my two passages over your southern routes, although not required to do so until my return to the U.S. next summer, knowing that you are less amply supplied with abstracts of voyages over these regions than of many other parts of the ocean. Such as it is, I am happy to contribute my mite towards furnishing you with material to work out still farther towards perfection your great and glorious task, not only of pointing out the most speedy route for ships to follow over the ocean, but also teaching us sailors to look about us and recognize the wonderful manifestations of the wisdom and goodness of the great God, by which we are constantly surrounded. For myself I am free to confess that for many years I commanded a ship, and although never insensible of the beauties of nature upon sea and land, I yet feel, that until I took up your work I had been traversing the ocean blindfolded; I did not think, I did not know, the amazing combinations of all the works of HIM whom you so beautifully term, the great First Thought.
I feel that, aside from any pecuniary profit to myself from your labours, you have done me good as a man. You have taught me to look above, around, and beneath me, and to recognize God’s hand in every element by which I am surrounded. I am grateful, most grateful, for this personal benefit. Your remarks on this subject, so frequently made in your work, cause in me feelings of the greatest admiration, although my capacity to comprehend your beautiful theories is but limited. I have spoken as I feel, and with sentiments of the greatest respect, I am, &c.”
Maury’s “Sailing Directions” contain a particular and graphic account of a great race between four clipper ships from New York to San Francisco, via Cape Horn, which followed substantially, but with different degrees of fidelity, the “Wind and Current Charts”, and suffered just so far as they disregarded Maury’s directions. The Wild Pigeon sailed October 12, 1852; the John Gilpin, October 29; the Flying Fish, November 1st; the Trade Wind, November 14. Their tracks are all known and laid down from day to day, almost from hour to hour. It is curious to find how they crossed and doubled upon each other — sometimes close together without knowing it, then falling far apart, once or twice coming in sight. At different dates their several chances varied most strangely. Flying Fish made the voyage in 94 days and 4 hours; John Gilpin, 93 days and 20 hours; Trade Wind, 102 days; Wild Pigeon, 118 days. It is a thrilling narrative of perhaps the grandest race ever run. The San Francisco Times reported: “This city is the terminus of one of the most remarkable events on record. Two first class ships, the Governor Morton and the Prima Donna, sailed together from the port of New York on the 14th of February; they were towed outside Sandy Hook, side by side, so near to each other that conversation was carried on by the commanders. The racing vessels crossed the equator in the Atlantic Ocean on the same day, though not in the same longitude. They entered the Straits of Le Maire the same day and came out of them the same day; they crossed the equator in the Pacific in the same day and in the same longitude. Both ships arrived within three hours of each other after a race of 16,000 miles! These two facts demonstrate the accuracy that has been attained in the science of navigation, and also prove the reliance which may be placed upon the Wind and Current Charts of Lieutenant Maury, whose sailing directions both vessels followed.”
During the last ten years of his service at the United States Naval Observatory, the world rang with the fame of Maury’s “Wind and Current Charts” and “Sailing Directions”. When considered merely with reference to the amount of money saved to the commerce of the world, by their use, their value can scarcely be exaggerated. Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine of May 1854 says:
“....Now let us make a calculation of the annual saving to the commerce of the United States by shortening the voyages 15 days, owing to the use of these charts. The average freight from the United States to Rio Janeiro is 17.7 cents per ton per day; to Australia, 20 cents; to California, 20 cents. The mean of this is a little over 19 cents per ton per day. But to be within the mark, we will take it at 15 cents, and include all the ports of South America, China, and the East Indies. We estimate the tonnage of the United States engaged in trade with these places at 1,000,000 tons per annum. With these data we see that there has been effected a saving for each of those tons of 13 cents a day for a period of 15 days, which will give an aggregate of $2,250,000 saved per annum. This is on the outward voyage alone; and the tonnage trading with all other parts of the world is also left out of the calculation. Take these into consideration, and also the fact that there is a vast amount of foreign tonnage trading between those places and the United States, and it will be seen that the annual sum saved will swell to an enormous amount.”
Several years later this was confirmed at a reunion of distinguished scientific men, held in honor of Lt. M. F. Maury in London, where it was stated by Sir John Pakington, the Chairman, “That the practical results of the researches instituted by this great American philosopher of the seas had been to lessen the expenses of the voyage (by shortening the passage) of a 1000 ton vessel from England to Rio, India, or China, by no less a sum than 250 pounds; while on a voyage of a ship of that tonnage to California or Australia and back the saving effected was 1200 or 1300 pounds.”
WHEN THE SHIP SAN FRANCISCO, WITH HUNDREDS OF UNITED STATES TROOPS ON BOARD, FOUNDERED IN AN ATLANTIC HURRICANE, and word reached port that she was in need of help, every one looked to Maury as the only man in the country who could tell where to find the drifting wreck. To him the Secretary of the Navy sent for information. Lieut. Maury at once set to work and showed how the wind and currents acting upon a helpless wreck would combine to drift her here, pointing to a spot on the chart, and making a cross-mark with the blue pencil he had in his hand. Just there the relief was sent, and just there the, survivors of the wreck were picked up. This was an incidental result of his study of winds and currents.”
The value of his system being now fully demonstrated, Lieutenant Maury was authorized by the Government to solicit the co-operation of European powers in the establishment of a general system of meteorological research by sea. Copies of the Charts and Sailing Directions were forwarded without charge to the Government ships of all countries, and should be distributed gratuitously to the masters of merchant vessels, with the understanding that each one so furnished should keep a record in the prescribed form, and at the end of each voyage forward it to Lieut. Maury at Washington. The form was as follows:— Each navigator was to enter in his abstract log every day in the year the temperature of air and water, the direction of the wind, and set of the currents, the height of the barometer, &c. He was also to cast overboard at stated periods bottles tightly corked, containing, on a slip of paper, his latitude and longitude and the day of the month and year. He was to pick up all such bottles found floating, note latitude and longitude of place found, and day of month and year in file abstract log, and forward all to the Naval Observatory. By this means Lieut. Maury was furnished with materials for the construction of his Wind and Current Charts, consisting of many millions of observations on the force and direction of the winds, the set of the currents of the sea, and the height of the barometer. In the space of eight years Lieut. Maury thus collected a sufficient number of logs to make 200 VOLUMES of these observations, of 2,500 days each.
In this heavy work he was materially assisted by the willing hands of many junior officers of the Navy, whom he inspired with his own enthusiasm. ( * represents a kinsman.) Also, ‘Lardner Gibbon’ worked with * William Lewis Herndon in charting the Amazon by which two illustrated scientific volumes were printed by the U.S. Navy.)
Some of their names are as follows:
William Leigh, William B. Whiting, William B. Benedict, William Flye, Lardner Gibbon, A. C. Jackson, A. A. Sunnes, D. B. Ridgeley, R. Forest, W. K. Gardner, J. M. Matthews, J. C. Dekroft, T. S. Fellebrown, *John Mercer Brooke, J. D. Johnson, B. M. Dove, J. Humphries, J. M. Clitz, J. C. Beaumont, E. C. Winder, C. H. Wells, G. P. Welsh, *G. Minor, H. M. Harrison, K. H. Wyman, R. Aulick, *Robert Dabney Minor, J. J. Guthrie, O. C. Badger, D. A. Forrest, H. R. Davenport, N. H. Van Zandt, W. B. Fitzgerald, J. Young, *G. N. Morris, *William Lewis Herndon, William R. Taylor, William M. Ball, J. J. Henson, O. E. Flemming, William G. Templer, T. B. Wainwright, W. W. Roberts, W. H. Murdaugh, &c.
With their aid the observations were tabulated. They were then discussed by Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, and yielded, for the guidance of all mariners, the celebrated “Wind and Current Charts”.
With the assistance of these observations, Maury also compiled two quarto volumes of “Sailing Directions”, of which eight editions have been published.
The value of these labors was so fully appreciated by the Government of the United States, that, in January 1855 it was proposed in the Senate that a suitable remuneration should be made to Lieutenant M. F. Maury. Mr. Mallory made the following report to the Committee to whom this subject was referred:
“The Committee on Naval affairs, to whom was referred the resolution of the Senate to inquire into the value to commerce and navigation of the Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions of Lieutenant Maury, and to report on the justice and expediency of making a suitable remuneration therefor, have had the same under consideration, and thereupon report.
“Some ten or twelve years ago, Lieutenant Maury of the United States Navy, on duty at the Naval Observatory, conceived the idea of ascertaining and defining the courses of ocean winds and currents, a knowledge of which he believed would shorten all ocean voyages, and link distant countries more closely together, and he obtained the permission and the aid of the Navy Department to collect the observations of mariners upon every sea. His plan was announced; the Navy was required to cooperate; an appeal was made to American ship-masters, who in all that pertains to their profession are unsurpassed; and in a brief time reports and extracts from ships’ logs from every sea whitened by American sails began to accumulate at the Washington Observatory, and the abstracts of these reports — reports which, if made by one observer only, would have occupied more than two millions of days, a longer period than man has been upon the earth — already fill nearly four hundred large manuscript volumes. From the Arctic Seas, and the sunny waters of the Pacific; the tracks of thousands upon thousands of voyages between American ports and those of Europe, Asia, and Africa; from the east and the west, the north and the south, came the daily observations of ocean’s wayfarers; and these, in the hands of Mr. Maury, constituted the raw material from which the charts and sailing directions were to be constructed. Thus, without any expense beyond a copy of the work sent to every recording shipmaster, has been organized upon the sea a corps of systematic observers more extensive than has ever been engaged upon the investigation of any scientific subject. Every shipmaster engaging in the observations, receives from the Government a copy of Mr. Maury’s work, and thus all are interested in it. The observations of each tend to the benefit of all; and each, wherever may have been the locality of his observations, has the benefit of the experience of thousands who have been there, and elsewhere, before him.
“Thus, when the charts shall have been completed, the mariner, whatever may be his position upon the ocean, will be able to inform himself as to what winds and weather the united experience of thousands may teach him to expect; from what quarters he may hope for favourable or apprehend adverse wind and weather.
“The immediate result of Mr. Maury’s labours is, that ocean voyages under sail are shortened from ten to twenty per cent; and if this result be followed out to its legitimate consequences, who can undertake to prescribe a limit to the benefits they confer? Who will undertake to estimate the mere pecuniary saving, to the navigating interests, in the decreased expenditure for outfits, provisioning and manning ships, the decrease in ocean risks, not only to ships and cargoes, but to lives of seamen and passengers, and the enhanced value of merchandise by a more speedy delivery?
“Before the publication of these charts, a voyage from our eastern ports to San Francisco, under canvas, occupied, on an average, one hundred and eighty days; but now the average voyage of vessels using these charts is one hundred and thirty six days; and in several instances it has been performed in half the time formerly occupied. The vessels course through the sea has been precisely that which is traced for her upon the chart. The Melbourne Argus (Australia) publishes a list of all the arrivals at that port from Europe and America from December 31st, 1853, to July 7th, 1854, by which it appears that the average passage of all vessels without the charts was one hundred and twenty four days, while the average of those (from the same ports) using the charts was ninety seven days.
“The migratory habits of whales, pursuing from season to season their food through the ocean, have long been known; and the logs of Mr. Maury’s corps of observers have enabled him to show, at a glance, upon his Whaling Charts those parts of the ocean where, at any season of the year, whales (sperm or right) may be found. The observations of one whaleman must, necessarily, be limited by a few voyages and localities; but this arrangement of Mr. Maury’s enables him to profit by the experience of others.
“The most gratifying evidence as to the value and importance of these charts to the practical navigator continues daily to be received from all parts of the world. They lessen the dangers of navigation, and, by showing at a glance the prevailing winds and currents for each part of the ocean and for every month of the year, they enable the navigator to come and go with dispatch; and thus, by shortening passages from port to port, they have brought remote parts of the world, particularly the markets of the northern hemisphere, India, China, and the Pacific shores of America, nearer together by many days’ sail.
“The Government of the United States having invited the cooperation of the maritime nations in this great work, a plan of mutual assistance has been adopted, embracing not less than nine-tenths of the shipping of the world; and we may reasonably anticipate the speedy solution of some of the most mysterious problems in the economy of nature from thus reticulating the entire surface of the great deep by systematic and multitudinous observations.
“The following letter from the Secretary of the Navy, and extracts from our own States Papers, will serve to show the light in which Mr. Maury’s labours have been, and are, regarded by our own Government:
Hon. Stephen Russell Mallory, United States Senate
Navy Department, January 23rd, 1855
Your communication of the 20th inst., requesting information as to the benefits which commerce and navigation have derived from Lieutenant Maury’s Wind and Current Charts, has been received.
The information contained in the accompanying extracts from the files of the department upon the subject appears to leave no doubt that they are of very great value, and, in referring to the opinion expressed in the last annual report of the department, I avail myself of the occasion to repeat expressions of my decided conviction that this officer, by his ability and enthusiasm in the cause in which he has been engaged, has not only added to the honour of his country, but saved millions of dollars for his country-men.
I have the honour to be, &c.,
J. C. Dobbin
“ The operations at the National Observatory and Hydrographical Office continue to be conducted in a manner highly satisfactory, and are adding much to the stores of knowledge and the facilities of ocean navigation.
By virtue of the authority contained in the Act of Congress, approved March 3rd, 1849, I have recently appointed an agent in the City of London to make sale of the copies of the charts prepared at the Hydrographical Office for the cost of printing them, with the charges of transportation and a reasonable commission, so as to diffuse the information afforded by them to nautical persons generally.’ (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, November 30th, 1850; Hon. William A. Graham.)
“ The advantages of science in nautical affairs have rarely been more strikingly illustrated than in the fact stated in the report of the Navy Department, that by means of the Wind and Current Charts projected and prepared by Lieut. Maury, the Superintendent of the Naval Observatory, the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific ports of our country has been shortened by about forty days.’ (Annual Message of President Fillmore, December 2nd, 1851.)
“ The Wind and Current Charts planned by Lieutenant Maury, the Superintendent of the Naval Observatory, and prosecuted under his direction with much industry, are being extended to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This work is viewed with great interest and satisfaction by our seafaring communities, and all those interested in the safe and speedy navigation of the ocean. It has materially shortened the passage along the highway by which our commerce passes into and through the southern hemisphere, bringing the ports of those distant parts of the world some ten days, and some several weeks, nearer to us than before. A letter from the Superintendent of the Observatory, which accompanies this communication, states the important fact, that vessels sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific ports of the United States, with the instructions afforded by these charts, make the voyage in forty days less, upon the average, than those sailing without them, and that there is reason to hope the time may be still further reduced.’ (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, November 29th, 1851.)
“ The Naval Observatory continues to pursue its appropriate labours with its usual good results, and is found to contribute the most important facilities to the improvement of navigation. I cannot better commend it to the regard of Congress than by a reference to the letter of Lieutenant Maury, which accompanies this report.’ (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 4th, 1852; Hon. Jno. P. Kennedy.)
“The Naval Observatory, under the superintendence of Lt. M. F. Maury, is doing much for science and navigation, much for the benefit of mankind and the honour of our country. For a few years past a correspondence has been conducted between the United States and certain other governments on the importance of adopting some plan to secure a more uniform mode of making observations at sea. Ascertaining that various governments designed being represented at Brussels, in pursuance of scientific suggestions with which Lieutenant Maury had been conspicuously connected, I felt it my duty to relieve him temporarily from service at the Observatory, with a view to his visiting Brussels. The result of his labours, in conjunction with other eminent persons, will, I have no doubt, prove vastly beneficial to commerce and navigation’ (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 5th, 1853.)
“The achievements quietly and gradually effected by Lieutenant Maury, although not attracting the admiration of the multitude, nor dazzling the beholder with sudden flashes of triumph, have reflected honour upon himself and his country; have brought remote nations in comparative proximity to each other; have promoted commerce by pointing out to the mariner new paths on the great deep where favourable winds and currents lend favourable aid. His Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions are saving millions of money, by shortening the voyages of merchant vessels freighted with treasure.
“I am officially informed that it was stated, in a paper read before the British Association last year, that it was estimated India that a set of wind and current charts of the Indian Ocean, like those that have been constructed at this office for the Atlantic Ocean, would produce an annual saving to British commerce, in those seas alone, of not less than $1,000,000 a year (250,000 pounds), and for British commerce in all seas of $10,000,000 a year. This estimate was based on the condition of shortening the voyage only one tenth (whereas the average length of the passage to all places beyond the equator has been shortened much more); and the estimate was again repeated at the last meeting of the Association in Liverpool. It has also been estimated that the value of these charts to the commerce and navigation of the United States is equivalent, in the saving of time, to several millions a year.’ (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 4th, 1854.)
“Such are, briefly, the origin, the design, and the utility of the Wind and Currents Charts and Sailing Directions of Lieutenant Maury; and now the question in the Senate’s resolution, of the justice and expediency of making some remuneration to him for them, arises.
“Mr. Maury is an officer of the Government, and its agent within the legitimate scope of his authority, and to the Government are due his time and his talents. This work, though originated and executed by him, has been achieved by the authority and with the assistance of the Government. He is the Superintendent of the Astronomical Observatory, is charged with the Hydrography of the Navy; and the purchase, safe-keeping, and distribution of the nautical instruments required for the Navy also devolve upon him.
“His rank of Lieutenant entitles him to the pay of fifteen hundred dollars per annum; but for the performance of these various duties he receives three thousand dollars per annum and house rent; and while performing these duties, upon this pay, these charts have been, and are being, created by him, and published and distributed by the Government. Can Congress specially reward a valuable discovery or invention, achieved under such conditions, consistently with the public interests? And, if it can, do justice and expediency require it? Will such rewards have a tendency to develop, encourage, and maintain the zeal, devotion, and abilities of public servants, or are they calculated to repress or weaken them?
“When a man enters the Naval service, he without a doubt surrenders certain rights of the citizen; for instance, he cannot quit the country without leave; he cannot make certain bargains and contracts; and he is specially bound to render particular services which are determined by law, custom, and the usages of the sea. Though he has given up his energies, both of body and mind, for certain things, he has not given them up for everything. He gives them up so far as they are necessary to the performance of the recognized duties of his office. It is difficult, as we approach the ground where the line of duty begins or ends, to separate all the rights of the individual from the obligations of the officer. The exact limits of the line are obscure and uncertain.
“So with the obligations of the officer and his private rights: they so overlap and blend in with each other, that as we approach the line where they pass into each other, it is difficult to mark it; but when we take the case of Whitney with his cotton gin, and Fulton with his steamboat, even though they had been Navy officers, there is no difficulty in comprehending the rights of the individual to his own discoveries. Neither is there, it is submitted, any difficulty in recognizing the rights of the author to the discovery which he has expanded out into the “Wind and Current Charts.”
“It cannot be urged that, in giving form and expression to this chart idea, its author has done it at the expense of any other of the duties the Government had devolved upon him, for he has at the same time performed a class of duties that, in other services, are usually divided into three distinct departments, and which (as in England)are assigned each to a special superintendent under a separate organization. And now that the British Government has decided to follow our example, and collect materials also for a series of wind and current charts, a special department in the Board of Trade has been created therefor, and one of the most distinguished and accomplished officers of the British Navy placed at the head of it.
“It would appear, therefore, that the American officer has carried out his idea, not at the expense of his duties proper, but in addition thereto. It may be supposed that he was stimulated to their performance by the energy that originality gives, and the excitement which is always attendant upon discovery and conscious progress towards the development of useful results.
“The facts that hydrographical officers have existed for ages; that none of them have led off in the construction of such charts as those under consideration; and the fact that England, with her hydrographical office, venerable with years and renowned for works, should, within the last year only, have created a new department and appointed a special organization for the purpose of carrying out the object of these charts, are significant proofs of the originality and merits of Mr. Maury’s labours.
“Will it be said that Mr. Maury might have secured a copyright, and thus have reaped a reward for his labours? Admitting his right to have thus secured himself, should his omission to do so lessen the expediency and justice of remunerating him?
“Considering the profession to which the officer belongs and its tone, this waiver of right by him in the beginning, so far from operating to his prejudice now, ought to be held in his favour. Suppose this same officer should now discover some improvement in the means of navigation by which all the dangers of the sea might be canceled, and wrecks and disasters, such as have of late years shocked the public mind, rendered impossibilities; suppose, moreover, that these means, like the charts, should involve only simple directions which, being once uttered, would from their nature be available alike to all, and therefore become the common property of the world; now, instead of making known this discovery and proceeding to let the world have the benefit of it, as he did of the charts, suppose he were to come to compound with the Government, maintaining that the moment his secret was divulged it would, from its nature, become common property, and he would get nothing for his discovery from those individuals who were benefited by it, and therefore he must have from the public treasury so much money in hand, or his discovery should perish with him?
“Which of the two courses, the actual or the hypothetical, best becomes the American officer, and which would Congress most approve?
“The policy of the country in some cases, as in that of prize money, dictates extraordinary rewards to its public servants. Men of war are provided, and officers are paid to cruise against the enemy; yet the law provides not only pensions, but prize money for their efforts in the strict line of their duty.
“Your Committee, upon a full examination of the subject of the resolution referred to them, think that both justice and policy dictate that Congress should bestow upon the author of the Wind and Current Charts some substantial evidence of its appreciation of the benefits he has, by his labours, conferred upon his country. In view of the character of the work, and of the vast amounts which it has, and is, saving to the navigating, commercial, and agricultural interests of the country, independent of its benefits to these interests of other countries, it is impossible to find, or to adopt any rule or measure of reward to which exceptions may not be taken.
“This officer has been for years in the public service, has a family to provide for, and is entirely dependent upon his annual pay; and for these reasons your Committee think that a sum of money, insignificant indeed in comparison to his services, yet sufficient to remove his anxieties and to cheer his hopes for the future of those dependent upon him, might be justly bestowed. Your Committee recommend that a sum of 25,000 dollars be thus appropriated, and report a Bill accordingly.”
The following is a statement by one of Maury’s daughters, regarding the Senate and her remarkable father:—
“Of this move in the Senate I never heard my father speak; nor was it known to any member of the family. I am indebted for its presence in the book to the kindness of his friend, Mr. Thos. Harrison of the Naval Observatory, who, in obtaining for me copies of Bills (at the capital) and reports of secretaries, &c., relating to my father and his work, came across the above.
“My father makes no allusion to it in a single letter that I have found written about that time. His whole correspondence for that and the following year is filled with expressions of surprise and wounded feelings that he, who had done so much for the good of the Navy, should have been treated with obloquy by his fellow-officers on the Naval Retiring Board. I doubt if he ever heard a word of the above proposition in Congress.”
The ingratitude of republics has become proverbial. So far from any reward being offered to Matthew Fontaine Maury for these well known and widely acknowledged services, in the following month public attention was engrossed by the astounding action of the Naval Retiring Board, which, through the jealousy of some, placed Lieutenant Maury in official disgrace, and reduced his pay to $1500.
The following extracts from the Annual Reports of Secretaries of the Navy show the value of Maury’s work at the Observatory:
“The Act of Congress of March 3rd, 1849, authorized the employment of three small vessels of the Navy in testing new routes on the ocean, pointed out by Superintendent M. F. Maury of the Observatory on his Wind and Current Charts, and collecting information to enable him to perfect these charts. After the return of the brig Dolphin, as already mentioned, she was fitted out and detailed on this service under the command of Lieutenant S. P. Lee, an officer of great experience and intelligence as a surveyor and hydrographer, and interesting and valuable results are expected from this cruise.”
From same Report later on:
“The Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office has been in active and vigorous operation during the year. A second volume of the Astronomical Observations has been published, and already laid before you. The Wind and Current Charts, planned by Lieutenant Maury, the Superintendent of the Observatory, and prosecuted under his direction with much industry, are being extended to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This work is viewed with great interest and satisfaction.”
“Gratifying evidences of the high estimation in which the labours of the Naval Observatory are held at home and abroad continue to be received. Several new sheets of the Wind and Current Charts, and an enlarged edition of the Sailing Directions which accompany them, have been published during the year. The usefulness of this work expands with its enlargement. Other maritime nations, appreciating the value of this plan of investigation, have united in a common system of observations for its further prosecution. It is earnestly suggested by Lieutenant Maury that this system of meteorological research, if extended to the land, would afford for the agricultural interests of the country, and for science too, results quite as important as those which commerce and navigation have already received from it.”
It was while analyzing and tabulating these millions of observations that Maury wrote his popular work, The Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology. “One of the most charming and instructive books in the English language,” in the opinions of Humboldt and Quetlet.
The Edinburgh Review, in noticing Maury’s work, says: “The extent of scientific information which this work conveys, or its easy unaffected style, cannot be at all gathered from the mere enumeration of the subjects of which it treats. The book must be read to be appreciated. It would be speaking of it in a very general way to say that it treats of the sea, its nature, currents, actinometry, and climates; the bed and bottom of the Atlantic; the influence of the Gulf Stream upon climates and commerce. It treats also of the atmosphere, winds, and their geological agency, storm and monsoons, calm belts and sea breezes, rains and rivers, the Arctic regions and the open Polar Sea, the Antarctic regions and their climatology, &c., &c.” In the introductory remarks to this volume Maury says: “I wish to announce a rule of conduct by which I have been guided from the commencement of this work, and by which I mean to be guided to the end; for not only has experience proved it wise, but it is in principle so good, that to it I attribute much of the success which has attended these labours. This rule has been to keep the mind unbiased by theories and speculations; never to have any wish that an investigation should result in favour of this view in preference to that; and never to attempt by premature speculation to anticipate the results of investigations, but always to trust to the investigations themselves.” Well would it be for the world and for truth if all scientific men could be persuaded to adopt the same admirable rule. Of this book, upwards of twenty editions were sold in England alone, to say nothing of America and the Continent, where it also found large and ready sale, having been translated into the French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, and Italian.
The interest thus excited in the practical application of meteorology, enabled the distinguished author to assemble at Brussels, under the auspices of King Leopold, in the year 1853, a Congress of the chief nations interested in commerce, viz., England, Russia, Belgium, France, Holland, Sweden and Norway, Denmark, Portugal, and the United States, which Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury represented. The object of this Congress was the still further development of meteorological research. It resulted in recommending the establishment of investigating boards throughout Europe, and a uniform system of observations - the principle Maury insisted on being as applicable to the land as to the sea.
Prussia, Spain, Sardinia, the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen, the Republic of Chili, and the Empires of Austria and Brazil, afterwards offered their co-operation in the same plan. The Pope established distinguishing flags to be worn at the mast heads of all vessels from the States of the Church, whose masters would co operate at sea in the new system of research.
In peace and in war the observations were to be carried on, and in case any of the vessels on board of which they were conducted should be captured, the abstract log was to be held sacred.
“Rarely,” said Maury, in his account of this Congress, “has there been such a sublime spectacle presented to the scientific world before: all nations agreeing to unite and co-operate in carrying out according to the same plan one system of philosophical research with regard to the sea. Though they may be enemies in all else, here they are friends.
Every ship that navigates the high seas with these charts and blank abstract logs on board may henceforth be regarded as a floating observatory — a temple of science.”
At the close of the Congress, Lt. Maury returned to his old post at Washington laden with honors and rich in fame. Many of the learned societies in Europe elected him an honorary member of their bodies. Orders of knighthood were offered him, and medals were struck in his honor. Baron von Humboldt declared that Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury had founded a new science (Oceanography).