Have you ever wondered what exactly Miss Trent meant by ‘the use of the globes’? A standard subject in Regency schoolrooms and seminaries for young ladies, by 1838, it was also being taught at some boys’ schools such as the Free Grammar School of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The globes referred to are the familiar ‘terrestrial globe’ showing the geography of the earth’s surface and a ‘celestial globe’ showing a representation of the heavens. Pairs of such globes were very popular in Georgian England. They came in all sizes, from the luxurious monumental ones that graced a gentleman’s library to plainer ones for the schoolroom and even small, pocket globes.
The reports of voyages such as that of Lord Anson from 1740 to 1744 and the scientific survey expeditions of Captain Cook from 1768 to 1779/80* led to an expansion of the British empire as newly discovered territories were claimed for the crown and resulted in an increased interest in faraway places. Parallel to this, other territories were won or lost through war. All these changes led to W & M Bardin, London, creating their ‘New British Globes’, dedicating “This New British Terrestrial Globe containing all the latest Discoveries and Communications, from the most correct and authentic Observations and surveys, to the year 1798 by Captn Cook and more recent Navigators" to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society who himself had taken part in Cook’s first voyage,
Succeeding globes were updated to reflect new discoveries and developments and we can only imagine what a boon they were to patriotic governesses as they encouraged their pupils to trace new borders or follow Wellington’s progress through the Peninsula.
But the use of the globes involved far more than that. In 1798 William Butler wrote his Exercises on the Globes for the Use of Young Ladies. He starts by explaining the terms relating to the terrestrial globe in great detail and then sets exercises for the pupil to complete. They begin with simple tasks using latitude and longitude, but even here additional knowledge is required from the pupil, for example when she is asked for the latitude and longitude of the places where King John of France was taken prisoner or where Counts Struensee and Brandt were decollated [beheaded].
Exercises gradually become more difficult e.g. To find on what Day the Sun begins to shine constantly, and how long, at any given Place in the North Frigid Zone: also, when the Sun disappears, and how long he is absent. The final problem in the terrestrial section is To Find that Part of the Equation of Time which depends on the Obliquity of the Ecliptic only. This involves taking into account the difference between ‘equated or mean time’ which is that ‘shewn by a good time-piece’ and ‘apparent time’ which is the time the sun’s apparent motion points out and differs from ‘mean time on two accounts; namely, the unequal motion of the earth in its orbit, and the obliquity of the ecliptic’.
This leads us nicely to the Celestial Globe. This section begins with an elaborate description of the constellations with copious allusions to myth and literature. The exercises start with finding the delineation of any fixed star but soon become more complicated before progressing to lunar and planetary problems e.g. The Day of the Month being given, to find by the Globe what Stars are situated in or near the Moon’s Way or Path.
In order to teach the use of the globes a governess had therefore to be well-informed about geography, history, politics and current affairs as well as astronomy and its underlying mythology. It makes one wonder whether well-taught girls did not receive a more all-round education than their brothers whose schooling was heavily weighted in favour of the classics.
The Exercises proved immensely popular and by 1803, when the second edition was published, Butler had taken on his son-in-law Thomas Bourn as a partner. Bourn continued to publish new editions well into the middle of the nineteenth century. My copy is of the sixteenth edition, published in 1855.
*Cook was killed in Hawaii in February 1779 but the voyage did not end until October 1780 with the return of HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery to England.
Above: The Prince of Loo Choo from The Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea by Captain B Hall, published by J Murray, London, 1818.