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In 1823 Basil Hall, a British naval officer who became the first person to measure gravity in the Galapagos Islands, advised anyone who might imitate him by taking gravity pendulums overseas to recognise the …..

… advantage which … would arise from having the whole experiment performed in England, by the person who is afterwards to repeat it abroad, not under the hospitable roof of Mr. BROWNE … but in the fields, and with no advantages save those he could carry with him.

Sound advice. The helpfulness of Henry Browne was legendary, but there was one person who was less enthusiastic. On December 30, 1796, while anchored at Macao, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier wrote a letter to the Honourable East India Company that was very different in tone.

Am sorry ’tis not in my power to express an equal satisfaction with regard to your exertions in complying with my request to assist Lieut. Dobbie, on his arrival at your Factory, as they do not appear to me to have been made with that earnestness, the Public Service required, and which from your very respectable situation in the Hon’ble Company’s Service, I had flattered myself they would have been ; nor with the inattention shewn to my recommendation of having the homeward bound Ships to call at Amboyna, which would have enabled me to have acquired the possession of Ternate & its dependencies for the King, as suggested in my letter, the loss of which opportunity may be much regretted by his Majesty’s Ministers.

According to Hosea Amos, who quoted this extract on p291 of Volume II of his “Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China, 1635-1834”, the person whose ‘exertions’ had been found wanting was Henry Browne. Where had it all gone wrong?

It is a fascinating story. It involves the Royal Navy’s operations in the little-known Far-Eastern theatre during the Napoleonic wars, the China trade of the East India Company which, rather than India itself, sustained the company financially in the late 18th Century and above all, the intricacies of navigation under sail in a region in which the Trade Winds blow in predictably different directions at different times of year. Too intricate for a short blog, the full story, as far as I have been able to piece it together, can be found in the Long Reads on this site. Not everything is clear, but the ever-helpful Henry Browne was almost certainly not to blame.