Highlighting Elizabeth Ellen Carter with some thoughts about time and its historic context—while giving us a bit of her Revenge of the Corsairs.
In the 21st century we might be ‘time poor’, but at least we can tell the time – in fact, there is no avoiding it!
Personal timepieces are everywhere! Just about all of us own a watch – most of us have more than one, then there is out ‘fitbits’ and phones.
But prior to the mass automated production of watches, in the second half of the twentieth century, owning a watch was something of a status symbol.
My grandmother was in her early 20s when she had her first watch and that was a little cocktail watch her brother-in-law had found on the street.
Pocket watches were first personal time piece and they were invented in the early 1500s when improvements to metal work production enabled fine springs to be created.
German inventor Peter Henlein is credited with inventing the first mainspring watch – a timepiece which did not require falling weights as the source of power.
By the time we get to the reign of Charles II, another revolution had taken place – the introduction of glass over the clock face, the introduction of lever escapements for increased accuracy which allowed for the introduction of practical minute hand.
So, by 1675, clocks that were small enough to fit into a pocket, became the sought after accessory – and the basic structure of the pocket watch did not change until the 20th century with the introduction of battery power.
Some of the first pocket watches also included practical gadgets such as a vesta case and cigar cutter.
In the early 18th century – there was another ‘space race’ as Britain competed with other European powers to explore the world.
In 1714, the British Government announced an extraordinarily generous prize to anyone who could work out a way to work out longitude at sea.
John Harrison, a Yorkshire carpenter took on the challenge in earnest in 1730 and spent the next 31 years inventing, improving and refining until his fourth design (the H4) was accepted. The marine chronometer, based on a five inch diameter pocket watch with its fast-beating balance wheel and temperature-compensated spiral spring became the standard until the harnessing of electronic oscillators in the early 20th century.
Such beautiful – and expensive time pieces also came with travel and display boxes, turning the watch into a clock and a beautiful work of art in its own right.
So the next time you want to know the time, just stop and take the time to appreciate how far these timepieces have come.
About Revenge of the Corsairs
Heav’n has no Rage like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury like a Mother scorn’d.
Rescued after two years as a concubine in an Ottoman harem, former debutante Laura Cappleman faces a difficult journey back to normal life. As she travels to Palermo aboard Kit Hardacre’s ship, the Calliope, she is deeply traumatized – and pregnant by her kidnapper.
Laura rejects the emotional support of her long-time admirer, Calliope First Officer Elias Nash, and her cousin, Sophia, Kit’s wife. She withdraws into herself and her art. Finally, after giving birth, she decides to return to London, hoping to erase tormented memories.
Emir Selim Omar died on the day of Laura’s rescue, but his wickedness lives on in his third wife, Rabia, in whose household Laura was held. The ruthless widow may yet hold on to the power she wielded as mother to the Emir’s only male heir. However, as opportunists pick his empire apart, her child dies.
When Rabia learns Laura has given birth to a boy, the solution is obvious – the concubine is stolen property and so is the child sired by her late husband. She will take the boy and kill anyone in the way.
As Rabia’s assassins close in, Elias – both embraced and rejected by the damaged woman he loves, uncertain she will ever return, and alone in Palermo with the child he has given his name – must take the battle to the enemy. Otherwise, there may be nothing for Laura to come home to.
“Well, we can’t wait for him any longer and still make this tide.”
Laura heard the displeasure in Jonathan Afua’s voice. The navigator looked at his pocket watch, the same gold color of the sun overhead. “Your call, Captain.”
“He knows the time we leave.” Kit Hardacre slapped his hand on the rail and turned away. “Cast off, Mr. Afua.”
Jonathan cupped his hands and yelled, “Up gangway! Release the lines!” And to the sailors at the capstan he called, “Prepare to ’weigh anchor!”
Laura stood at the rail and searched the teeming dock for Elias. Her vision blurred with the noon day glare and burgeoning tears of disappointment.
Did he hate her that much? Laura worried the inside of her lip with her teeth, just to keep control over her tears.
What did she expect? She’d asked for it. She’d even wished for it. Now she had it.
Will you come back?
I don’t know.
Oh, the look in his tawny eyes when he asked. She had always believed eyes were the mirror of the soul and Elias’ told her his was in torment.
The Calliope started to move off the dock as the lines slackened. The stiff breeze also shifted, and she heard part of a conversation behind her between Kit and Sophia.
“It’s not like him to miss this,” said Kit. “Elias is the most conscientious man I know.”
“What do you think is wrong?”
“I can take an educated guess. I’ll speak to him when we get back. Now he’s a father, perhaps it’s time he rethought his commitment to the Calliope.”
Laura swallowed a lump in her throat. Perhaps she was making a mistake.
“Calliope! Calliope!” A young man ran toward them, furiously waving his cap to draw attention to himself.
Laura jumped at the sound of the gangway dropping back onto the dock. It made a high grinding noise as it dragged and shifted across the stone with the movement of the ship, slack on its hawsers. The messenger didn’t miss a stride, running up and thrusting an envelope into Kit’s outstretched hand, then leaping back across to the dock even as two burly crewmen began to haul in the gangplank again.
Laura drew closer and watched Kit scan the hastily opened document for a second before he raised his head and yelled. “Aweigh anchor!”
“Mr. Nash sends his regrets.”