HISTORY OF THE MARINER'S COMPASS The discovery that a lodestone, or a piece of iron which has been touched by a lodestone, will direct itself to point in a north and south position, and the application of that discovery to direct the navigation of ships, have been attributed to various origins. The Chinese, the Arabs, the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Finns and the Italians have all been claimed as originators of the compass. There is now little doubt that the claim formerly advanced in favour of the Chinese is ill-founded. In Chinese history we are told how, in the sixty-fourth year of the reign of Hwang-ti (2634 B.c. ), the emperor Hivan-yuan, or Hwang-ti, attacked one Tchi-yeou, on the plains of Tchou-lou, and finding his army embarrassed by a thick fog raised by the enemy, con structed a chariot (Tchi-nan) for indicating the south, so as to distinguish the four cardinal points, and was thus enabled to pursue Tchi-yeou, and take him prisoner. But, as other versions of the story show, this account is purely mythical. For the south pointing chariots are recorded to have been first devised by the emperor Hian-tsoung (A.D. 806-820) ; and there is no evidence that they contained any magnet. There is no genuine record of a Chinese marine compass before A.D. I 297, as Klaproth admits. No sea-going ships were built in China before 139 B.C. The earliest allusion to the power of the lodestone in Chinese literature occurs in a Chinese dictionary, finished in A.D. 121, where the lodestone is defined as "a stone with which an attraction can be given to a needle," but this knowledge is no more than that existing in Europe at least five hundred years before. Nor is there any nautical significance in a passage which occurs in the Chinese encyclopaedia, Poei-wen-yun- f ou, in which it is stated that under the Tsin dynasty, or between A.D. 265 and 419, "there were ships indicating the south." The Chinese, Sir J. F. Davis informs us, once navigated as far as India, but their most distant voyages at present extend not farther than Java and the Malay Islands to the south (The Chinese, 1844). According to an Arabic manuscript, a translation of which was published by Eusebius Renaudot (Paris, 1718), they traded in ships to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea in the 9th century. Sir G. L. Staunton, in vol. i. of his Embassy to China (1797), after referring to the early acquaintance of the Chinese with the property of the magnet to point southwards, remarks (P. 445), "The nature and the cause of the qualities of the magnet have at all times been subjects of contemplation among the Chi nese. The Chinese name for the compass is ting-nan-ching, or needle pointing to the south ; and a distinguishing mark is fixed on the magnet's southern pole, as in European compasses upon the northern one." The number of points of the compass, accord ing to the Chinese, is twenty-four, which are reckoned from the south pole ; the form also of the instrument they employ is different from that familiar to Europeans. The needle is peculiarly poised, with its point of suspension a little below its centre of gravity, and is exceedingly sensitive; it is seldom more than an inch in length, and is less than a line in thickness. "It may be urged," writes Mr. T. S. Davies, "that the different manner of constructing the needle amongst the Chinese and European navi gators shows the independence of the Chinese of us, as theirs is the worse method, and had they copied from us, they would have used the better one" (Thomson's British Annual, p. 291). On the other hand, it has been contended that a knowl edge of the mariner's compass was communicated by them directly or indirectly to the early Arabs, and through the latter was intro duced into Europe.
Sismondi has remarked (Literature of Europe, vol. i.) that it is peculiarly characteristic of all the pretended discoveries of the middle ages that when the historians mention them for the first time they treat them as things in general use. Gunpowder, the compass, the Arabic numerals and paper, are nowhere spoken of as discoveries, and yet they must have wrought a total change in war, in navigation, in science, and in education. G. Tiraboschi (Storia della letteratura italiana, IV. ii. p. 204, et seq., ed. 2, 1788), in support of the conjecture that the compass was intro duced into Europe by the Arabs, adduces their superiority in scientific learning and their early skill in navigation. He quotes a passage on the polarity of the lodestone from a treatise trans lated by Albertus Magnus, attributed by the latter to Aristotle, but apparently only an Arabic compilation from the works of various philosophers. As the terms Zoron and Aphron, used there to signify the south and north poles, are neither Latin nor Greek, Tiraboschi suggests that they may be of Arabian origin, and that the whole passage concerning the lodestone may have been added to the original treatise by the Arabian translators.
Dr. W. Robertson asserts (Historical Disquisition concerning Ancient India, p. 2 2 7) that the Arabs, Turks and Persians have no original name for the compass, it being called by them Bossola, the Italian name, which shows that the thing signified is foreign to them as well as the word. The Rev. G. P. Badger has, how ever, pointed out (Travels of Ludovico di Varthema, trans. J. W. Jones, ed. G. P. Badger, Hakluyt Soc., 1863, note, pp. 31 and 32) that the name of Bushla or Busba, from the Italian Bussola, though common among Arab sailors in the Mediterranean, is very seldom used in the Eastern seas, Dairah and Beit el-lbrah (the Circle, or House of the Needle) being the ordinary appel latives in the Red Sea, whilst in the Persian Gulf Kiblah-nnmeh is in more general use. Robertson quotes Sir J. Chardin as boldly asserting that "the Asiatics are beholden to us for this wonderful instrument, which they had from Europe a long time before the Portuguese conquests," and proceeds to argue that the Arabs had neither instruments nor charts which were not copied from European ones. The observations of Chardin, who flourished between 1643 and 1713, cannot be said to receive support from the testimony of some earlier authorities. That the Arabs must have been acquainted with the compass, and with the construction and use of charts, at a period nearly two centuries previous to Chardin's first voyage to the East, may be gathered from the description given by Barros of a map of all the coast of India, shown to Vasco da Gama by a Moor of Guzerat (about the 15th of July 1498), in which the bearings were laid down "after the manner of the Moors," or "with meridians and parallels very small (or close together), without other bearings of the compass; because, as the squares of these meridians and parallels were very small, the coast was laid down by these two bearings of N. and S., and E. and W., with great certainty, without that multiplication of bearings of the points of the compass usual in our maps, which serves as the root of the others." Further, we learn from Osorio that the Arabs at the time of Gama "were instructed in so many of the arts of navigation, that they did not yield much to the Portuguese mariners in the science and practice of maritime matters." (See The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, Hakluyt Soc., 1869; note to chap. xv. by the Hon. H. E. J. Stanley, p. 138.) Also the Arabs that navigated the Red Sea at the same period are shown by Varthema to have used the mariner's chart and compass ( Travels, p. 31) .
Again, it seems that compasses of a primitive description, which can hardly be supposed to have been brought from Europe, were employed in the East Indies certainly as early as several years previous to the close of the 16th century, as appears from William Barlowe's Navigator's Supply, published in 1597. Bailak Kibdjaki, also, an Arabian writer, shows in his Merchant's Treasure, a work given to the world in 1282, that the magnetized needle, floated on water by means of a splinter of wood or a reed, was employed on the Syrian seas at the time of his voyage from Tripoli to Alexandria (1242), and adds :—"They say that the captains who navigate the Indian seas use, instead of the needle and splinter, a sort of fish made out of hollow iron, which, when thrown into the water, swims upon the surface, and points out the north and south with its head and tail" (Klaproth, Lettre, p. 57). Furthermore, although the sailors in the Indian vessels in which Niccola de' Conti traversed the Indian seas in 1420 are stated to have had no compass, still, on board the ship in which Varthema, less than a century later, sailed from Borneo to Java, both the mariner's chart and compass were used; it has been questioned, however, whether in this case the compass was of Eastern manufacture (Travels of Vartliema, p. 249). We have already seen that the Chinese as late as the end of the 18th century made voyages with compasses on which but little reliance could be placed; and it may perhaps be assumed that the com passes early used in the East were mostly too imperfect to be of much assistance to navigators, and were therefore often dis pensed with on customary routes. The Arab traders in the Levant certainly used a floating compass, as did the Italians before the introduction of the pivoted needle; the magnetized piece of iron being floated upon a small raft of cork or reeds in a bowl of water. The Italian name of calamita, which still persists, for the magnet, and which literally signifies a frog, is doubtless derived from this practice.
The Arabic geographer, Edrisi, who lived about 1100, is said by Boucher to give an account, though in a confused manner, of the polarity of the magnet (Hallam, Mid. Ages, iii. 9, part 2) ; but the earliest definite mention as yet known of the use of the mariner's compass in the middle ages occurs in a treatise entitled De utensilibus, written by Alexander Neckam in the 12th century. He speaks there of a needle carried on board ship which, being placed on a pivot, and allowed to take its own position of repose, shows mariners their course when the polar star is hidden. In another work (De naturis rerum, ii. 89) he writes,—"Mariners at sea, when, through cloudy weather in the day which hides the sun, or through the darkness of the night, they lose the knowledge of the quarter of the world to which they are sailing, touch a needle with the magnet, which will turn round till, on its motion ceasing, its point will be directed towards the north" (W. Chappell, Nature, 1876). The magnetical needle, and its suspension on a stick or straw in water, are clearly described in La Bible Guiot, a poem probably of the 13th century, by Guiot de Provins, wherein we are told that through the magnet (la manette or l'amaniere), an ugly brown stone to which iron turns of its own accord, mariners possess an art that cannot fail them. A needle touched by it, and floated by a stick on water, turns its point towards the pole-star, and a light being placed near the needle on dark nights, the proper course is known (Hist. litteraire de la France, ix. p. 199; Barbazan, Fabliaux, ii. p. 328). Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acon in Palestine, in his History (cap. 89), written about the year 1218, speaks of the magnetic needle as "most necessary for such as sail the sea"; and another French crusader, his contemporary, Vincent de Beauvais, states that the adamant (lodestone) is found in Arabia, and mentions a method of using a needle magnetized by it which is similar to that described by Kibdjaki.
In 2248 Hugo de Bercy notes a change in the construction of compasses, which are now supported on two floats in a glass cup. From quotations given by Antonio Capmany (Questiones Criticas) from the De contemplations of Raimon Lull, of the date 1272, it appears that the latter was well acquainted with the use of the magnet at sea, and before the middle of the 13th century the poets Gauthier d'Espinois and Guido Guinizzelli allude to the compass needle. Brunetto Latini also makes reference to the compass in his encyclopaedia Livres dou tresor, composed about 1260 (I. ii. 12o). Dante (Paradiso, xii. 28-3o) mentions the point ing of the magnetic needle toward the pole star. In Scandinavian records there is a reference to the nautical use of the magnet in the Hauksbok, the last edition of the Landndmabok (Book of the Colonization of Iceland) :—"Floki, son of Vilgerd, instituted a great sacrifice, and consecrated three ravens which should show him the way (to Iceland) ; for at that time no men sailing the high seas had lodestones up in northern lands." Haukr Erlendsson, who wrote this paragraph about 130o, died in 1334; his edition was founded on material in two earlier works, that of Styrmir Karason (who died 1245), which is lost, and that of Hurla Thordson (died 1284) which has no such paragraph. All that is certain is a knowledge of the nautical use of the magnet at the end of the 13th century. From T. Torfaeus we learn that the compass, fitted into a box, was already in use among the Norwegians about the middle of the 13th century (Hist. rer. Norvegicarum, iv. p. 345, Hafniae, 1711) ; and it is probable that the use of the magnet at sea was known in Scotland at or shortly subsequent to that time, though King Robert, in crossing from Arran to Carrick in 2306, as Barbour writing in 1375 informs us, "na nedill had na stane," but steered by a fire on the shore. Roger Bacon (Opus majus and Opus minus, 1266-1267) was acquainted with the properties of the lodestone, and wrote that if set so that it can turn freely (swimming on water) it points toward the poles ; but he stated that this was not due to the pole star, but to the influence of the northern region of the heavens.
The earliest unquestionable description of a pivoted compass is that contained in the remarkable Epistola de magnete of Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt, written at Lucera in 1269 to Sigerus de Foncaucourt. Of this work twenty-eight mss. exist ; seven of them being at Oxford. The first part of the epistle deals generally with magnetic attractions and repulsions, with the polarity of the stone, and with the supposed influence of the poles of the heavens upon the poles of the stone. In the second part Peregrinus describes first an improved floating compass with fiducial line, a circle graduated with 90 degrees to each quadrant, and provided with movable sights for taking bearings. He then describes a new compass with a needle thrust through a pivoted axis, placed in a box with transparent cover, cross index of brass or silver, divided circle, and an external "rule" or alhidade pro vided with a pair of sights. In the Leiden ms. of this work, which for long was erroneously ascribed to one Peter Adsiger, is a spurious passage, long believed to mention the variation of the compass.
Prior to this clear description of a pivoted compass by Pere grinus in 1269, the Italian sailors had used the floating magnet, probably introduced into this region of the Mediterranean by traders belonging to the port of Amalfi, as commemorated in the line of the poet Panormita: "Prima dedit nautis usum mag netis Amalphis." This opinion is supported by the historian Flavius Blondus in his Italia illustrata, written about 145o, who adds that its certain origin is unknown. In 1511 Baptista Pio in his Commentary repeats the opinion as to the invention of the use of the magnet at Amalfi as related by Flavius. Gyraldus, writing in 1540 (Libellus de re nautica), misunderstanding this reference, declared that this observation of the direction of the magnet to the poles had been handed down as discovered "by a certain Flavius." From this passage arose a legend, which took shape only in the 17th century, that the compass was invented in the year 13o2 by a person to whom was given the fictitious name of Flavio Gioja, of Amalfi.
From the above it will have been evident that, as Barlowe remarks concerning the compass, "the lame tale of one Flavius at Amelphus, in the kingdome of Naples, for to have devised it, is of very slender probabilitie"; and as regards the assertion of Dr. Gilbert, of Colchester (De magnete, p. 4, 160o), that Marco Polo introduced the compass into Italy from the East in 1260, we need only quote the words of Sir H. Yule (Book of Marco Polo) : "Respecting the mariner's compass and gunpowder, I shall say nothing, as no one now, I believe, imagines Marco to have had anything to do with their introduction." When, and by whom, the compass card was added is a matter of conjecture. Certainly the Rosa Ventorum, or is far older than the compass itself ; and the naming of the eight prin cipal "winds" goes back to the Temple of the Winds in Athens built by Andronicus Cyrrhestes. The earliest known wind-roses on the portulani or sailing charts of the Mediterranean pilots have almost invariably the eight principal points marked with the initials of the principal winds, Tramontano, Greco, Levante, Scirocco, Ostro, Africo (or Libeccio), Ponente and Maestro, or with a cross instead of L, to mark the east point. The north point, indicated in some of the oldest compass cards with a broad arrow head or a spear, as well as with a T for Tramontano, gradually developed by a combination of these, about 1492, into a fleur de lis, still universal. The cross at the east continued even in British compasses till about 1700. Wind-roses with these characteristics are found in Venetian and Genoese charts of early i4th century, and are depicted similarly by the Spanish navigators. The naming of the intermediate subdivisions making up the thirty-two points or rhumbs of the compass card is probably due to Flemish navi gators; but they were recognized even in the time of Chaucer, who in 1391 wrote, "Now is thin 4risonte departed in xxiiii. partiez by thi azymutz, in significacion of xxiiii. partiez of the world : al be it so that ship men rikne thilke partiez in xxxii." (Treatise on the Astrolabe, ed. Skeat, Early English Text Soc., 1872). The mounting of the card upon the needle or "flie," so as to turn with it, is probably of Amalphian origin. Da Buti, the Dante commentator, in 138o says the sailors use a compass at the middle of which is pivoted a wheel of light paper to turn on its pivot, on which wheel the needle is fixed and the star (wind rose) painted. The placing of the card at the bottom of the box, fixed, below the needle, was practised by the compass makers of Nuremberg in the i6th century, and by Stevinus of Bruges about 1600. The gimbals or rings for suspension hinged at right-angles to one another, have been erroneously attributed to Cardan, the proper term being cardine, that is hinged or pivoted. The earliest description of them is about 1604. The term binnacle, originally bittacle, is a corruption of the Portuguese abitacolo, to denote the housing enclosing the compass, probably originating with the Portuguese navigators.
The improvement of the compass has been but a slow process. The Libel of English Policie, a poem of the first half of the 15th century, says with reference to Iceland (chap. x. ) Out of Bristowe, and costes many one, Men haue practised by nedle and by stone Thider wardes within a litle while.
From this it would seem that the compasses used at that time by English mariners were of a very primitive description. Bar lowe, in his treatise Magnetical Advertisements, printed in 1616 (p. 66), complains that "the Compasse needle, being the most admirable and useful instrument of the whole world, is both amongst ours and other nations for the most part, so bungerly and absurdly contrived, as nothing more." The form he recom mends for the needle is that of "a true circle, having his Axis going out beyond the circle, at each end narrow and narrower, unto a reasonable Sharpe point, and being pure steele as the circle it selfe is, having in the middest a convenient receptacle to place the capitell in." In 175o Dr. Gowan Knight found that the needles of merchant-ships were made of two pieces of steel bent in the middle and united in the shape of a rhombus, and proposed to substitute straight steel bars of small breadth, suspended edge wise and hardened throughout. He also showed that the Chinese mode of suspending the needle conduces most to sensibility. In 182o Peter Barlow reported to the Admiralty that half the com passes in the British Navy were mere lumber and ought to be destroyed. He introduced a pattern having four or five parallel straight strips of magnetized steel fixed under a card, a form which remained the standard admiralty type until the introduc tion of the modern Thomson (Kelvin) compass in 1876.