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Vice Admiral Robert Wauchope


1788 - 1862

Inventor and naval commander. Born at Niddrie Marischal House near Edinburgh, Wauchope entered the Royal Navy in 1802 and received a commission in 1808. He saw action during the Napoleonic Wars. He was stationed on St. Helena for three years, where he met Napoleon.

Wauchope is best known for inventing the time-ball, a device for allowing ship's clocks to be set accurately, thus ensuring effective navigation. First proposed in 1819, his device comprised a white-painted ball which fell down a pole at a set time each day, a signal visible to ships in a harbour, but without the disadvantages of a firing a signal-cannon, the sound of which was delayed with distance. The Admiralty approved his design and arranged a test in 1829. Time-balls were subsequently built in numerous ports around the world.

He married in 1822, but his only child died young. The couple lived at Easter Duddingston then Moorhouse Hall in Cumbria (England) and finally Dacre Lodge, also in Cumbria. A strongly religious man, he attempted to ban prostitutes from his ship and wrote an article which provided evidence for the biblical flood, refuting theories being proposed at the time that suggested ancient glaciers were responsible for shaping the landscape.

He was promoted to Rear Admiral (1849) and to Vice-Admiral (1856). Wauchope is buried at Dacre. His collection of geological specimens is held by Penrith Museum.


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