HISTORY OF BABBAGE'S DIFFERENCE ENGINE No. 1
C.J.D. ROBERTS M.A.
Phase I (1821- May 1829)
Late in 1820 the Astronomical Society of London commissioned on behalf of its members the production of an accurate set of tables of all the Greenwich stars, tables to reduce the observed positions of these stars to their true positions. The ones that had been produced officially by the Royal Observatory were not reliable enough and were full of errors. As had always been the case such tables had to be calculated manually. To minimise flaws in the process the method used was to set two human computers first to work out each page independently and then to compare their figures afterwards. Members of the Society were asked to undertake the validation of the results. During the summer of 1821 Charles Babbage and his friend, John Herschel, the famous astronomer checking over the work of two such human computers, when one remarked to the other because of the number of mistakes they had found:-
"I wish to God these tables had been calculated by steam!"
Babbage replied that he thought that that was quite possible.
That Summer the two of them went on a six week tour together to the Alps. They probably spent much of their time discussing possibilities. In the autumn, after they had returned, Babbage set forth to fulfil this wish. In semi-seclusion he worked for several months on the plans of an automatic calculating engine, letting only the Herschels and one or two other friends into his secret. He based it on the mathematical Method of Differences. He chose this algorithm for two reasons (1) because of the extensive and comprehensive range of mathematical tables which could be generated by using it, and (2) because of the simplicity of the arithmetical operation required to perform it, addition, the latter which could easily be translated into machinery. After two or three trial designs for the engine on paper, he arranged for a small experimental model to be constructed. This was ready to show to his friends and colleagues by May 1822. By June that year he was ready to announce to the world his invention of the Difference Engine with a short entry in the Astronomical Society's Journal.
Some of his friends were sceptical of the experimental model's performance, seeing little purpose in the contrivance. Most, however, were impressed by it, especially with its speed and accuracy when compared with the rate at which humans could carry out the same calculations. In particular it captured the imagination of Sir Humphry Davy, the then President of the Royal Society. Babbage convinced him that it was not only a calculating machine, but that, as he had also designed a means whereby its results could automatically be printed, accurate mathematical tables could thus be produced as cheap as potatoes. Davy invited him to draft an open letter to him on the subject. This Babbage did by July of that year, arranging for it to be printed and circulating many copies of it amongst his friends and colleagues as well as Fellows of the Royal Society.
Babbage used this opportunity to outline the national importance of his invention. He explained how during the recent French Revolution that their Government had invested a huge sum of money in the manual calculation of a large set of mathematical tables under the direction of Gasparde Riche de Prony, who had prepared them also by using the Method of Differences. These the French Government had wanted to arrange to be printed, a project that, after the Napoleonic wars, had also interested the British Government. Babbage went on to say that a larger version of his engine could do the same job better, not only saving the labour of the large number of people used when constructing such tables, but one which would produce them fully automatically with all errors in them eliminated. That as his machine was based on the method of differences it could also calculate almost any kind of table: astronomical and naval as well as mathematical; a veritable machine for manufacturing tables. It is significant, however that he added in the same letter this proviso:-
"Whether I shall construct a larger engine of this kind, and bring to perfection the others I have described, will in a great measure depend on the nature of the encouragement I may receive."
He also sent copies of this letter to several popular scientific journals, some of whom reprinted extracts from it. These had a large circulation and as a result his proposal received considerable publicity. It was perhaps inevitable that it would sooner or later come to the attention of the British Government. This indeed took place, mainly through the agency of Davies Gilbert, who happened to be both a Member of Parliament as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society. (It is interesting to note that Sir Humphry Davy had been Gilbert's protegé during his early career.) Gilbert secured the backing of a large body in Parliament for the project. In the meantime Babbage's friend, John Herschel, who had become a member of the Board of Longitude, had brought it to their attention as well. In this manner and after much lobbying by his friends, Babbage gained the interest of several politicians in his project.
In March 1823, at one of its regular meetings, the Board of the Treasury asked the Royal Society to consider the merits and utility of Babbage's proposal. On May 1st they submitted a favourable reply. As a consequence Babbage's letter to Sir Humphry Davy received formal acknowledgement by being published as a Parliamentary Paper. At the same time another close friend of Babbage's, Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead, had proposed to the Astronomical Society that Babbage should be awarded with their gold medal for his invention. This they elected to do. This was very timely, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robinson, had, in fact, decided to kill the project, as the Government at that time was short of money. However, as the Astronomical Society had decided to honour Babbage with their medal, following the personal intervention of William Brougham, and a private interview with Babbage himself, the Chancellor changed his mind. During this interview Babbage persuaded Robinson that, unlike other inventions, where it might be expected that the inventor could be rewarded for his efforts through the marketing of the produce of his innovation, one could not hope this one to make a profit for its contriver. But rather, because of its very apparent importance to a nation dependent on a large navy, it was therefore a suitable project for the Government to sponsor. In consequence Robinson agreed to allocate £1500 out of the Civil Contingency Fund to commence the project, a source of funds over which he had personal control without the need for the direct approval of Parliament, which might delay its start.
In August 1823 Babbage received the warrant of the Treasury together with the promised money. He was commissioned:
"To bring to perfection an engine for calculating mathematical tables"
That same month he set off on a long tour around the country investigating whatever industrial and other techniques which might have had a bearing on the development of his engine. During this tour he visited all the major industrial centres in both England and Scotland. It was not until later that year he began work on the development of the full-size engine. He converted the stables at the back of his home in Devonshire Street into a workshop. He hired several workmen individually to carry out specific jobs under his personal directions. Of course he did not have all the necessary tools or skills himself to build the engine. It was not long, therefore, before he needed the special facilities that only a professional engineer could provide. He was recommended Joseph Clement for this assignment by his friend, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel.
Clement, a north countryman, had been employed by the famous machine tool developer, Henry Maudslay. Later he had set up his own workshop at his house, 21 Prospect Place, near the Elephant and Castle in London. Clement had the reputation of being a meticulous worker as well as being an excellent draughtsman, just the skills Babbage needed for this project.
The first designs for the full-size engine were laid down at this period. It was to use 5 columns or orders of Differences in its calculations and to print its results to 12 significant places of decimals.
Work continued for some years. In 1827, however, Babbage suffered a number of personal tragedies. Both his father and wife died that same year. As a result he suffered a nervous breakdown. His doctor advised him to take a complete rest. Through his brother-in-law, William Wolryche Whitmore MP, he obtained permission from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take leave from the project In October 1827 he set off on a grand tour of the continent, which was to last for just over a year. Work, however, continued at Clement's in his absence under the supervision of his friend John Herschel. All the original monies allocated to the project by the Government had been spent. Babbage, however, had by that time received a large inheritance from his father. He therefore assigned some of this to continue the works. He granted Herschel power of attorney to make the necessary payments to Clement. During this break he continued to correspond with both Herschel and Whitmore, with the former on technical details and money matters, and with the latter on the fact that the Chancellor in 1823 had made a verbal promise to him during his interview that the £1500 originally allotted to him when he commenced the project would only be the first of many such advances.
Not much happened while he was away. Herschel even remarked that he thought the whole project appeared to be moving far too slowly. He seemed very surprised that there was little to show for the amounts paid over to Clement. Clement in fact, apart from producing a large number of drawings looked to be spending much of his time developing and designing the necessary tools to manufacture the Engine, including a large lathe and later a planing machine.
Whilst he was on the continent Babbage took advantage to visit many workshops, including Gambey's, a famous establishment in Paris, learning many new techniques which might have relevance or application to the design of his engine.
Immediately upon his return to England, at the end of November 1828, he was determined to have the matter of the funding of the project resolved. Several thousands of pounds were still owed to Clement in spite of the amount he had left with Herschel for payments. Moreover there were several important matters which needed clarification, such as who owned the tools and drawings, who was responsible for insuring the engine against the risk of fire, indeed who owned the engine at all and so on. He spent the first week in December 1828 preparing a long statement of the situation as he saw it, sending it to the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. This the Duke passed over to the Treasury for their consideration. They latterly ordered an investigation to be conducted by the Royal Society as to the state of the project.
In February 1829 an extremely favourable report was produced by the subcommittee of the Royal Society assigned to review the project. This was conducted under the chairmanship of his friend John Herschel. Their report outlined that the engine was progressing well; they had ascertained that most of the components for the calculating part of the engine had been made, that nearly four fifths of the designs for the engine had been completed, and that the level of workmanship was amongst the highest quality they had ever seen. They especially recommended that Babbage should be relieved from the responsibilities of financing of the project from out of his own pocket. As a result of this report the Treasury advanced Babbage a further £1500 in April 1829 to enable him to continue work towards completion the engine. This just about made up what Babbage had invested personally in the project. It was probably also particularly timely for Babbage, as he was moving house at that time from No. 7 Devonshire Street to No. 1 Dorset Street and needed the funds to pay for it.
Clement, however, was still owed some £2052. He had done a total of £5312 worth of work but had only received £3260. Babbage was determined, however, that he should receive no further monies until better arrangements for the reporting of work done were instituted. Clement was naturally not pleased with this and in May 1829 stopped work on the Engine refusing to do anymore till he was paid. Thus ended the first phase of Difference Engine No 1. It was not to start up again for another year.
Phase II (May 1829 to March 1833)
In the middle of May 1829 a group of very influential friends of Babbage's got together at his house to try and plan a way forward. They considered many options including the private financing of the project by subscription, to be offered to Babbage's rich friends. It was decided, however, that the Government should in the first instance be approached to see if it could sort out the mess. Herschel and Whitmore were appointed to meet with the Duke of Wellington to discuss the matter, which they did, discovering him to be quite enthusiastic about the project and sympathetic to Babbage's plight. As a result Babbage arranged through the auspices of his friend, Lord Ashley, for the Duke and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Henry Goulburn, to pay a visit to Clement's workshop to see the work for themselves. This took place in November 1829. In December the Treasury agreed to advance a further £3000. But the question of who owned the machine still remained open.
In February 1830, at a meeting between Lord Ashley and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was agreed that the engine should become public property. It is to be noted that this was not ratified by the Board of the Treasury till December that year.
Also in February 1830, having still not had his bill from the previous May settled and after threatening legal action, Clement agreed to have his accounts arbitrated by two referees. This he had been pressed to do by his professional colleagues. Henry Maudslay and Bryan Donkin were appointed to perform this task. After their report in April 1830 Babbage forwarded Clement the balance owed him.
In the spring of 1830 work recommenced on the project. Drawings from this period indicate that a larger machine was being contemplated: calculating with up to 16 digits using 7 orders of differences. That autumn a new employee was hired by Clement as his principal draughtsman, Charles G. Jarvis. The latter because of his ability was to earn the considerable respect of Babbage and later to be employed by him on the development of the series of Analytical Engines.
During the summer of 1830 Babbage started sending regular reports to the Chancellor, Viscount Althorp, on the progress made. In one of these he advised that, as the engine was now proceeding towards its completion, suitable premises for it should be found to erect it in and operate it from, specifying that, for convenience, it should be set up in the vicinity of his home. In January 1831 at Brunel's beckoning Babbage arranged for a local surveyor, Charles Jearrad, to search out for an appropriate site in his area and prepare a report on the likely cost of erecting a suitable building. The most apt plot proved to be part of the garden and stable yard at the rear of his home. An estimate for the works was drawn up and submitted to the Chancellor, who passed it to the Treasury for consideration.
Again the Treasury sought the advice of the Royal Society on the need for this. In March 1831 they once again reported favourably, remarking that these premises were needed urgently. Thus in April the Treasury commissioned the Office of Woods and Forests to erect suitable buildings. The latter appointed Decimus Burton, one of the most well-known architects of time, to undertake the work. After some quibbling on whether permanent workshops were also needed as well as an engine house and accommodation for the engineer, designs for the buildings were complete and construction work began in January 1832. These were completed as far as they could be without the Engine being in them by June that year. Over £2,000 was spent on the building works.
In July 1831 Babbage submitted to the Treasury the first set of accounts for payment for works done on the engine since it had been formally declared public property. These had already been reviewed by the two professional arbitrating engineers for their accuracy. The Treasury, however, this time ordered their auditing department to examine the details of the bills and prepare a proper statement. This was to be done every time a bill was submitted. This procedure had the effect of extending the time interval between submission by Clement of his bill and the receipt of payment by an additional 2 to 3 months. Clement was not a rich man and had a workshop of around 10 employees to pay the wages of. As a result Babbage, to tide him over while he waited for his monies from the Treasury, continued to advance Clement with sometimes as much as £1,000 out of his own pocket.
In September 1831 Babbage had many new ideas for the engine to improve its performance It appears that several major revisions in its designs date from this period: these include changing the number of cycles or turns of the first axis required by the punching department for each result from 24 to 20. Later on the Engine was extended to calculate with 18 digits and not just 16.
On Babbage's instructions during 1832 Clement began the assembly of a test/demonstration model of the calculating part of the Engine. This was ready by December that year and delivered to Babbage. This is the small fragment now on view in the Science Museum. It was the only part of the Engine ever put together. It comprises of 18 figure wheels and a special driving department specially developed for it. It still works well and is convincing that the full-size engine would have worked satisfactorily had it ever been completed. Work thus seemed to be progressing well. Parts were gradually being made, and development seemed to be nearing an end.
That summer Babbage asked Clement to prepare for the removal from his workshop to the new fireproof premises next to his home, where the Engine was to be assembled. He asked him to submit an account of the likely extra costs, expenses etc. he would incur as a result of this. Clement presented an outrageously expensive claim of some £600 a year of additional costs. Babbage was very angry with him, the Treasury concurring, asked him to present another claim. This he appears not to have done.
In March 1833, whilst Babbage was at Clement's workshop, Clement asked Babbage, as was usual in the circumstance, for an advance on the strength of his previous bill (for the work done between June and December 1832). Babbage refused unless Clement withdrew the extravagant claim he had made to work from the new premises. Clement remarked that he did not want to move. A row ensued in which Babbage declined to part with another shilling unless Clement complied with his request. Clement said that unless he received some money he would dismiss all his workmen by the end of the month. Babbage walked out in a huff. Two weeks later Clement carried out his threat. Work ceased on the engine never to be resumed.
Causes of the Failure to complete Difference Engine No. 1
It is often mooted in short accounts and popular histories that Babbage's First Difference Engine project failed because he had invented a machine with which the technology and workshops of his day could not cope. This is just not true: had it been completed it most definitely would have worked. The successful performance of the fragment assembled as a demonstration and test piece in 1832, now in the Science Museum London, confirms this point of view. Rather the project failed through a combination of far more mundane reasons, reasons related to the manner in which the project was organised.
1. Too Frequent Changes of Government Between 1833 and 1835. Spring-Rice's Misinterpretation of Babbage's Intentions. Project in Doldrums 1833-1842.
Between 1833 and 1835 there were three changes of Government. This historically was the most immediate reason for the Difference Engine's failure. Babbage's lack of success to get the project restarted caused a loss of momentum. Projects in general seem to require a kind of momentum to keep them going. It is what motivates individuals concerned to get on with the work or maintain an interest in it. As soon as the momentum is lost, the credibility of projects drops enormously. The rapid and many changes in Government in the period 1833-5 allowed things to slip too much. Several attempts were made by Babbage to get the project back on the road, but none of these came to anything.
The circumstances were these. Work had stopped on the project on 12th March 1833, following the row between Babbage and Clement that day over the refusal of the former to advance the latter any more money out of his own funds. Clement had made an extravagant claim for removing his business to the new premises, adjacent to Babbage's house in Dorset Street, to continue work on the Difference Engine at the specially constructed premises there. The Treasury had criticised this demand and Babbage had asked Clement to revise it. But Clement had not at that time received payment of his account for the work done between June 30th 1832 to the December 31st 1832 and was in no mood to discuss it: he wanted his basic bill paid.
Babbage immediately reported the situation to the Treasury, his sponsors. After an investigation by the auditors the Treasury ordered payment of Clement's final bill stopped, until he agreed to deliver the finished parts and drawings to the new fire-proof building.
What follows is a chronology of the events in this story as they occurred. One will see clearly from these that the three parties concerned (Babbage, Clement and the Treasury) each failed to appreciate the others' positions, and that each was not really communicating with the others. This lack of communication, probably due to differences in social class if anything, was the primary cause of the collapse of the project. Other issues raised during this period include the insistence by Clement for someone to be nominated to be responsible to him for the project; his overall stubbornness; the security from fire of the completed parts and drawings; whether Clement should receive payment for either the first period describe above (30th June 1832 - 31st December 1832) before he removed the parts as he had been instructed or whether he should be allowed to receive this payment before removing a single part. Similar considerations apply to the bill for the second period (31st December 1832 to 12th March 1833).
28 March 1833:
Babbage wrote to the Treasury describing how he had been totally unprepared for Clement's extravagant demands for removing the tools and his workshop to the new premises. That Clement was generally being uncooperative and that he was demanding payment for his latest bill (30th June - 31st December 1832), as he was in need of money. Babbage agreed to submit this bill to the Treasury, but said he would not advance him any more money out of his own private means, as he had done in similar circumstances in the past. Babbage further reported to the Treasury that Clement had given notice to his workmen. He was happy to report that a small portion of the Engine, containing 15 figures, had been delivered to him some three months earlier.
3 April 1833:
At Babbage's request Messrs Field and Donkin, the arbitrators, had been to see Clement. They identified that the main issue that Clement was concerned with was who was responsible to him for the project, the Government or Babbage.
13 April 1833:
In a letter to Babbage, Bryan Donkin said that he had been to the Treasury to discuss Clement. He learned that they would probably concede to Clement's demand.
25 April 1833:
Bryan Donkin reported to Babbage that the Treasury generally had no objection to paying Clement. Clement should however agree to withdraw his offensive letter to Babbage, and that thereafter he should request the Treasury to pay him direct. This being done he was to state clearly that he would be willing to continue work on the machine at his premises in Prospect Place, but as and when parts were completed to deposit these in the new fireproof premises. Donkin informed Clement of these arrangements.
13 May 1833:
Clement wrote to Babbage asking him to be allowed to continue to finish the machine at his own workshop. He hoped that payments thereafter would be made direct from the Treasury to himself. He also requested withdrawal of his letter of the previous July which outlined his demands for the removal of his works to the new premises.
20 May 1833:
Babbage wrote to the Treasury asking them to pay Clement direct thereafter, as it appeared, whenever the Government's estimates were published, that he, himself, had received the money, whereas the truth was that it had been simply paid over to the engineer, Clement. He reported that Clement had requested to be allowed to continue.
20 May 1833
In a second communication that day to the Treasury Babbage suggested the following directions should be given to Clement.
1. That all the drawings not required at Clement's own workshop should be removed to the new premises.
2. That the drawings necessary for the Engine should be completed as soon as was possible.
3. That all the parts of the Engine already partly executed should be finished as soon as the nature of the work would admit, and be removed to the fire-proof building.
He urged that it was important to press strongly on Clement the necessity of dispatch, on account of the danger from fire and the great outlay of public money. He added that he thought the inconvenience to himself might be hinted at, although he considered that that would have but little influence in Clement's mind.
29 May 1833:
Treasury replied to Babbage agreeing from then onwards to review Clement's accounts in their offices, and pay him direct and not via Babbage. That they agreed Clement's plan to continue work at his premises and that the parts should be removed to the new premises when they were finished. They ordered Babbage to make the necessary arrangements to receive them. As soon as they were informed that all the parts and drawings that could be transferred without preventing progress they would agree to pay Clement his account to the 31st December 1832.
29 May 1833:
Babbage wrote to the Treasury reporting that he had just seen Clement and told him that Clement would be calling at the Treasury. In the same letter he proposed that the drawings should be completed at the new premises and that only working drawings should be sent to Clement's workshop. He suggested that Jarvis, Clement's former principal draughtsman, should be employed by Government to do the drawings under his personal direction, but that Clement should continue to pay Jarvis thereby enabling him to receive the same profit as usual.
Babbage saw the advantages of this plan were:-
1. All the most important drawings would be free from danger
2. That in case of further difficulty with Clement the Treasury and he would be much less dependent on him.
3. Were Clement or himself to die it would be most important to have Jarvis
4. Babbage would be much better acquainted with the Engine he had contrived than was possible living as he did far (4 miles) from Clement's; he reminded the Treasury that his memory, though not bad, could not retain all the relations of 20 or 30 thousand pieces of matter.
Babbage foresaw that Clement would object that this plan would be inconvenient to him. He reminded the Treasury that Clement did not consider that Babbage himself had suffered a similar inconvenience for nearly the previous 10 years. Clement would argue that it would produce delay and expense. Babbage said that he was more interested than any individual in completing the work and that he believed it would accelerate it instead of delaying it. The additional expense of Clement's journeys would not come to much.
Finally he suggested that the Treasury should press Clement on this latter point: assuming that no further alterations from the then design would be made, he asked the Treasury to ascertain from Clement how long would it take to finish the Engine. He told them that he had repeatedly tried to obtain Clement's opinion on this matter and, given the state of the work as it then stood, Clement ought to have been able to form if not an exact but at least an approximate conjecture.
Ca 1 June 1833:
Babbage wrote to Clement giving him details of the Treasury's instructions to move all the parts of the Engine to the fireproof building and requesting a meeting with him proposing dates.
4 June 1833:
Babbage wrote to Bryan Donkin telling him that Clement wanted his accounts for the second period (31st December 1832 -12th March 1833) examined. He warned him that Clement was being stubborn and was still refusing to move anything till his demands were met in full. He asked him if he would arrange with Joshua Field an appointment with Clement.
22 July 1833:
Clement wrote to Babbage telling him that he had sent a letter to the Treasury asking them to let him know whether they intended to absolve Babbage from having to pay the account up to 30th March 1833. He then went on to say that he has made a proposition to the Treasury. But even if they agreed to it, he told Babbage that he did not intend to absolve him from the responsibility until the account had been paid in full. He warned Babbage that if the Engine was destroyed by fire that he would not be held responsible for making good the loss.
22 July 1833:
That same day Clement tried to seek a new arrangement with the Treasury. He wrote to them putting his side of the case. He remarked that in all his dealings he had treated with Babbage, and that he therefore considered Babbage was, as regards the engine, fully responsible to him. Babbage had always paid his bills, given him his instructions and Babbage had been the one to whom he had delivered a part of the machine. Referring to the arrangement that had been set up in April 1830, when an arbitration procedure for reviewing his accounts had been adopted, from then on it was accepted that after the appointed arbitrators had approved them, it was Babbage who was to pay the agreed sum.
He went on to say that on 8th February 1833 Messrs Donkin and Field had called at his workshops to examine all the parts of the Engine that had been made between 30th June and 31st December 1832. Having satisfied themselves an account was prepared by 20th February 1833 and delivered to Babbage soon afterwards. But, according to Clement, Babbage had said that he refused to present this account to the Treasury unless he, Clement, made some proposition to them regarding the removal of his business to the new premises. Clement said he wished to decline this pressing Babbage instead to settle his account. After he had said this Clement reported that Babbage had told him that from then onwards he would refuse to advance or pay him a single shilling.
Clement now asked the Treasury whether it was their wish to continue with the project. He also said that he had asked Babbage whether the machine was the Government's or Babbage's property, reporting that Babbage had again refused to answer that question, replying that he had no authority to discuss it. Clement told the Treasury that he had therefore written to Babbage saying that unless his account was settled in full and unless he received a full declaration of who was responsible for the project that work would cease on the 30th March 1833. No arrangement was made and therefore work had stopped.
Clement said that he understood that the Treasury was still refusing to pay his account if he did not remove the finished parts of the Engine to the fireproof building. He now said he was anxious to receive payments for both the work done between 30th June and 31st December 1832, and also for work done in the period after. As Donkin and Field had examined and approved his account up to 31st December 1832 he asked whether the Treasury would oblige by settling that one straightaway.
With respect for the work done after 31st December he suggested that, as Donkin and Field were both very busy men and had been unpaid for their services, that then onwards two arbitrators paid by each party be appointed in their stead to review and approve the later account. That completed he agreed to move whatever finished parts and drawings which would not interfere with the progress of the Engine. Once this was done he hoped the Treasury would settle this last account.
He then went on to say that, if the Treasury were willing, he would continue under Babbage's superintendence at his manufactory in Prospect Place, delivering the finished parts to the new premises after they were made and after they had been examined and passed by the arbitrating engineers. And then when the whole was finished he agreed to assemble the whole machine at its new accommodation.
He further proposed that thereafter two engineers should be appointed, paid for by each party, to examine the progress made and prepare the account every three months. That the account was to be reviewed within a month of its being made and that a complete settlement should be made immediately afterwards, if the engineers agreed to it. And if they did not it was to be submitted to a third for arbitration. That no one thereafter would to be legally justified in withholding payment.
Clement further warned the Treasury that he was not liable to replace any part that might be destroyed by fire.
29 July 1833
Babbage reported to the Treasury that he had had an unsatisfactory meeting with Clement after their letter to him of 29th May 1833. As a result he had asked Clement to express his views in writing.
8/9 August 1833
Marc Isambard Brunel recommended that Babbage consider an alternative workman to Clement suggesting a man called Spiller. Advised him to be absolutely firm with Clement: to make no payments until all the components etc. were brought into a safe fire-proof place.
17 August 1833
Treasury demanded Babbage take the necessary steps for the removal of the completed drawings etc. to the new building.
With respect to Clement the Treasury ignored some of his requests, saying that they preferred to continue to use the free services of Donkin and Field as arbitrators. Neither did they answer all his questions. They did, however, agree to pay him his account up to the 31st December 1832 (without him having to transfer any of finished parts or drawings to the new premises) and told him that they would consider payment for the account for the later period, after he had complied with their request to move those parts which could be removed without impeding progress on the machine to the fireproof premises.
25 August 1833
C. G. Jarvis wrote to Babbage suggesting a new arrangement for the work. That if the Engine was to be finished within a reasonable amount of time, all the designs and drawings ought to be undertaken at Babbage's home under his immediate supervision. Time wasted because of Babbage's absence could thus be minimised. And any working drawing or works order made from them could then be sent out to several different workshops so that the various parts of the Engine could be made at the same time. He continued by saying that the calculating part was the only part in which anything of consequence had been done. That it was the simpler when compared with printing department; the latter whose arrangements, construction and settings were far more difficult to comprehend. He warned Babbage that he personally might be out of the country by the time work recommenced on the engine.
11 September 1833
Jarvis wrote to Babbage. He realised that Babbage was of a mind to want to complete the engine and that Clement was probably bound in justice to construct it if requested, as he has all the specially made tools necessary for the job. But he warned Babbage that he could not be expected to make any personal sacrifice just because he was the draughtsman. He pointed out that all the praise would attach to Clement on its completion and little or none to him as an employee. He did not want to degrade himself.
4 December 1833
Babbage ordered Clement, as preparations for removal of the engine were complete, to carry out the following instructions:
To move all parts of the engine except the large platform for the calculating end and the large columns; all the drawings, (the 27 still attached to drawing boards were not be taken off them, Clement was to include cost of the boards if necessary); all the rough sketches, small notebook on contrivances determined upon and the several loose sheets of mechanical notations of the Engine; and all the patterns from which castings had been made and thus were no longer required.
He was also to oil all the parts made of steel and pack them to avoid rust and to supply a list of the parts remaining at his workshop, but belonging to the Government.
30 January, 1834
Clement wrote to the Treasury telling them that everything was ready for removal. He explained that would be more convenient to him if those parts that were made during the period from end 1832 to March 1833, which were still unpaid for, were examined at his workshop before they were packed.
8 February 1834
Treasury wrote to Babbage asking him to apply to Messrs Donkin and Field to examine Clement's accounts. They also asked him to prepare to satisfy himself all was in order when delivery to the new premises was made.
10 February 1834
Babbage wrote to the Treasury explaining that heating was wanted for the new premises, rates and taxes on it needed to be paid for and a watchman was required.
Treasury replied explaining that they would direct the Office of Woods and Forests to take charge of the building and arrange a budget to charge costs of it to.
14 February 1834
Babbage wrote to Donkin asking him to arrange a mutually convenient time with Field to examine Clement's accounts.
6 July 1834
Babbage wrote to Donkin asking him and Field to inspect the content of boxes against Clement's list now that they had at last been delivered to the new premises. This was required urgently as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Lansdowne wished to see the Engine and Babbage did not want to open the boxes or touch anything till the inspection had been done and the list checked.
8 July 1834
Babbage asked Field with Donkin (see above) to compare Clement's list with the content of the boxes in Clement's presence.
16 July 1834
Babbage explained to the Treasury that all the completed parts of the engine had now been safely delivered to the new premises. Would they give him further instructions.
That same day Lord Grey's administration fell and Lord Melbourne was appointed Prime Minister. Viscount Althorp continued as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
During the latter half of 1833 Babbage and his son had helped Dr Dionysius Lardner, a well-known populariser of science, prepare visual aids and other materials for a lecture on the Difference Engine. He had shown an interest in the subject for some years. Lardner's planned lecture tour took place during the first half of 1834. He visited many of the major industrial cities of England, presenting his talk at the various Mechanical Institutes and also the various premises of the Royal Institution. His lectures were well received. In July 1834 a long article by him on the Engine appeared in the Edinburgh Review. In it he complained of the lack of attention that the Government were giving Babbage and his Engine.
In August 1834 Clement received his last payment from the Treasury after Babbage had confirmed that their demands had at last been fulfilled. The Government's total outlay on Difference Engine No. 1 had, by that time, been £15,288-1s-4d on the development and engineering work and a further £2190-13s-6d for the special buildings.
In September Babbage wrote to Lord Melbourne to ask what was to be done, urging him to come and see for himself the state of the machine. Lord Melbourne replied that he would very much like to. But Babbage was out of town at the time when his letter arrived, presumably attending the funeral of his daughter in Worcester. Thereafter, Melbourne was too busy to deal with the matter, and in December 1834 his Government fell: Viscount Althorp had been raised to the peerage following the death of his father and the king had used this as an excuse to dismiss Melbourne. The reins of power passed into the hands of Sir Robert Peel.
In December 1834 Babbage wrote to the Duke of Wellington asking him to take up the matter with Sir Robert Peel, as he felt that the latter might not be sympathetic towards him. The Duke asked Babbage to make his wishes and objects more clearly known in written form. As a result, on 24th December 1834, Babbage drew up a long statement of the circumstances of the Difference Engine addressing it to the Duke. In it he explained that he had taken up the project some thirteen years previously at the wish of the then Government. They had agreed to sponsor it because it was of a nature such that it would not a profitable scheme for private enterprise to consider; rather it was very important for a country, which had a large fleet of ships, to add to its security by having error-free astronomical and nautical tables. This, Babbage thought, were statesmanlike reasons. Neither had it been taken up as a personal favour to Babbage, even though he was of liberal principles, but more for the benefit of the country.
At that time Babbage considered that the project would only last two perhaps three years. With that in mind it did not occur to him to charge a fee for his services or demand any honour. As it turned out, however, he was to work on it for above 10 years amid considerable difficulties in the attempt to complete it. Six governments had come and gone during that time; he had communicated with them all about the work, but found that he had several times to fund the project using his own money and resources to prevent delays which would have otherwise occurred, whilst waiting for the Treasury to act. Now work had ceased altogether, after he had refused to make any further advances out of his own monies to Clement.
Babbage complained that both he and his engine had been ignored both by the Government and the nation at large. He told the Duke that during its construction he had spared no expense looking for manufacturing techniques to improve the Engine. He had traversed the whole of Europe in the search for these. Many novel devices had subsequently been incorporated in it design. He had even written a book, Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, describing many of his findings; this had since been translated into many languages. Consequently it was to be noted that many European governments were not unaware of the project. He went on to explain that he had also turned down a number of offers for positions of considerable reward in the City, e.g. one in 1824, which would have paid him a salary of £2,000 p.a. (as an actuary in a life assurance house), because he felt honour- bound to devote all his energies to complete the Engine. In 1832, when all the designs for the Engine had been completed, he had constructed a small test engine. This worked perfectly, fully demonstrating he would have been able to meet all that he originally promised and more. After this he had expected some recognition from Government for all his labours, even though he had not been promised any. After all this model represented the first example ever of the conversion of mental into mechanical processes.
Neither had Government protected him from public criticism. Both Tories and Radicals had claimed he had been pocketting public money, whereas the real truth was the complete opposite. Other countries, even the smallest in Europe, would have paid more attention. Of the seven prime ministers that had been in post since the commencement of the project only he, the Duke of Wellington, had been to see for himself the progress being made and appreciated the worth of the Engine.
Babbage went on to report that 12,000 parts had been made, that the drawings had four months previously been deposited in a fireproof building, and that the buildings to receive the completed engine, workshops and a house for the superintendent of the Engine were all finished and ready. He then outlined four ways the Government could proceed:
a) To continue as before with the same engineer (Clement).
Babbage thought this option was really a practical impossibility. Circumstances had arisen over which the Government and he had no control, which rendered it highly inexpedient. (Viz. difficulties of dealing with Clement and the fact that Clement's staff and their skills had since dispersed all over the country to other workshops). He said he would probably be willing to continue on this basis, if that were the only course open, although he construed that to be the worst possible interpretation of the agreement which he had made with Government at the start of the project. Rather he preferred to dismiss this option altogether.
b) To appoint another competent engineer to complete the work.
Babbage said that he had spent some time reflecting on this and concluded that it was feasible; moreover it might well prove to be less expensive and that the engine could probably be completed more quickly. But it would also involve him in further personal sacrifices, which, after what he had already experienced, he did not think he was under any obligation to make. He was ready to explain his reasonings and the means by which Government could complete the Engine, and to consider, in this respect, any proposition the Government might make, but would not suggest any himself.
c) To appoint another person to oversee the project in his place using his designs and drawings to complete the engine.
Again he considered that this was a feasible option, but that the Government would probably think that inexpedient. If, however, they thought otherwise, he said that would be ready and willing to transfer the engine to anyone they chose to nominate.
d) Government could decide to give up the project altogether, even though this might expose them to some political criticism in Parliament, as it might be considered that a large sum of public money (some £20,000) had be squandered in some useless and absurd speculation.
Babbage presumed that both political parties would want to be rid of their portion of the blame for it and that eventually they would unite in using him as their scape-goat. He remarked he had experienced the injustice of his countrymen before and would not shrink from it again.
He then alluded to the fact that, in the meantime, he had invented an altogether new calculating engine. It was difficult for him to explain his feelings and motives, but for the two years since work had stopped on the old engine he had been deprived of the drawings. Four months earlier they had been returned to him. He then had proceeded to re-examine and criticise every part. This exercise had resulted in his being able to create a completely new machine in which every part was novel and none of which was used in the original engine. Although it exceeded in power the old one he explained that it was not intended to supersede it, but rather to extend its power and utility. He intended for the time being to give up all other pursuits and devote all his energies and efforts to the development of the new engine.
He had hired a competent draughtsman (C.G. Jarvis) and had advanced considerably with the drawings. The great mechanical principles on which it depended and the contrivances which controlled its action had already been decided upon. It was his intention to proceed to finish the drawings in such a manner that the whole invention of the new engine would be complete and susceptible of being executed at a later period. But whether he would personally be able to afford to construct such a machine, as his own private resources had been injured by the sacrifices he had made on the former one, was not certain. He warned that it was not inconceivable that another country forming a different estimate of it value and utility might approach him. Furthermore it was to be noted that he was within his absolute rights to dispose of his invention as he saw fit. In the event he would collect together all that was best in British industry, both methods and processes, which, by this means, skills and knowledge would be transferred to that other country to its benefit, more valuable than the engine itself perhaps in promoting its industry.
He went on to remark that the men who had formerly been employed on the engine and who had since scattered to the various industrial centres around the country, they received higher wages than other workmen as a result of having worked on the Engine.
But Babbage could not make any claim on the Government as he had not originally agreed to any. If it had cost the Government some £20,000, then it had cost him a great deal more in lost income. All Babbage wanted was a decision as soon as was possible on the future of the engine as new arrangements were necessary.
The Duke of Wellington acknowledged receipt of the statement, but said he personally could not act. Nothing further took place for three months. In March 1835 Babbage was advised by his friend, Benjamin Hawes MP, once again to approach the Government as it was of a reforming character. In April 1835 he wrote to Sir Robert Peel enclosing a copy of his statement to the Duke of Wellington. But this time Sir Robert Peel's Government also fell and once again Lord Melbourne's was back in. Babbage's papers were thus passed to Thomas Spring-Rice, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, (a Cambridge man and an acquaintance of Babbage's from previous elections which had been held in that city) to deal with.
In May 1835 Spring-Rice announced to Parliament that the Government proposed to spend another £1500 on the project; note, no consultation had taken place with Babbage on the real amount required. Be that as it may, Parliament refused to sanction this until a review by the Royal Society of the project had been undertaken. They probably made this suggestion as the Royal Society had in the past been asked to advise various Governments (in 1823, 1829 and 1831) what to do. Babbage, however, disagreed. He asked for a personal meeting with Spring-Rice to explain his views. At that meeting (held on 26th May 1835) he told the chancellor that he thought the Royal Society was not a suitable agency on which to rely for opinions on his engine as:
a) they were not workmen
b) the process would take too long and cause another three months delay
c) Some FRS's were either hostile to him or jealous of his abilities
He also tried to explain the causes of the delay.
Clement was a slow worker. It was in his interest to cause delay. That he was obstinant in his refusal to allow Babbage to have the drawings for a year and a half. He had made excessive demands on the Government to ensure that work was retained at his premises in Prospect Place. That everyone who had come into contact with him was discontented with him. And that the Engine itself was completely new and quite unlike all previous machines.
Babbage suggested several ways forward
The tools should now be kept at his house
The Government should appoint Jarvis to superintend and make it his interest to complete the work.
In place of the Royal Society a committee of professional engineers should be appointed to review the engine: he proposed Rennie, Cubitt and Brunel.
However it seems that Spring-Rice did nothing after this meeting.
In November 1835, Jarvis, Babbage's draughtsman, was offered a job overseas (in France on a railway project) at a very lucrative salary. Babbage tried to contact the Government warning them of their pending loss if they did not continue to employ Jarvis, who had acquired all the knowledge and skill associated with the engine. Spring-Rice, however, was out of town at that time. Babbage, therefore, who had already hired Jarvis on his own account to work on the designs for the Analytical Engine drew up a new contract with him, paying him a guinea for an eight hour day and binding him not to leave his employment without giving some considerable period of notice, six months.
In January 1836 Spring-Rice's private secretary acknowledged receipt of Babbage's letter, explaining that Spring-Rice had been out of town unwell. He reminded him that Babbage had not yet agreed to make his statement to the Duke of Wellington an official communication, i.e. have it registered by the Treasury. Until that had been agreed the Government could not really act upon it. Babbage, if he preferred, could draw up an alternative statement. But he also added that as Babbage had invented another more powerful engine was he asking the Government to sponsor that instead. He again raised the issue that Parliament had asked the Chancellor to arrange for the Royal Society to investigate the progress made on the machine and how long it might be before it could be expected to be completed, and that this was the course he expected to pursue.
Thus it seems that Babbage had confused Spring-Rice, by mentioning the newly invented Engine. Even though Babbage was at pains to explain to the Chancellor that the old Engine would still work and work as well as he had always promised, the invention of the new one probably killed the credibility of the former engine in the mind of the politician. Indeed Babbage was, later on during 1836, looking at the possible development of a new form of difference engine based on the principles he had developed during the previous two years whilst working on the Analytical Engine. In his reply to Spring-Rice he had mentioned that it would probably be cheaper to scrap the old engine, and begin again using the new principles rather than continue work on the old one. This confronted the politician with a quandary: could the Government face the criticism of having wasted thousands of pounds of public money by scrapping the old engine? or should they invest in a completely new one, also likely to cost thousands of pounds? It seems that members of Melbourne's Government had not got the moral strength to cope with such dilemmas. Nothing more was heard from them for two years.
Babbage once again tried, in July 1838, to get Lord Melbourne and his Government to arrive at a decision on the Difference Engine, reminding them that if the decision had been made more difficult it was because they had delayed in coming to one. Again Spring-Rice replied asking Babbage what did he want the Government to consider. He thought that the House of Commons would object strongly if the old machine were abandoned and the new one started. He asked Babbage to cost both proposals.
Babbage replied that there was some confusion. It was only expressed his opinion that it would cost less to throw the old machine away and adopt the new one. He explained that he had not applied to the Government to construct the new engine, but merely thought his duty to mention that it existed. He went on to say that he did not consider himself sufficiently expert enough to cost the proposals. What he really wanted was a decision on whether he should continue to superintend the construction of the old engine or discontinue altogether. Melbourne's Government, however, did not seem to have given Babbage an answer to this.
Melbourne's Government fell in late 1841. In January 1842 Babbage once again wrote to Sir Robert Peel, the new Prime Minister, to ask what was to be done about the Difference Engine. Peel was in fact familiar with the project since its conception. He had been approached by Gilbert Davies for support for the project early in March 1823, but was known not to be very sympathetic to it.
But again Peel was too busy to deal with the matter personally. Sir George Clerk, Secretary of the Treasury, was directed to respond to Babbage. In a letter to Babbage Clerk once again raised the issue whether he was asking the Government to decide between completing the old Engine or constructing a new one based on the simpler principles, which he said Babbage had suggested the cost of which would not exceed that required to finish the old one. Babbage explained to him that the question he wanted decided was exactly the same as that he had posed earlier to Lord Melbourne in 1838, that Clerk's assessment of the cost of completing the old Engine (£8000) was misleading based on old reports made by the Royal Society, which were not accurate. In his opinion it would cost as much as had already been spent, ca £14,000 to £17,000. By July Babbage was getting impatient as he still had not received an answer.
In September of that year, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Henry Goulburn, asked the two most eminent astronomers in the country, G.B. Airy the Astronomer Royal and Babbage's old friend Sir John Herschel, on what they believed the utility of continuing work on the project might be. The first replied thinking it was humbug and a waste of public money. Neither was the latter particularly enthusiastic as he might have been expected to be, adopting a rather cautious point of view in his reply: he urged the Government to consider its value as measured by its utility. That the £16,000 suggested should be cost-benefitted against its likely output. It seems that these opinions were kept secret from Babbage.
Babbage approached a former Cambridge acquaintance, Sir William Follet, who was closely connected with members of Peel's Government to negotiate a better deal for himself with the Government. Babbage had remembered that during one of the Duke of Wellington's visits to Clement's workshop, of which he had made several, the only Prime Minister to have done so personally, the Duke had suggested to him that when the Engine was complete he might apply to Parliament for a reward. Lord Ashley confirmed that there had been some such kind of understanding. This promise, alas, had not been recorded.
Neither was it kept. On 3rd November 1842 Babbage was told by Goulburn that the Government had decided to abandon the project, on the grounds that they considered it too expensive to complete. He offered Babbage to keep the parts of the Engine that already made, 'in the cause of science'. Babbage declined this. On 11th November Babbage managed to secure a personal meeting with Peel on the matter of his reward. Babbage felt hurt that he had been left out amongst all his friends and colleagues, who, over the years, had been given titles, honorary appointments and emoluments for what seemed to him to be less public work than he had contributed. Peel did not agree with him. A row ensued during the meeting, leading to Babbage walking out on Peel.
As it happened Babbage purchased the parts of the old Engine at their scrap metal value from the Government out of monies they owed him for maintenance of the premises that had been built for the engine. These latter the Government arranged to be let, Babbage taking the Engine House as his workshop and another engineer taking the Workshops that had been erected. The principal drawings and the 1832 fragment were transferred to the King's College museum in the Summer of 1843.
2. Other Reasons for Failure
a) Poor Organisation of the Treasury
The Treasury was overworked and understaffed at that time with respect to the volume of work it was expected to undertake. During the period when the work on the Engine was in progress the Treasury itself was handling well over 25,000 registered items per year. Each of these had to be dealt with by the Board individually. There appeared to be little delegation of responsibility in the department. No individual item could be given the time or consideration it deserved.
Indeed the project was probably taken up by the wrong Government agency. It should really have been placed under the auspices of the Board of Longitude or the Admiralty from the start.
There was a complete lack of the definition of roles, responsibilities, authorities etc. at the project's commencement. These all had to be worked out as it progressed. For instance, Government sponsorship for the project started in 1823, but it was not until 1830 that it was clear that they owned the Difference Engine
Moreover the Treasury was staffed by clerks. None of their people had the skills needed to supervise the project. No one person in the Treasury was given that specific responsibility. There was a total lack of provision of proper financial planning and management by the civil servants, especially at the outset. During its progress there was a total lack of project management practised by the Treasury. The auditors they employed carried out little more than a book-keeping exercise, merely confirming the amounts spent. They, in particular, failed to provide the decision-makers on the Board with the information needed, on the stage the work had reached or the likely future expenditure on the project.
Indeed the Government seemed to have abrogated several of its management responsibilities, handing many of these over to the Royal Society, and expecting them to make their decisions for them. In consequence the Treasury failed to provide a proper cash base and working capital for the project. All payments they made in arrears. As a result there was a lack of cash flow. This exacerbated the problems and difficulties Babbage had in his relations with his engineer and caused the crisis which terminated the project.
No one in Government, except for perhaps the Duke of Wellington, championed the project. There were no real scientists in Government and few in Society. Moreover none of the Governments of the period were particularly stable. There was little continuity in personages at the top of each. Babbage really ought to have restated the benefits derivable from the engine to each government as it was installed. He failed to do so. The project went on for too long. Babbage presumably lost interest after the Analytical Engine was invented, though he probably felt honour-bound to complete the Difference Engine if he were asked to.
b) Clement's Monopoly of Production
Babbage having more or less decided to employ Clement as the sole engineer on the project and the latter having been allowed to work on it for a very long time, meant that Clement, in effect, gained a full monopoly over its production. Clement probably was aware of this and charged a much higher rate for his services than if the construction of the parts for the Difference Engine had been let in open competition.
This perhaps did not matter much as long as it was intended that Clement should complete the job. But as soon as a contractual difficulty arose between Babbage and Clement then this issue became of fundamental importance to its outcome.
In those days there was no such thing as precise standard measures in use in Britain, no accurate official inch or foot. Accurate national standards in these were not to be established till later on in the 19th century. At that time each workshop more or less had its own benchmarks. The parts made for the Difference Engine had all been more or less adjusted to Clement's own standards, and machined using his tools and techniques. The drawings and so on were all made using his rulers. The calibration marks on these latter, their having probably been hand-made, were not necessarily exactly the same as those to be found in other workshops. Of course Clement owned his own tools, even those made for the production of the Difference Engine at the Government's expense: this was the custom and practice of the trade. The calibration of the machines and tools used in other workshops may have been close to Clement's, but probably not near enough the same. Thus parts for the Difference Engine, had they been made in another workshop, would probably not have fitted together well enough with those that had been made in Clement's. Therefore it was not practical for another workshop to take over the work after it had been abandoned, without having to remake a large number of its parts.
In reality, however further research is required to establish whether there is any significant truth in this and to identify where this consideration might have been critical to the outcome of the Difference Engine had historically Babbage taken an alternative course and let the project to another workshop.
Other workmen did, in fact, offer to take on the work, even at a cheaper rate than Clement (cf. Wright's, a former employee of Clement's, offer: some of his tools had been made in Clement's workshop and he claimed that they were close enough to Clement's standards). Sir Marc Isambard Brunel even suggested a workman by the name of Spiller should take up the work. Babbage even interviewed him. Their offers, however, were not taken up. Though Babbage probably considered them very carefully, before turning them down. Babbage wanted Jarvis, Clement's former principal draughtsman, to manage the completion if work were to have been resumed.
c) Lack of Formal Contract for Project
Clement was a pretty stubborn business man. He had made a success of his career and come up the hard way. He was a northcountry man, who had come to London to make his fortune. He had worked in Henry Maudslay's workshop for a number of years before striking out on his own. Babbage's project was the biggest and most expensive contract he ever undertook.
But Babbage, in fact, had not drawn up a formal written contract with him, and thus there were no penalty clauses for delays, no rewards for progressing the engine towards completion. Clement was not motivated financially to complete the job. It suited him to carry out the work at his own pace.
If blame is to be apportioned, however, then it was really the Government's fault that they didn't press for a formal contract. It was their responsibility to have insisted on one being prepared once it became clear that the engine was their property.
d) Clement's Illnesses
Clement was frequently very ill during the early 1830s. His illnesses caused several disruptions to the progress of the project. These combined with the pressures of work may have contributed to his volatility of temperament, especially when dealing with a person such as Babbage.
e) Babbage's Own Theory: Conspiracy, Misinformation
It is not surprising that Babbage formed his own opinions on why the project failed. He believed that the public had been misinformed about his project. He experienced some of their incredulence in the form of heckling on the hustings at Finsbury during those elections in which he had stood for Parliament and lost. The public believed that he had squandered and/or pocket the money for the project.
Babbage had his own theory why the Government lost interest in the project. He sensed there had been a conspiracy of fairly well-connected scientists working against him, who had spread false rumours and misinformation about the project, contending that they believed it to be a humbug and sowing seeds of discontent and dissension amongst the scientific community. Babbage became quite paranoic about this connivance, developing a strong persecution complex over it. The two persons he suspected most (and he had received several confirmatory reports of it from his friends) were Sir G. B. Airy (the Astronomer Royal) and the Revd R. Sheepshanks (later Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society), both persons whom one might expect to be very enthusiastic about the success of the project's outcome. But both were the sworn enemies of Sir James South. They had been used as expert witnesses at a case, an arbitration between Troughton & Simms and South, involving the failure of the mounting of latter's equatorial telescope to operate properly. The former gentlemen had been responsible for constructing it. Sir James was trying to make a claim. Babbage had taken up Sir James' side in the issue and used his influence to embarrass the two astronomers. They probably decided to do their utmost to ruin Babbage's reputation in whatever manner seemed suitable.
f) Instruction to Perfect Engine
Lastly Babbage, at the very beginning of the project, had been given the instruction by the Treasury the wording of which was "to perfect the Engine". He probably took this direction too literally. Instead of concentrating on developing a working engine with more limited capabilities and facilities, one which might have been completed much earlier. Babbage, being the sort of person he was, spent too much of his time and effort ever trying to perfect and improve the principles of the Engine, its features and its operations.
West HampsteadNovember 1990