M2694.1-3 | Sextant

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John Bird, 1709-1776
1756-1772, 18th century
39.5 x 45 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Quadrant (1)
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Keys to History

The sextant was an indispensable tool for explorers, enabling sailors to ascertain the position of the ship on the sea, relying on the horizon line and the position of the Sun or another planet.

  • What

    The word sextant refers to the sixty degrees that appear on the base of the instrument, which serve to calculate the longitude and latitude.

  • Where

    This sextant was made in England and was probably used during an expedition to the polar regions.

  • When

    The invention of the sextant dates back to the 1700s. It is in fact an improvement on another instrument, called the quadrant, invented simultaneously in the year 1731 by two different people, the Englishman John Hadley (1709-1776) and the American optician Thomas Godfrey (1704-1749).

  • Who

    This sextant was made by John Bird (1709-1776), an English instrument maker noted for the precision of his work.