Biography of Nauscopy Creator Monsieur Bottineau Part 1

About the nauscopy creator Monsieur Bottineau, biography and history of the man who discovered the science of ship spotting based on atmosphere conditions on the horizon.


The Man with No Horizon

Bottineau's private life was as mysterious as his talent. We do not even know his first name, but he was born somewhere in France around 1740. In 1762, after signing on as a sailor "in an inferior situation" in the French navy, it occurred to him that "a vessel approaching land must produce a certain effect on the atmosphere, and cause the approach to be discovered by a practiced eye even before the vessel itself was visible."

In 1764 his job took him to the Ile de France (now Mauritius), and he found himself with considerable free time to investigate his theory more thoroughly. The conditions on the island were ideal for his purpose. Due to a clear sky, a pure atmosphere, and fewer passing vessels than along the coast of France, there was less chance of error. After six months of intensive experimentation, he found the secret of seeing beyond the horizon and called his science nauscopy.

At first Bottineau used his newly developed skill to acquire considerable sums of money by betting the other crew members that he could predict the arrival of one or more vessels and also name the day those vessels would appear. He refined his talent to such a degree that he could accurately "see" a ship three sailing days away beyond the horizon. Because of his uncanny success, he soon had trouble finding someone who would gamble with him, but he did gain a considerable reputation for having astounding vision.

He made no secret of how he discovered ships when they were still below the horizon. He could "see" the effect their movement had on the atmosphere. He reasoned quite logically that all movement by an object must disturb the air and leave telltale fingerprints in the sky. What he had done was learn how to detect and interpret them with the naked eye. Unfortunately, he did not teach his technique to others.

Between 1778 and 1782, Bottineau correctly forecast the arrival of 575 ships to the island; some of them he predicted as much as four days before they actually were sighted. Occasionally, it was thought that he had lost his skill when ships he said would be arriving failed to turn up. Invariably, it was found that at the last moment the ships had changed course and gone to another port.

On May 15, 1782, the minister of marine instructed the governor of the Ile de France to record Bottineau's predictions of ship arrivals in a register. For two years Bottineau successfully sighted ships two or three days before they arrived in port, and all this was recorded. At the end of the experiment, he was offered a lump sum of 10,000 livres and a pension of 1,200 livres a year for life in exchange for his secret. He rejected the offer.

The full military application of his mysterious talent was first recognized when he informed the governor of the approach of 11 foreign vessels. In the uneasy political climate of the day, the governor dispatched a warship as a lookout, but after it left, Bottineau observed that the atmosphere had changed; it was therefore obvious that the foreign fleet had set course for another destination. On its return, the French warship confirmed Bottineau's theory.

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