Chapter 2: Hampden and the Old Bedford Canal

On March 5, 1870, a small grim-faced party, principals and seconds, met near the end of the Old Bedford Canal, 80 miles north of London.  There was no possibility of reconciliation; gleaming instruments were removed from felt-lined cases, and they proceeded to the task at hand.  One principal was Alfred Russel Wallace, the renowned naturalist who shared with Darwin the discovery of evolution by natural selection; the other was John Hampden.  Their purpose was not to fight a duel, but to settle a £500 bet about the shape of the earth.  Hampden swore roundly that the earth is flat; Wallace said flatly that it is round. [ref. 2.1]  Each confidently expected to pluck a £500 pigeon. [note 2.1] 

On this historic Saturday morning, the flat-earth movement was hardly yet a movement, despite two decades of public lectures by “Parallax.” Most respectable Britons had managed to ignore the flat-earthers, although Augustus De Morgan had satirized the zetetics in his “Budget of Paradoxes” column in the Athenæum magazine, and provincial newspapers reviewed lectures by “Parallax,” sometimes favorably.  While “Parallax” undoubtedly had many converts in the provinces, only two were real activists.  William Carpenter, whom we met in the last chapter, had written his “Common Sense” works a few years previously.  John Hampden had just appeared on the scene.  The flat-earth movement badly needed two things, public exposure and a rallying cry to unify the scattered faithful.  The Bedford Canal experiment would provide both for the next thirty years. 

John Hampden, history’s most colorful zetetic, was born in 1819 or 1820.  His father, Reverend John Hampden, a Church of England clergyman, was related to a powerful churchman, Bishop Renn Dickson Hampden.  When young John was ten years old, his father was made rector of Hinton Martel in Dorset, where he wrote a strange commentary on the prophecies of Daniel.  At age 19, young John left Dorset to attend St. Mary Hall of Oxford University, matriculating on February 14, 1839.  He apparently dropped out without graduating.  He didn’t really need a university education.  A gentleman of comfortable means, he could devote himself to whatever pursuits interested him. [ref. 2.2] 

Whatever adventures John Hampden had during the 30 years after he entered Oxford are lost to history.  He married and fathered children—at least a son and a daughter—but his writings contain few hints of his other activities.  Somewhere, perhaps from his father, he acquired a literalist view of the Bible.  In mid-19th century England, many orthodox Christians perceived the recently established uniformitarian geology and the new-fangled theory of evolution by natural selection as assaults on the Bible.  Hampden was one of these. 

Hampden lived in Swindon, 77¼ miles west of London station on the Great Western Railway.  Bristol lies about 30 miles to the west and, swinging an arc counterclockwise, Bath, Trowbridge, and (due south) the ancient Stonehenge monument.  Situated on a hill overlooking White Horse Vale and the chalk uplands of Marlborough, Old Swindon was a market town with a church, a market hall, a town hall, and a corn exchange.  New Swindon was a child of the railroad, a major junction point for western England and site of a locomotive works and railway car factory.  Together, Old and New Swindon comprised a grubby but bustling town of about 20,000. 

In 1869, Hampden chanced upon a copy of Rowbotham’s Earth Not a Globe.  He thought it an able refutation of Copernicus and Newton.  The Bible says the earth has foundations, and here was proof.  The earth isn’t a ball, spinning giddily through space, but is a flat, immovable plane, with the north pole at the center and no south pole.  The sun is small, and circles above the earth at a comfortably close distance.  When Joshua ordered the sun to stand still, it halted until he let it move again.  All the supposed proofs of the earth’s rotundity—eclipses, sunset, ships apparently disappearing over the horizon—were explained away.  Hampden was converted at the first reading. 

The excited convert rushed forth to reshape the world.  Discovering Carpenter’s “Common Sense” works, he wrote to the author and arranged to buy up the remaining stock of Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed, and also the copyright, for which he paid £100. [ref. 2.3]  He also sought out “Parallax” (Rowbotham) and got permission to publish a pamphlet of extracts from Earth Not a Globe.  This pamphlet, entitled The Popularity of Error, and the Unpopularity of Truth, was apparently Hampden’s first publication.  It is a curious mixture, with Hampden sometimes speaking for himself and sometimes presenting extracts from “Parallax.”

In one respect, Hampden’s pamphlet broke new ground.  Rowbotham (as “Parallax”) and Carpenter (as “Common Sense”) were generally circumspect in their language.  Not Hampden!  He lambasted Newtonian astronomy:

But I have not the patience to “answer fools according to their folly,” or I might proceed to expose the absurdity of every theory which has been devised to bolster up this preposterous system of Sir Isaac Newton and his predecessor, Copernicus, endorsed and accepted by men wise in their own conceits, but sheer infidels when brought to the test of Scripture.  The Word of the living God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, does not give the slightest shadow of authority in support of such a notion. [ref. 2.4] 

The crux of the matter for Hampden was astronomy’s inconsistency with a literal reading of the Bible.  Especially glaring was the alleged motion of the earth around the sun:

Both Isaiah, Job, Solomon, and David, in all their references to the Sun and to the Earth, speak of the motion of the one and the immobility of the other.  So does every writer, from Moses to John of Patmos.  Dare we, then, venture to accuse these inspired historians of ignorance, or rather of making statements directly contrary to the evidence of their senses?  No!  May our united answer be, “Let God be true, and every man a liar” who speaks not according to His word. [ref. 2.5] 

Furthermore, the scriptural problems extended beyond mere astronomy.  Hampden was convinced, for instance, that the universal Deluge recorded in Genesis, with its rains falling from the windows of heaven, could not have occurred on a spherical earth:

If the Earth be indeed a globe, then the whole history of the flood is palpably imperfect and untrue.  Unless the Earth were a Plane, Moses invented all the particulars connected with that event, from the beginning to the end. [ref. 2.6] 

Sharp language, contempt for conventional science, and a fierce Biblical literalism would be hallmarks of Hampden’s writing throughout his long public career.  Hampden was not one to sit still for nonsense. 

While he saw the value of Rowbotham’s writings and “Parallax” lectures, with their subtle jibes at scientists, Hampden saw that the scientific world was ignoring Rowbotham.  To confront scientific orthodoxy in a more direct fashion, he placed the following advertisement in the January 12, 1870 issue of Scientific Opinion:

The undersigned is willing to deposit from £50. to £500., on reciprocal terms, and defies all the philosophers, divines and scientific professors in the United Kingdom to prove the rotundity and revolution of the world from Scripture, from reason, or from fact.  He will acknowledge that he has forfeited his deposit, if his opponent can exhibit, to the satisfaction of any intelligent referee, a convex railway, river, canal, or lake.

John Hampden

Wallace accepted the challenge. 

Alfred Russel Wallace knew the world is round, for his studies of plants and animals had carried him round the world.  From 1848 to 1852, he had traveled in the Amazon jungle of South America, exploring and collecting plant and animal specimens.  On the voyage home, his ship sank, and Wallace’s priceless specimens went to permanent storage in Davy Jones’s Locker.  (Fortunately, he had sent some material ahead.) Wallace remained in England barely long enough to publish Travels in the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853).  During 1854 to 1862, he traveled in the Malay Archipelago, observing and collecting plants and animals.  His discoveries led him to formulate a theory of evolution by natural selection, and in 1858 he sent a paper describing his theory to Charles Darwin, who had been working on the same idea for 20 years.  Wallace’s paper and another by Darwin were read before the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, and Darwin, forced into action, finally published his Origin of Species the next year.  When Wallace returned to England again in 1862, this time with his collections intact, he found himself famous. 

By the time Hampden issued his challenge, Wallace had long settled into a more normal life.  In 1866, he had married 20-year-old Annie Mitten, daughter of botanist William Mitten, and they now had two children.  He had sold most of his Malaysian specimens and invested the money, and his financial situation looked secure.  He was 47, president of the Entomological Society, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, recipient of the Royal Medal (1868), and otherwise covered with scientific honors—not bad for a self-educated former land surveyor in a class-conscious society. 

Besides his scientific interests, Wallace was a socialist, spiritualist, and freelance do-gooder.  The latter quality led him into the wager.  The flat-earth movement offended Wallace’s missionary instincts.  He saw Hampden’s challenge as an opportunity to spike the flat-earth nonsense and, just incidentally, improve his bank balance.  He wrote to Sir Charles Lyell, father of modern geology, for advice on the matter.  On receiving a favorable reply, he wrote to Hampden and accepted the challenge. 

Wallace and Hampden made the arrangements for the experiment by correspondence.  Their goals, motives, and methods differed radically from the beginning.  Wallace wanted to spare Hampden public embarrassment, so he suggested a simple private demonstration.  Hampden wanted to publicly humiliate Wallace, and he refused vehemently.  Wallace suggested Bala Lake, in Wales, as an experimental site.  Hampden, however, was taking no chances.  In Earth Not a Globe, Rowbotham claimed he had performed experiments at the Old Bedford Canal which proved its surface flat, so Hampden recommended the canal to Wallace as a suitable place for the experiment.  As stakeholder and referee, Wallace suggested a man known to him only by his reputation for scrupulous fairness, John Henry Walsh, editor of the weekly country gentlemen’s paper, The Field.  Hampden agreed, but then he wrote to Wallace and asked to appoint a second referee.  Wallace replied:

Your wish to have a second referee is quite reasonable, and I accede to it at once, only stipulating that he shall not be a personal acquaintance of your own, and shall be a man in some public position as Editor, Author, Engineer, etc. [ref. 2.7] 

Hampden appointed one William Carpenter, journeyman printer and author! 

Wallace saw his mission clearly.  He would make a simple demonstration, collect the money, and leave the flat-earth movement in shambles.  Old Bedford Canal it would be.  Between Old Bedford Bridge [note 2.2]  and Welney Bridge, a 6-mile stretch of the canal ran straight and unobstructed.  It suited his purpose perfectly.  He described his proposal as follows:

The test I am going to use is very simple and conclusive.  I have prepared half-a-dozen signal posts each six feet long and with red and black circles attached to them, so as to be distinctly seen at a long distance.  I shall set these up a mile apart on the water’s edge, and then look along them with a powerful telescope.  If the water is straight and flat, the tops of these poles will of course be straight and flat, too … [ref. 2.8] 

Even allowing for atmospheric refraction, the center marker should appear elevated about 5 feet above the line of sight from bridge to bridge.  Nothing, it seemed, could be simpler. 

Hampden was even more confident.  Rowbotham’s works described several experiments similar to what Wallace proposed, some of them conducted on the very same stretch of the Old Bedford Canal.  Rowbotham claimed none of them detected any curvature in the waters of the canal.  It was all cut and dried.  Carpenter would observe Wallace’s humiliation and bring back the money.  Hampden himself would skip the experiment. 

The final agreement for the wager differed slightly from Hampden’s original challenge, so it was put into writing and signed by both parties:

The undersigned having each deposited the sum of £500. in Messrs. Coutts’ Bank, do hereby agree, that if Mr. Alfred R. Wallace, on or before the 15th day of March, 1870, proves the convexity or curvature, to and fro, of the surface of any canal, river, or lake, by actual demonstration and measurement, to the satisfaction of Mr. John Henry Walsh, of 346, Strand, London, and Mr. William Carpenter, of 7, Carlton Terrace, Thornford Road, Lewisham Park, London, (or, if they differ, to the satisfaction of the umpire they may appoint) the said Alfred R. Wallace is to receive the above-mentioned two sums amounting to £1000., by cheques drawn by Mr. John Henry Walsh to his and the said Alfred R. Wallace’s order;—and if the said Alfred R. Wallace fails to show actual proof of the convexity of any canal, river, or lake, the above-mentioned sums are to be paid in like manner to Mr. John Hampden.  Provided always that if no decision can be arrived at, owing to the death of either of the parties the wager is to be annulled, or if owing to the weather being so bad as to prevent a man being distinctly seen by a good telescope at a distance of four miles then a further period of one month is to be allowed for the experiment or longer as may be agreed upon by the referees. [ref. 2.9] 

Eventually all was ready.  At 5:00 p.m. Monday, February 28, Carpenter met Wallace at London’s Bishopsgate train station for the three-hour journey to Downham Market, near the Old Bedford Canal.  That morning, Carpenter had received a note from Hampden confirming his decision not to attend personally:

My Dear Sir,—As I am not disposed to travel so far, my printer, Mr. Bull, of Swindon, who is thoroughly with us, will attend for me.  It will I think be satisfactory to you to have some one to consult with and second any suggestions you may wish to make.  He is an exceedingly shrewd and clever little man, with heart and soul in the subject.  You will feel more confidence with him to refer to or consult with, otherwise you will be alone.  I do not know how many Mr. W. may bring.  Do not let them make it a drawn battle, which they may try and do.

J. Hampden  [ref. 2.10] 

Alfred Bull was not at Bishopsgate station, so Wallace and Carpenter journeyed together.  Upon arriving in Downham Market, Carpenter took a room at the widow Howe’s boarding house, and Wallace checked into the Crown Hotel.  Over dinner that evening, the two men discovered that they were both spiritualists. 

On Tuesday morning, Carpenter and Wallace rode the 2½ miles from Downham Market to the Old Bedford Bridge with five signal posts, a hatchet, and two assistants.  Each signal post was a long pole bearing two red disks with a black one between them.  The weather was appropriate for March 1—cold, grey, and damp.  Welney Bridge was not to be seen from Old Bedford Bridge on this day.  They set out on foot along the canal, placing a marker in the edge of the water every mile, with the center of the upper red disk 6 feet above the surface.  Lacking a surveyor’s chain, they paced off the distance as best they could.  Clumps of willows on the edge of the canal threatened to obstruct their view, and they disposed of these with the hatchet.  A bitter March wind blew directly into their faces.  Numerous drainage ditches emptied into the canal, obstructing their way, and Wallace fell into one of them.  When the shivering party finally got back to the Crown Hotel, Carpenter found a note waiting; Hampden had changed his mind and would come.  Later that evening, Walsh arrived. 

Hampden joined them on Wednesday morning, having arrived the previous evening and spent the night at a tradesman’s house.  The party was now complete, and they departed for Welney Bridge.  With them in the vehicle was a large astronomical telescope Wallace had borrowed in Brighton.  On the way, Carpenter pointed out to Walsh the Old Bedford Bridge and two wooden disks Wallace nailed to it the previous day. 

When they arrived at Welney, they found three barges moored in the canal near Welney Bridge.  Wallace set up his telescope on one them, while a score of Welney residents collected on the bridge to watch the proceedings.  Among his other talents, Carpenter was an expert in Pitman shorthand, and he recorded dialogue along with details of the proceedings:

Carpenter: Where is your level? 

Wallace: I’ve got a level, that’s all right. [ref. 2.11] 

Wallace and Walsh looked through the telescope at the line of markers.  With four men waltzing around on it, the barge kept shifting position at its moorings and had to be repositioned.  Carpenter was constantly underfoot, and several times bumped the tripod so that everything had to be realigned.  Pressed into service to hold a tripod leg in place, he kept letting go at inopportune times.  Wallace and Walsh were both satisfied with the view through the telescope, but Carpenter thought they gave conflicting reports.  He was very upset because the telescope was not level. 

Carpenter: It’s no use taking observations, Mr. Wallace, with a telescope not having cross-hairs. 

Wallace: Aha!  We’ve nothing whatever to do with cross-hairs, Mr. Carpenter! 

Carpenter: I beg your pardon, Mr. Wallace: you will find that you can do nothing without. [ref. 2.12] 

Finally, it was Carpenter’s turn to look through the telescope.  He recorded the following information:

Of five six-feet signals, surely enough, two only can be seen, each with its two red and one black circular discs, by the water’s edge; and whether they are the first and second, or first and third, is very doubtful.  Two red discs appear high up in a line with the centre of the white toll-board on the bridge: but what are they?  All the five signal-posts which we erected were six feet above the surface of the water, and the bottom of this white board is seven feet above it! [ref. 2.13] 

Of course, the curvature of the earth would make the center markers appear on a level with the distant toll-board, but Carpenter would hear nothing of that.  Besides, he had another explanation. 

Hampden sat passively on the next barge and watched.  Eventually, all agreed that the demonstration was inconclusive.  Hampden and the telescope rode back to Downham Market.  Carpenter, Wallace, and Walsh walked back to Old Bedford Bridge so that Walsh could see for himself the placement of the markers. 

They found that at least one signal had been knocked down and replaced—at the wrong height.  Others apparently were obscured by objects near the shore.  Wallace decided higher markers were necessary.  Indeed, a marker at each end and one in the middle would serve the purpose.  Carpenter insisted that valid observations could only be made with a surveyor’s level, so Wallace agreed to borrow one to mollify him. 

Walsh had to return to London the next day to finish work on Saturday’s issue of The Field, so Martin W. B. Coulcher, a local surgeon and amateur astronomer, was appointed substitute referee.  Wallace sent a man on horseback to measure the height of the parapet of Welney Bridge above the water; he reported 13 feet 3 inches.  Carpenter handed Wallace his notebook and asked him to make a sketch in it showing exactly what he intended to demonstrate this time.  Wallace obliged, grudgingly, Carpenter thought.  During the course of the evening, Carpenter noted that he was inclined to the flat opinion.  Relations were a bit strained after that, and conversation did not flow easily. 

On Thursday morning, Wallace set out for King’s Lynn, a marketing and seaport town at the mouth of the canal about ten miles north of Downham Market, where he hoped to borrow a surveyor’s level.  Carpenter and Hampden went along for the ride.  While the two flat-earthers amused themselves examining ornithological specimens at the King’s Lynn Athenæum, Wallace located a surveyor who would loan him a Troughton’s level, a fine instrument made by Stanley of Holborn. 

Friday was foggy, useless for their purpose, but Saturday dawned a fine day.  The little party met briefly and then split up.  Hampden and Coulcher went directly to Welney Bridge with the instruments.  Carpenter and Wallace headed for the nearby Bedford Bridge.  Wallace had made up two white calico banners, 3 feet deep and 6 feet wide, with a black horizontal stripe in the middle.  He affixed one of these to the bridge with its center 13 feet 4 inches above the water, a height selected to agree with the optical axis of a telescope placed on the parapet of Welney Bridge.  They walked the three miles to the center station, the wind at their backs and the sun warm on their faces. 

At the center station, Wallace produced a gimlet (a T-shaped hand-drill used like a corkscrew) and a screwdriver from his pocket.  With these, he spliced together two of the old signal poles, leaving the two red disks at the top, 4 feet apart.  He erected the pole in the canal with the upper disk, like the banner on the bridge, positioned so its center was 13 feet 4 inches above the water.  It was nearly 1:00 p.m. when they joined Hampden and Coulcher on Welney Bridge, and where a small crowd was in attendance. 

Wallace immediately set up the astronomical telescope on the parapet of Welney Bridge.  Focusing it on Old Bedford Bridge, he took a quick look.  The center disk showed well above the banner.  Coulcher looked, too, and as he did so, Carpenter noted a copy of the Astronomical Register protruding from the breast pocket of his coat. 

They asked Carpenter to look through the telescope and note that the central marker appeared higher than the banner on Old Bedford Bridge.  Coulcher made a sketch, and he asked Carpenter to sign it, verifying its accuracy.  Carpenter complied, but he noted on the sketch that he considered this observation useless for their purpose, as the large telescope could not be leveled. 

Meanwhile, Carpenter had personally fetched the Troughton’s level from the carriage and helped Wallace set it up.  The former surveyor carefully centered the leveling bubble and focused the instrument on the distant bridge.  Carpenter looked through it and actually jumped for joy. 

Wallace: Well, then, it can be decided at once. 

Carpenter: Not so! 

Wallace: Well, then, fetch the parson of the parish. 

Carpenter [at the Troughton’s level]: O dear, no!  Mr. Wallace, look through this telescope!  This is beautiful!  beautiful:—as level as possible!—All three objects in a line!  There’s the bridge, the centre signal, and the horizontal crosshair, in a regular …

Wallace: We’ve nothing to do with the crosshair!  The position of the eye settles that point: the telescope is the same height above the water as the signal and the bridge, and you can’t move your eye to alter its position more than an eighth of an inch!  Send for the parson of the parish: he’ll settle it. 

In a cold fury, Wallace began packing up the Troughton’s level, and one of the locals was heard to remark:

Oi say, Bill, they want to say the water ain’t level.  Oi know it is, though.  Oi’ve been ’ere these ten years, and Oi know if ’t ain’t level there’s no level anywhere. 

Carpenter insisted on having the Troughton’s level set up again.  He made his own rough sketch and showed it to Coulcher, saying:

Please observe the equal distances which appear between the three points—the crosshair, the three-mile signal, and the distant bridge.  Will you subscribe your name to my sketch under the words I have written—‘This is correct.’? 

Coulcher signed.  As far as Carpenter was concerned, it was all settled.  The equal apparent distances between the crosshair, the center signal, and the distant bridge proved that the three points lay in a straight line! 

Wallace was flabbergasted and frustrated.  He had done precisely what he set out to do!  The center marker was, by Carpenter’s own sketch, well above the line of sight from the parapet of Welney Bridge to the banner on Old Bedford Bridge!  But Carpenter couldn’t or wouldn’t understand its significance, and Hampden flatly refused to look through the telescope.  While the great naturalist alternately spluttered to himself or appealed to the crowd, Carpenter and Dr. Coulcher reviewed their sketches. 

Eventually, the little party packed the gear in the coach and headed back to Old Bedford Bridge.  Hampden played coachman, saying that he would get up from the best dinner in the world for the chance to drive a pair of handsome horses five miles. [note 2.3]  No one else enjoyed the ride. 

Arriving at Old Bedford Bridge, the experimental party repeated the observations, with essentially the same results.  Viewed through the large telescope, the central marker appeared above the parapet of Welney Bridge.  The Troughton’s level showed the marker below the crosshair and the parapet below the marker.  Again, Carpenter and Coulcher signed each other’s diagrams to certify their accuracy.  Again, the referees could not agree upon the significance of what they saw.  They retired to the Crown Hotel, mostly in silence.  There, Hampden accosted Wallace and demanded that he admit he had lost.  Wallace did not reply. 

On Sunday evening, Carpenter and Hampden met with Wallace and Coulcher to discuss the events of the previous day.  Wallace was more communicative, but he was obviously not in a good mood, and his nerves were on edge. 

Wallace: I can’t think what this ticking is.  I’ve heard it all day long—just like a death-watch!  there: don’t you hear it?—at perfectly regular intervals—tick, tick, tick! [ref. 2.14] 

When they listened, they all heard it.  Coulcher suggested it was the stove, but Carpenter, ever the spiritualist, was convinced that the sound was a psychic phenomenon brought on by Wallace’s guilt.  Nothing was settled that evening, but Carpenter and Coulcher agreed to meet again on Monday morning. 

Martin W. B. Coulcher lived and practiced surgery in an old-fashioned house just east of Downham Market, on the road to Stowe.  When Carpenter arrived on Monday morning, Coulcher got right to the point.  Wallace had won, he said, and because he and Carpenter couldn’t agree, they must (according to the terms of the wager agreement) appoint an umpire to decide the matter.  Carpenter insisted that they could agree. 

In truth, there was nothing they agreed on.  Coulcher produced a sketch showing how Wallace had won, and he demanded that Carpenter sign it.  Carpenter refused.  Coulcher affirmed on his oath that Wallace won and tried to excuse himself to attend to his patients.  Carpenter refused to leave, so Coulcher sent his servant to fetch a constable to show Carpenter out.  Carpenter insisted that Coulcher sign a statement saying that Hampden won.  Coulcher refused.  Finally, the constable arrived and told Carpenter, “Go!  or I’ll take you!” The constable gave Carpenter a helpful shove across Coulcher’s threshold, and the interview ended. 

Nothing further could be accomplished at Downham Market.  Hampden and Carpenter returned together to London.  At a stop along the way, Carpenter bought a copy of the latest Field and found in it a note by Walsh saying that the experiment was in progress.  Wallace rode in another carriage of the same train.  They encountered each other at the Bishopsgate station, and Wallace was less than friendly. 

Carpenter was not about to lose control of the situation by appointing an umpire to act in his stead.  He wrote a letter to Wallace, beginning as follows:

Sir: Since Mr. Coulcher, the referee on your part, obstinately refuses to attempt to show me in what way you prove that which you say you have proved, I beg leave to request that you appoint some gentleman—I care not whom—to wait upon me at my residence, and to do that which Mr. Coulcher refuses to do: thus acting as referee in his stead. [ref. 2.15] 

Wallace was beginning to understand.  In a letter to Carpenter dated March 8, he wrote:

Sir, In reply to your extraordinary demand, I beg to say that Mr. Coulcher was quite right in not attempting to show you anything or to convince you of anything: that was not his duty.  I showed you the experiment I undertook to show, and if you require any other person to explain to you what it means and how it proves my case, that only demonstrates your utter incapacity to perform the duty you have undertaken.  I positively decline to appoint any other referee.  The agreement gives me no power to do so, whereas it does distinctly state, that if the Referees differ, an umpire is to be appointed by them.  By refusing to appoint an Umpire with Mr. Coulcher or even to discuss the subject with him, you have put yourself entirely in the wrong, and broken the terms of the agreement.  I shall therefore take the customary steps to have an umpire appointed, and to him you can explain your views in whatever way you see fit.  Yours truly, Alfred R. Wallace. [ref. 2.16] 

Carpenter responded on March 9, writing in part:

Do just what you think is best in the matter; but pray take my word for it that I will never consent to sign away my right to see justice done to Mr. John Hampden. [ref. 2.17] 

As it happened, Carpenter’s consent was not required.  The previous day, Hampden had written to Wallace suggesting that Walsh be appointed umpire.  Walsh would review the reports and sketches made by the two referees and settle the matter.  Wallace eagerly seconded this suggestion.  Thus, Carpenter found himself on the outside looking in, while the editor of the Field again found himself in the middle. 

John Henry Walsh was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons before he abandoned surgery to write about his true love—the sporting life.  Now he was 59 years old, editor of England’s leading sporting paper, and author of several highly successful books written under the pseudonym “Stonehenge,” including The Shot-Gun and Sporting Rifle (1859), The Dog in Health and Disease (1859), The Horse in the Stable and in the Field (1861), and Dogs of the British Isles (1867).  A respected member of the British sporting set, he had held the stakes for many wagers.  None had caused him so much trouble. 

Carpenter had little choice but to submit his sketches and a written report to Walsh.  Coulcher did likewise, presumably more willingly.  The sketches were reproduced as copper-plate engravings and the written reports set in type for publication in the Field. Carpenter’s report repeated and amplified his claim made at the canal.  Referring to the view through the Troughton’s level, he wrote:

The stations appeared, to all intents and purposes, equi-distant in the field of view, and also in a regular series: first, the distant bridge; secondly, the central signal; and, thirdly, the horizontal cross-hair marking the point of observation; showing that the central disc 13ft. 4in. high does not depart from a straight line taken from end to end of the six miles in any way whatever, either laterally or vertically.  For, if so, and (as in the case of the disc 9ft. 4in. high) if it were lower or nearer the water, it would appear, as that disc does, nearer to the distant bridge.  If it were higher, it would appear in the opposite direction nearer the horizontal cross-hair which marks the point of observation.  As the disc 4ft. lower appears near to the distant bridge, so a disc to be really 5ft. higher would have to appear still nearer to the horizontal cross-hair of the telescope. 

And therefore it is shown that a straight line from one point to the other passes through the central point in its course, and that a curved surface of water has not been demonstrated. [ref. 2.18] 

In case this argument wasn’t accepted on its merits, Carpenter included a list of thirteen objections to the claim that Wallace had proved the curvature of the earth, as required in the written agreement.  The first three were as follows:

1.  If it be decided that the curvature is proved in consequence of experiments that will not stand strict investigation or repetition, it would be unwise. 

2.  If it be decided that the curvature is proved because at first sight it would appear to be so, it would be jumping to a conclusion. 

3.  If it be decided that the curvature is proved because the objects at three and six miles were not coincident with the cross-hair, since surveyors know that, with one of their ordinary levelling instruments, they could not be expected to be so, it would be unfair. [ref. 2.19] 

The third objection was as remarkable as it was damning.  Here the man who vehemently insisted on a telescope which could be leveled—who still insisted on the importance of the crosshair—was arguing that the appearance of the markers below the crosshair was irrelevant because the instrument couldn’t really be leveled! 

The packet of papers Carpenter sent to Walsh was also notable for an omission.  At the Crown Hotel on the evening of March 2, Carpenter had insisted that Wallace sketch for him exactly what he intended to demonstrate, and Wallace had complied.  This sketch was not in the packet, and it’s tempting to guess why. 

No doubt Walsh conscientiously studied the sketches and written reports submitted to him by Carpenter and Coulcher, although a glance at either set of sketches was sufficient.  At Hampden’s request, he also consulted an optician at the London firm of Solomons.  Walsh wrote to both sides that he would announce his decision at one o’clock on March 18. 

Carpenter arrived at Walsh’s office promptly at the appointed time.  Wallace was already there.  Walsh immediately told them that he had no difficulty in reaching a decision in favor of Wallace.  One suspects that Walsh also said a few other things to Carpenter, judging from his comments in the March 26, 1870, issue of The Field:

[B]oth Mr. Hampden and Mr. Carpenter assented to the details of this experiment in our presence as conclusive, although we regret to say that Mr. Carpenter alleged his opinion was founded upon theory alone, and that it had never, as far as he knew, been tried.  Now, the fact really is, that in a little treatise published by “Parallax,” and which we have now in our possession, with Mr. Carpenter’s name on the title-page, in his own handwriting, an experiment similar in its nature is described as having been made on the very same piece of water as that on which we were then occupied, with a result exactly the reverse of that which recently occurred.  Mr. Carpenter was, in fact, engaged to decide a disputed question, of which he and his principal professed to be practically ignorant, although it was in print on the authority of the head of their sect, that it had already been tried in the same locality; and this must have been known to Mr. Carpenter, and has since been admitted by him in our presence.  The good faith and perfect fairness of Mr. Carpenter were not, therefore, quite of the nature we then believed them to be, and we have no hesitation in affirming that he was a most improper person to be selected to act as referee in such a matter. 

In the same issue, Walsh published the reports of Carpenter and Coulcher and his own decision, as follows:

Mr A. R. Wallace, by means of the experiment agreed on as satisfactory to Mr Hampden and his umpire by both of these gentlemen, has proved to my satisfaction “the curvature to and fro” of the Bedford Level Canal between Welney Bridge and Welch’s Dam [note 2.4]  (six miles) to the extent of five feet, more or less.  I therefore propose to pay Mr A. R. Wallace the sum of £1000, now standing in my name at Coutts’ Bank to abide the result of the above test, next Thursday, unless I have notice to the contrary from Mr Hampden.  J. H. Walsh

346, Strand, March 18

Walsh also mailed a copy of his decision to Hampden on March 18, probably immediately after the meeting with Wallace and Carpenter.  Meanwhile, Hampden had written and published a pamphlet entitled God’s Truth or Man’s Science, Which Shall Prevail? Upon receiving Walsh’s decision, Hampden apparently wrote smoking letters to both Walsh and Wallace, enclosing copies of the pamphlet.  While God’s Truth has not survived, its contents can be surmised from Wallace’s response:

Now for the assertions and challenges in your pamphlet you were so good as to send me.  Your proposed further tests are some very good, some quite worthless.  All those which in any way depend on an apparent slope up or down, as judged of by the unaided eye, are utterly worthless; because, of all things, the eye is least able to judge accurately of a level, and if a line deviated as much as eight feet instead of only eight inches in a mile, I would defy you to tell by the eye alone if it were level, or sloped up or sloped down[ref. 2.20] 

Obviously, Hampden hoped for further experiments.  Wallace had regained the patience and composure lost at the canal, and he deemed three of Hampden’s proposed tests reasonable:

First.  The test proposed at p. 5, to place a spirit-level at the middle station, and take a sight both ways to Welney Bridge and Old Bedford Bridge (not Welche’s Dam as you state) the water at the two ends would certainly be shown to be about five feet below the horizontal straight line touching the water at the middle station.  The only difficulty would be in getting the level placed high enough to be above the vapours and unequally heated air close to the ground; but I have no doubt, if it were placed on the elevated towing path, its height above the water would be about five less than the height of the points on the two bridges cut by the crosshair, which determines the true level line.

2nd.  As to the continuation of the curve beyond the three miles in each direction.  This is also a good experiment, and I maintain that a signal staff placed one mile further off than either bridge, would show the water there to be eight or nine feet below that at the middle station, and at two miles further off, fourteen or fifteen feet, as it should be if the curve continues—not less than at the Bridge, as it should be if your theory of a series of short curves, thus ^^^^^^^^^^^^ is true. 

3rd.  The test of the lamp (p. 8) 18 inches above the water on a clear night at one Bridge, being visible by an eye or telescope situated, say three feet above the water at the other Bridge six miles distant.  I maintain that it would not be visible; while at the same time, it would be distinctly visible from the Bridge at an elevation of about fifteen feet

Now, on each or all of these three points I am ready, after the present wager has been finally settled, to meet you on any fair terms you may propose, the umpire being any well-known civil engineer, surveyor, optician, or scientific man—the questions all being simple matters of fact, which it requires merely good eyesight, some knowledge of instruments and experiment, and a true tongue, to pronounce upon justly. [ref. 2.21] 

Thus, Wallace was not satisfied with being pronounced the winner.  Hampden was not convinced that decision was just, and Wallace was perfectly willing to make further experiments to help Hampden understand. 

John Henry Walsh read Hampden’s latest letter with astonishment.  Wagers were common as riding crops in the sporting circles Walsh traveled, but it was almost unheard of for a gentleman to welsh on a bet, especially a bet he had initiated.  In a letter dated March 23, 1870, he asked:

Am I to understand that you give me formal notice to return you the stake?  I am unwilling to believe this, as I had hoped you would have admitted the correctness of the award, at all events, as far as it went.  I have thought it my duty, in justice to Mr. Wallace, to state the matter fairly this week, but I hope you will, for your own sake, reconsider your decision. [ref. 2.22] 

Hampden did not reconsider.  Neither did Walsh.  Despite threats from Hampden and confrontations with Carpenter, he delivered the stakes to Wallace—on April Fools’ Day!