Hydrographic Department

From Naval History Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search
Hydrographic Department
Flag of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.svg
Department overview
Formed1831, 1862
Preceding Department
Dissolved1855, 1994
Superseding department
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Department executive
  • Hydrographer of the Navy
Parent departmentDepartment of Admiralty
Navy Department

The Hydrographic Department of the British Admiralty was established in 1831 it replaced the earlier Hydrographic Office. The department was responsible conducting surveying in order to produce nautical charts it was administered by the Hydrographer of the Navy. For a brief period the department was amalgamated with the Harbour Department when it was known as the Hydrographic and Harbour Department from (1856-1862). The department existed until 1994 when its remit was expanded and it was replaced by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.


The Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty was established in 1795 following the creation of the post of Hydrographer to the Board of the Admiralty by an Order in Council. Although the Order contained no instructions regarding the prosecution of surveys, it was intended that the Hydrographer would supply charts to the Royal Navy either by purchase from external publishers or by constructing them from the survey material already available in the Admiralty. Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, appointed 1829, supervised the transfer of the the Hydrographic Office into the full status of an Admiralty department with responsibility for its own programme of work and financial estimates. Through the proliferation of surveys by the British Navy all over the world to expand and improve coverage, and by establishing the principle of thorough checking of detail before publication of a chart, Francis Beaufort laid the foundations of a word-wide surveying service renowned for its accuracy, and which subsequently emerged as the model on which other foreign governments shaped their hydrographic service.

By 1855, the Chart Catalogue listed 1,981 charts, with 64,000 copies issued to the Navy. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the skills of surveying and chart production were consolidated and world coverage increased. The change from sail to steam (1860-1914), affecting the capabilities and thus the output of the survey ships, and the abolition of the Indian Navy in 1862 (when all hydrographic duties connected with India were transferred to the Hydrographic Department), were influences on the subsequent survey and scientific exploration programmes. Rear Admiral Sir J F Parry, Hydrographer from 1914, fostered co-operation and information exchange with overseas hydrographic services and was the first presiding director of the International Hydrographic Bureau, established following an International hydrographic Conference held in London in 1920. During the twentieth century, the demands of two World Wars gave impetus to technical innovations in instruments and techniques. Between the wars, the Hydrographic Office took on new commitments in Oceanography and Naval Meteorology. Developments such as the Echo Sounder in the 1930s and Sonar in the 1960s brought great advances in the charting of the seabed. In 1994 the department was replaced by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.

The department consisted of a number of specialist subsidiary branches, offices and departments.

Head of Department

Hydrographer of the Navy

Assistant Hydrographer of the Navy

  • 1907-1909, Captain Herbert E. Purey-Cust.[1]
  • 1909, September-November, Captain Charles E. Monro.[2]
  • 1909-1910, Captain Charles E. Monro.[3]
  • 1910-1912, Captain John F. Parry.[4]
  • 1912-1914, Captain Philip Nelson-Ward, 11 December.[5]
  • 1914-1919, Captain Ernest C. Hardy, 1 September.[6]
  • 1919-1921, Captain Henry P. Douglas, 1 February, 1919.[7]
  • 1921-1924, Rear-Admiral Robert W. Glennie.[8]
  • 1924-1931, Captain John D.[9]
  • 1931-1932, Captain John A. Edgell.[10]
  • 1932-1936, Captain Arthur L. Jackson.[11]
  • 1936-1939, Captain Edward F. B. Law.[12]
  • 1939-1942, Captain Arthur L. Jackson.[13]
  • 1942-1945, Vice-Admiral (retired) John D. Nares.[14]
  • 1966-1970? Captain D. W. Halsham

Chief Civil Assistant to the Hydrographer

  • 1897, Fleet Paymaster George W. Underhill.[15]
  • 1897, Commander George C. Frederick.[16]

Naval Assistant to the Hydrographer

Note:There is an overlap of dates on appointments it is assumed therefore that there was more than on assistant assigned to the Hydrographer at certain periods.

  • 1874-1893, Staff Captain Henry R. Harris. (rtd)[17]
  • 1876, Lieutenant Llewellyn S. Dawson.[18]
  • 1893-1894, Commander George Pirie.[19]
  • 1894–1897, Commander Morris H. Smyth.[20]
  • 1897–1904, Captain Cecil F. Oldham. (rtd)[21]
  • 1904–1905, Commander Robert W. Glennie.[22]
  • June-September, 1906, Lieutenant Vivian R. Brandon.[23]
  • 1907–1908, Captain Lewis F. Blackburn. (rtd)[24]
  • 1908–1910, Commander Guy M. Marston.[25]
  • 1909, Lieutenant Vivian R. Brandon.[26]
  • 1910–1914, Commander Philip C. Pearson, 11 February.[27]
  • 1909, March-May, Lieutenant Vivian R. Brandon.[28]
  • 1910-1911, Lieutenant-Commander Vivian R. Brandon.[29]
  • 1913, November-December, Captain Robert W. Glennie.[30]
  • 1914-1915, Commander John D. Nares.[31]
  • 1915-1916, Commander Oswald T. Hodgson.[32]
  • 1917-1919, Captain Arthur W. Torlesse. (rtd)[33]
  • 1920, January-July, Commander Oswald T. Hodgson.[34]
  • 1925-1926, Captain Charles W. Tinson.[35]
  • 1926-1934, Captain Arthur P. M. Lewes.[36]
  • 1927-1943, Captain Sidney A. Geary Hill.[37]
  • 1931-1936, Commander Patrick S. E. Maxwell.[38]
  • 1927-1943, Captain Sidney A. Geary Hill.[39]
  • 1940-1942, Vice-Admiral John D. Nares, (retd)[40]

Superintendent of Charts

  • 1908, Captain Frederick C. Learmonth.[41]
  • 1910–1915, Commander Henry P. Douglas.[42]
  • 1915-1917, Commander John D. Nares.[43]
  • 1917-1920, Commander John A. Edgell.[44]
  • 1920-1923, Captain John D. Nares.[45]
  • 1923-1925, Captain John A. Edgell.[46]
  • 1927, Commander Francis E. B. Haselfoot.[47]
  • 1927-1929, Commander Patrick S. E. Maxwell.[48]

Component Elements of the Hydrographic Department

Compass Branch

The Compass Branch, was established in 1842 to provide the Royal Navy with services for the design, development, inspection, testing and repair of compasses and certain other instruments until 1911.

Main Article Compass Branch

Navigation Department

The Navigation Department was established in 1912 under the Director of Navigation in 1945 whilst part of this department it also became a staff division of the Admiralty Naval Staff.

Main article: Navigation Department

Hydrographic Supplies Establishment

The Hydrographic Supplies Establishment was established in > under the Chief Superintendent Hydrographic Supplies.

Main article: Hydrographic Supplies Establishment


  1. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  2. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  3. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  4. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  5. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  6. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  7. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  8. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  9. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  10. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  11. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  12. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  13. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  14. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  15. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  16. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  17. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  18. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  19. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  20. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  21. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  22. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  23. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  24. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  25. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  26. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  27. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  28. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  29. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  30. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  31. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  32. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  33. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  34. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  35. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  36. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  37. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  38. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  39. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  40. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  41. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  42. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  43. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  44. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  45. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  46. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  47. Harley and Lovell (2018).
  48. Harley and Lovell (2018).


  1. Harley, Simon; Lovell, Tony (11 December 2018). "Hydrographic Department (Royal Navy) - The Dreadnought Project". www.dreadnoughtproject.org. Harley and Lovell. Retrieved 3 July 2019.