Hydrographic Office

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Hydrographic Office
Board of Admiralty Flag 19th to early 20th Century.gif
Office overview
Superseding department
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Office executive
  • Hydrographer of the Navy
Parent departmentDepartment of Admiralty

The Hydrographic Office was established in 1795 was a department of the Department of Admiralty superintended by the Hydrographer of the Navy. It existed until 1831 when it was replaced by the Hydrographic Department. The office was responsible for conducting oceanic surveying through HM Naval Surveying Service in order to produce nautical charts.


The Admiralty's first Hydrographer was Alexander Dalrymple appointed in 1795 on the order of King George III and the existing charts were brought together and catalogued. The first chart Dalrymple published as Hydrographer to the Admiralty (of Quiberon Bay in Brittany) did not appear until 1800. He also issued Sailing Directions and Notices to Mariners (NMs). Dalrymple was succeeded on his death in 1808 by Captain Thomas Hurd,[1] under whose stewardship the department was given permission to sell charts to the public in 1821. In 1819 Captain Hurd entered into a bi-lateral agreement with Denmark to exchange charts and publications covering areas of mutual interest. This is thought to be the earliest formal arrangement for the mutual supply of information between the British and any foreign Hydrographic Office. Hurd developed the specialism of Royal Navy hydrographic surveyors. Rear-Admiral Sir W. Edward Parry was appointed Hydrographer in 1823 after his second expedition to discover a Northwest Passage. In 1825 some 736 charts and coastal views were being offered for sale by the Hydrographic Office. In 1828 Captain Parry and the Royal Society organised a scientific voyage to the South Atlantic, in collaboration with the Hydrographers of France and Spain, using HMS Chanticleer. In 1829, at the age of 55, Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort became Hydrographer. During his time as Hydrographer, he developed the eponymous Scale, saw the introduction of official tide tables in 1833. In 1831 the office became the Hydrographic Department.

In Command

Hydrographer of the Navy

Assistant Hydrographer of the Navy

Head of Production

  1. 1797-1831 John Walker (civilian).[2]

Chief Draughtsman

  1. 1809-1831 Michael Walker (civilian) - (in position till 1861).[3]
  1. 1799-1831 Francis Higgins (civilian) - (in position till 1849).[4]
  2. 1810-1831 Thomas Walker (civilian) - (in position till 1864).[5]

Sailing Directions Editor

  1. 1828-1830 Captain W. Symonds.[6]
  2. 1830-1831 Master J.F. Dessiou - (in position till 1847).[7]
Assistant Sailings Direction Editor
  1. 1828-1830 Master Joseph Foss Dessiou.[8]
  2. 1828-1829 Lieutenant Roe.[9]

Survey Planning

  1. 1820-1828 Captain Mudge.[10]


  1. HM Naval Surveying Service (men and ships)

Naval Assistant to Hydrographer

  1. 1827-1828 Lieutenant W. Sheringham.[11]
  2. 1827-1831 Lieutenant A. B. Becher - (in position till 1861).[12]


  1. Webb, Adrian (June 2010). "The Expansion of British Naval Hydrographic Administration, 1808-1829: Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy" (PDF). ore.exeter.ac.uk. University of Exeter. pp. 16–17. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  2. Webb. pp.366-367.
  3. Webb. pp.366-367.
  4. Webb. pp.366-367.
  5. Webb. pp.366-367.
  6. Webb. pp.366-367.
  7. Webb. pp.366-367.
  8. Webb. pp.366-367.
  9. Webb. pp.366-367.
  10. Webb. pp.366-367.
  11. Webb. pp.366-367.
  12. Webb. pp.366-367.