Great Britain Admiralty Hydrographic Department

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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. The enormous task of organizing and cataloguing the surveys in the Admiralty was given to the first Hydrographer, Alexander Dalrymple (1795-1808), who supplied the first chart (of Quiberon Bay in Brittany) in 1800. Under Thomas Hurd (1808-1823), the surveying service of the Royal Navy was brought under the direction of the Hydrographer and there was an increase in the appointment of surveyors. Admiralty Charts were made available for the first time to the Merchant Navy and the public, and Hurd oversaw the production of volumes of sailing directions and the first chart catalogue.

Under Francis Beaufort (1829-1855), the activities of the Hydrographic Office multiplied as a result of the systematic surveying of areas of navigational importance. Beaufort directed many exploring expeditions, including the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), the searches for Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition, and the surveys of South American waters by Captain Fitzroy in HMS Beagle, 1831-1836, with Charles Darwin on board.

In 1831, the Hydrographic Office acquired the full status of an Admiralty department. 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. 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.

From the guide to the Great Britain, Admiralty, Hydrographic Department collection, 1840-1974, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Charles Richardson collection, 1813 Scott Polar Research Institute
referencedIn Henry Foster collection, 1823-1831 Scott Polar Research Institute
referencedIn Great Britain, Admiralty collection, 1796-1929 Scott Polar Research Institute
creatorOf Great Britain, Admiralty, Hydrographic Department collection, 1840-1974 Scott Polar Research Institute
referencedIn William Goddard collection, 1819 Scott Polar Research Institute
referencedIn Robert Fildes collection, 1820-1829 Scott Polar Research Institute
referencedIn Edward Bransfield collection, 1819-1839 Scott Polar Research Institute
Role Title Holding Repository
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associatedWith British Arctic Expedition 1875-1876 corporateBody
associatedWith British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904 corporateBody
associatedWith British Naval Expedition Antarctic regions 1839-1843 corporateBody
associatedWith Fildes, Robert person
associatedWith Foster, Henry person
associatedWith Great Britain, Admiralty person
associatedWith Richardson, Charles person
associatedWith Ross James Clark 1800-1862 person
associatedWith Scott Robert Falcon 1868-1912 person
associatedWith Shackleton Ernest Henry 1874-1922 person
associatedWith Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-1922 corporateBody
associatedWith William Henry Goddard person
Place Name Admin Code Country

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