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Lieutenant (later Captain) Thomas Hannaford Hurd, RN, was to prove to be one of the most talented, and influential figures in British naval surveying in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at a time when Great Britain was regathering it'self after the calamity that had been the Revolutionary War.  Britain's war with her mainland colonies in North America had ended in 1783, but not before a commitment to a new level of accurate and reliable surveying had been instigated by the likes of Samuel Holland and J.F.W. Des Barres.

This level of accuracy came about in the light of the realisation that the quick and safe transportation of forces was the key to successful defense of property and possessions thousands of miles away and central to that was accurate surveys.  After the war the Royal Navy continued with this practice with the sole intent of commanding the seas wherever British interests in the world lay. Thomas Hurd, both as a surveyor and later as the second man to hold the post of Hydrographer of the Navy, more than anyone understood the value of such accuracy and information.

Hurd was born in 1747 in Plymouth, Devon.  By the age of 21 he was an able-seaman in the Royal Navy and within another 3 years he was learning the trade of hydrographer and surveyor under the direction of none-other than Samuel Holland aboard HMS Canceaux in the Newfoundland and Halifax station.  He later, around 1774-5 served under Lord Howe aboard his Flag ship HMS Eagle before assuming the rank of First Lieutenant aboard HMS Unicorn in 1777 at a time when hostilities against the Americans were at their height.  Hurd also, later in 1779, saw action under the command of Sir James Wallace (see Heritage Chart A303) against the French at Carcale Bay in north west France.  Hurd also took part in the Battle of the Saints off Dominica in 1782.

In 1785 Hurd was appointed, on recommendation by Lord Howe, Surveyor General to Cape Breton but he only lasted in this post a year being dismissed by J.F.W. Des Barres, who was then the Lieutenant-Governor for the area.  Hurd's next appointment, this time by the Admiralty, was to chart the island and waters of Bermuda and it was this work which really cemented Hurd's name as a leading surveyor of his time.

After the loss of her mainland North American colonies in 1783 Bermuda had, by 1787, assumed a pivotal role in the maintenance of a British colonial empire in the Atlantic.  Bermuda's location off the Florida coast and on the trade route between homeland Britain and the remaining 13 British island colonies of the Caribbean was vital.  Bermuda was further valued by the British as a potential harbour for the relocation of its base of operations for its North American fleet, stationed much further north in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It was Hurd's definitive nine year survey which proved Bermuda such a suitable location.  Indeed Hurd's survey (see B103a, B103b & B107) was so detailed and accurate that it wasn't ever published, except much later in 1827 and even then as a much simplified chart, for fear that the information may fall into American hands.  The original survey is approximately 17ft wide by 8ft high when the two halves are put together.

Further promotion, this time to the rank of Captain, followed in 1802 along with more survey work between 1804 and 1806 whereby he surveyed Brest for William Cornwallis's blockade on the port.  He also surveyed Falmouth, headquarters of the British Packet Service which was responsible for the transportation of mail and communications to the fleet.

In 1808 Hurd was appointed to succeed Alexander Dalrymple as the Hydrographer to the Admiralty.  Having worked the previous year on a committee to select Admiralty charts for wider publication, and more effective distribution to the merchant fleet, Hurd was only too aware of the importance of the relevance of the survey work being conducted by the navy at the time.  His administrative abilities were to be shown at their best in this role.  He moved away from the use of civilian surveyors and hydrographers and he instigated the use of specialist naval surveying vessels.  Under Hurd's direction the number of surveys being produced increased charts more widely available.  At the time of his death in 1823 he had already progressed the work of the Hydrographic office to the point where it was an invaluable resource for the British navy and shipping in general.


Andrew C. F. David, 'Hurd, Thomas Hannaford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan, 2008.

Thomas Hurd

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