Book Review – ‘Thomas Hurd, RN and His Hydrographic Survey of Bermuda 1789–97’ by M. K. Barritt

By M. K. Barritt, published November 2020


The remarkable manuscript survey which is discussed in this book measures, in total, some 13 feet by 6 feet. It was the result of over eight years of work in the field, while compilation took another three. The detailed depiction of the Bermudan archipelago and its intricate fringing reefs has astounded both those who compared it with the first aerial photography, and today’s environmental scientists who work with the advantages of satellite based precise position-fixing and remote sensing.

A.J. Webb, the author of this account devoted almost as long a period to his research into its genesis. He is an experienced and prolific county historian and his forensic skills have produced rich fruit from a decade of work in archives in the United Kingdom and Bermuda. He has fleshed out the rather shadowy figure of Thomas Hurd, whose contribution to the establishment of a strategic base for the British fleet in the approaches to the Americas would ultimately lead to his appointment as hydrographer to the Board of Admiralty with a vision for the formation of a Royal Naval Surveying Service. Determined sleuthing has unearthed portraits of Hurd and many of the other main characters in this story which are now reproduced in this book.

The author’s compass extends much wider than the survey itself, describing Bermudian personalities and local politics, including the support of many of the inhabitants for their near neighbours and trading partners in the United States. He describes the development of naval facilities in the islands, especially the vital water supply. He uses local newspapers and other sources to great effect in colourful accounts of the maritime community and the visits of British flag officers. These are further enhanced with well-chosen photographs of locations, including the Hurd home which became ‘the general rendezvous [and] asylum’ for officers and men of the Royal Naval squadron which made more and more use of this vantage point midway between Halifax and British possessions in the Caribbean.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Eighteenth Century | Caribbean
Subjects include: Administration | Biography | Harbours & Dockyards | Navies | Science & Exploration

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