Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 24 May 1858

In the Hebrides Captain Otter in H. M. S. Porcupine, with lier tender the Seagull, assisted by a good working staff, composed of Messrs. Dent, Stanton, Stanley, and Cramer, has examined the shores and islets of the Sound of Harris, comprising, with all their indentations, 155 miles of coast line, in addition to sounding over an area of 435 square miles.


It is remarkable to consider that, in surveying the Sound of Harris, they recorded a massive 155 miles of coast.


This is an important service rendered to hydrography, as with this chart and the accompanying sailing directions before him, the mariner may safely run for the passage between Harris and North Uist, which has hitherto been avoided by all who could possibly escape from it. The chart is in the engraver’s hands, and will be issued to the public in the course of the summer. At the same time Lieut. Thomas and Mr. Clifton have surveyed the rocky estuary of East Loch Tarbert, in Harris, and completed a chart of that remarkable inlet of the sea.


Unfortunately a relative ran into a Force 8 storm in the sound some 32 years later and lost a ship there. Liet. Thomas is, of course, the later Captain FWL Thomas, and husband of ‘Mrs Captain Thomas’.


In alluding to these and other charts of the coasts of Scotland, I have real pleasure, as one acquainted with the value of detailed land surveys, in expressing my admiration of the maps on the six-inch scale, exhibiting all the physical features, which Captain Otter, Commander Wood, and their associates have laid down for three miles inland. Such terrestrial coast surveys may enable geologists to come to accurate conclusions respecting the general structure of Scotland before the geographical details can be worked out on Ordnance maps representing the interior of the country, and which will probably not be published for many years to come, even under the vigilant superintendence of Colonel James.


The fact that they surveyed three miles inland tells us both how thorough they were and also why their task took several years to complete. As the author suggests, it was to be many years to come before the OS produced the first complete maps of the Isle of Harris. I haven’t found Captain James…yet.

You can view the 1857 chart online.

Note: A modern piece on hydrography that mentions this ‘pioneering work’ and has an interesting map of the Sound of Harris can be seen here and the original from which I took the extract is here.

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