Helpful information about the basics of surveying

William Roy

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William Roy was a Scottish engineer and surveyor whose innovative geodetic mapping techniques played an important role in the development of surveying. He mapped the inhospitable Scottish mainland, created ground-breaking battle plans for the military and developed on-ground triangulation in surveying. But perhaps his most important legacy is the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, which was a continuation of his Anglo-French survey and began shortly after his death.

Early Life & Surveying the Scottish Highlands
Roy was born in South Lanarkshire, in 1726. One of the few things known about his early life is that a number of his family members worked as factors, supervising the estate of wealthy Lairds, and he grew up in an environment in which land surveys and mapping were common. After he attended Lanark Grammar School, he is believed to have moved to Edinburgh, where he developed his surveying skills, probably as a civilian draughtsman at Edinburgh Castle’s Board of Ordnance. He became a respected land surveyor and was soon carrying out private surveys at the Callander family’s Craigforth estate. In 1747, Roy was employed to assist with a military survey of the Scottish Highlands under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. Roy had no military rank but Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson appointed him as an assistant to the quartermaster, who led a team of six soldiers. By 1752, the Highlands had been surveyed and the project was extended to cover the Lowlands. But it was cut short when the Seven Years War began. Reporting on the measurement of the Hounslow Baseline, Roy wrote that the map was “in an unfinished state and is to be considered as a magnificent military sketch rather than a very accurate map of the country, and it would have been completed, and many of its imperfections no doubt remedied, but for the breaking out of war in 1755”.

Campaigning for a National Land Survey
In 1756, Roy was posted to South England, where he assessed the coasts’ readiness for a French invasion, which was expected. He then went to France, where he developed a new technique for creating battle plans, which was praised as clear and user-friendly, and adopted by the military. By the end of the war, in 1763, Roy was a lieutenant colonel in the regiment and director of the engineers of the Board of Ordnance. He returned to London, where he proposed a comprehensive national survey or, as he put it, “a good military plan or map of the whole country”. He felt strongly that the survey should cover not only the vulnerable southern coasts, but the whole of the UK. Due to the expense of the Seven Years War, and later, the American War of Independence, the survey was considered too expensive.

Laying the Foundations for the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain
In 1765, Roy became surveyor-general with a direction to "inspect, survey and make reports from time to time of the state of the coasts of this Kingdom and the islands". He travelled extensively and his sketches and plans are now kept at the British Library. He completed topographical surveys of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Sussex using his new Ramsden Theodolite, and established the principal of on-ground triangulation in surveying. Aged 57, Roy started his Anglo-French Survey, mapping the relative positions of Greenwich Observatory and the Paris Observatory. First, he measured bases at Hounslow Heath and Romney Marsh, next, he measured the angles of the triangles and finally, he made a calculation of all the triangles. Roy died in London, in 1790, and a year later, the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain began, as an extension of his Anglo-French Survey. His use of scientific advancements and mathematical formulas paved the way for geodetic surveying and he is considered one of the fathers of modern surveying.

James Cook

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Captain James Cook was an English explorer and surveyor who sailed around the world, mapping vast expanses of previously uncharted territory. Cook was the first explorer to circumnavigate New Zealand and cross the Arctic Circle, and the first European to make contact with the eastern coast of Australia. He was also the first to make contact with the Hawaiian Islands, but it was here that his life came to a violent end. Renowned for his seamanship, courage and land surveying skills, his legacy has had a massive influence on surveying, and memorials to him are scattered across the globe.

Natural Talent for Surveying & Cartography
Cook was born in the village of Marston, Yorkshire, on November 7, 1728. As a teenager, he became a merchant navy apprentice in Whitby, with the Walkers, who were prominent local ship owners. He studied algebra, geometry, navigation and astronomy before completing his apprenticeship and starting work on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. Cook quickly moved through the ranks and was promoted to mate on the collier brig, Friendship. In 1755, he joined the Royal Navy and was soon qualified to navigate a King’s Fleet ship. During the Seven Years War, he was master of the Pembroke and was involved in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. His talent for surveying and cartography enabled him to map the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River, which allowed General Wolfe to launch an important stealth attack on the plains.

Hydrographic Survey of Treacherous Newfoundland Coast
During the 1760s, Cook battled against the elements to survey the rugged Newfoundland coast, aboard HMS Grenville. With the help of local pilots, who he employed to look out for rocks and other hazards, he carried out detailed surveys of huge stretches of the treacherous and previously uncharted coastline. Cook used precise triangulation to carry out highly accurate hydrographic surveys of the island. His five seasons in Newfoundland resulted in the creation of the first good-quality, large-scale maps of the region. Following his time in the stormy seas around the island, Cook said he intended to go “not only farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go”. Mapping New Zealand on First Major Expedition

In 1768, at the age of 39, Cook embarked on the first of three celebrated voyages, sailing to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun for the Royal Society. Now ranked lieutenant, he left England aboard HMS Endeavour, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward, to Tahiti, where his observations of Venus were made. He then sailed to New Zealand, where he surveyed the entire coastline before continuing to Eastern Australia, where his expedition made first contact with an aboriginal tribe.

Searching for Terra Australis
In 1771, Cook was promoted to the rank of commander and a year later he was commissioned to lead an expedition to locate Terra Australis, a hypothetical continent which was based not on surveys but the theory that continental land in the Northern Hemisphere must be balanced by land in the south. HMS Resolution set off on an extreme southern latitude and the expedition became the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. Cook covered a massive expanse of ocean in his fruitless search for the mysterious continent, claiming South Georgia for Britain and discovering the South Sandwich Islands. His reports upon returning to England finally put an end to the myth of Terra Australis.

Ill-Fated Voyage to Hawaii
In 1776, Cook embarked on his last voyage to locate a Northwest Passage around the American Continent. He became the first European to make formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands before continuing to the Oregon coast. He sailed to Vancouver Island, where he made contact with the people of the First Nations village of Yuquot, before exploring and surveying the coast, to the Bering Strait. He then returned to Hawaii, where he explored the island and was reportedly treated as an incarnation of a Polynesian god. But when he tried to leave the island to continue his explorations, the mast of his ship broke and he returned to land. Tensions escalated and Cook was struck and stabbed to death by Hawaiian villagers.

Benjamin Banneker

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Benjamin Banneker was an African-American surveyor who was a member of the team which completed the famous boundary survey of the District of Columbia, where the capital city of Washington D.C was built. Banneker was also an astronomer, farmer and naturalist who wrote a series of celebrated almanacs and exchanged letters with Thomas Jefferson on slavery and racial equality. Although Banneker’s legacy is shrouded in myth, his self-education, commitment to social justice and contribution to one of the United States’ most important surveying expeditions make him a distinctive figure in the history of the profession.

Early Life and Education

Banneker was born in 1731, at Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. His father, Robert, was a former slave and his mother, Mary, was the daughter of an Englishwoman and her husband, who she had freed from slavery. Thanks to his parents’ freedom from slavery, Banneker was able to attend a Quaker school and was taught to read by his grandmother. From an early age, his talent was obvious. He created an irrigation system for his family farm, and a clock, which is said to have accurately told the time until he died. Banneker’s intelligence came to the attention of the Ellicotts, who had made their fortune constructing gristmills in the Baltimore area. George Ellicott helped Banneker to continue his self-education by lending him books on astronomy and other areas from his large personal library.

The Survey Which Changed the United States

In 1791, Andrew Ellicott hired Banneker to assist with a survey of land for a new federal district, which would be the site for the construction of the capital city, Washington D.C. President George Washington issued a proclamation that identified Jones Point, in Virginia, as the starting point of a survey for the new 100-square-mile district, along the Potomac River. The team started work at the southeast corner of Alexandria, Virginia. They then cleared a corridor along the boundary route to make way for the survey. Travelling clockwise, they placed sandstone boundary markers at intervals of roughly one mile, each of which was inscribed ‘Jurisdiction of the United States’. Today, 36 of the marker stones survive as the oldest federally placed monuments in the U.S.

Banneker mainly worked in an observatory tent at Jones Point, measuring the movement of the stars with a zenith sector to establish the starting point of the survey. He also used a clock to relate locations on the ground to the position of stars at specific times. Aged 59, Banneker found the survey difficult and fell ill. Just three months after it had begun, he left the survey and returned to his home, at Ellicott’s Mills, leaving Andrew Ellicott to complete the project with the help of his brothers.

Popular Myths Surrounding Banneker

Although Banneker’s role in the boundary survey was undoubtedly important, his contribution has been exaggerated by a number of myths. According to one story, Frenchman Charles L’Enfant took all his plans with him when he was dismissed from planning Washington D.C – but the project was saved when, incredibly, Banneker managed to reproduce a detailed city plan from memory. According to another tale, Banneker took over the job of planning the city when L’Enfant died. In reality, L’Enfant lived long after he developed his plans for the city and died near Washington D.C, in 1825.

By 1797, sales of the almanacs which Banneker was renowned for had declined. He sold most of his land and lived in a log cabin, where he continued his studies. He died aged 74, in 1806, following his regular morning stroll. As he had requested, all the items which had been lent to him by George Ellicott were retuned by Banneker’s nephew.

John Forrest

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John Forrest was a surveyor, explorer and politician who led a series of expeditions into the treacherous Australian interior, in search of new farmland. In the late 1800s, Forrest led three ground-breaking missions into the arid wilderness of Western Australia. His unrivalled land surveying skills earned him the role of surveyor general, and he later became the first Premier of Western Australia. Forrest was a tall, heavy man who wasn’t known for his sense of humour. According to his biographer, his upbringing and education had instilled in him “social snobbery, laissez-faire capitalism, sentimental royalism, patriotic Anglicanism, benevolent imperialism and racial superiority”. But Forrest was undoubtedly a brave and talented surveyor, and his exploration of previously uncharted land changed Australia forever.

Introduction to Surveying

Forrest was born in 1847, at Preston Point, near Bunbury, Western Australia. His parents were both Scottish and had migrated to Australia as servants to Dr John Ferguson. They settled in Picton as farmers, while almost 10,000 British convicts arrived, from 1850 to 1868. Forrest and his eight brothers helped with the chores and he quickly became a skilled horse-rider. In 1860, he enrolled at Bishop Hale’s School, in Perth, where his flair for maths was noticed. Three years later, he started an apprenticeship with Bunbury’s assistant surveyor, Thomas Carey. He learned fast and was employed as a temporary government surveyor in 1865.

Treacherous Expeditions into the Australian Interior

Between 1869 and 1874, Forrest led three dangerous expeditions which would change the course of Australian history and earn him the title of Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

In March 1869, he led an expedition in search of the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who has gone missing in the desert, near Leonora. The team, which included Aborigine trackers, set off from Perth and travelled to the location where Leichhardt was believed to have been seen. They spent six weeks surveying and searching an expanse of roughly 15,000 square-kilometres, but found no evidence of what happened to Leichhardt. With their remaining supplies, they continued to explore, and by the time they returned to Perth, they had been travelling for 113 days and covered an estimated 3,600 km. Forrest reported that the land he had surveyed could not be farmed. Although the expedition achieved little, it helped to enhance his reputation a brave and capable explorer.

Later that year, Forrest led a land survey of a route along the Great Australian Bight, an open bay on the country’s southern coast, from Perth to Adelaide. His brief was to provide a detailed and accurate survey of the route, to be used to assess the land’s suitability for farming and possibly establish a telegraph link between the colonies of South and Western Australia. Forrest’s team of six men, 16 horses and several dogs left Perth on March 30, 1870. They travelled towards Eucla, struggling to find enough food or water along the inhospitable route. On the final stretch of their journey, they couldn’t find any water and were forced to travel for five days and nights without rest. They arrived in Adelaide on August 27 and were honoured for their achievement. The crossing is considered one of the best-organised of its time, with a huge area surveyed and good land for farming identified.

In August, 1873, Forrest led an expedition from Geraldton to the source of the Murchison River and east, through the uncharted centre of Western Australia, to find land for farming. Again, Forrest travelled over arid land where water was hard to find and several horses had to be abandoned. They reached their destination, the telegraph line near Mount Alexander, on September 27, and stopped in several towns for triumphant public receptions on their way to Adelaide. Forrest had surveyed a massive area of previously unexplored land and shown the widespread theory that there was an inland sea to be unlikely. In 1875, Forrest published Explorations in Australia, describing the trials and tribulations of all three expeditions in colourful detail.

Politics and Death

Forrest’s popularity and surveying ability helped him to quickly move through the ranks, and he held the positions of surveyor general and commissioner of crown lands. He was appointed to the seat of Bunbury on the Legislative Council, and in 1890, became the first Premier of Western Australia. Following an illustrious political career, Forrest boarded a ship in 1918 for England, where he hoped to receive specialist treatment for his cancer and take up his seat in the House of Lords, but he died off the coast of Sierra Leone and was buried there.

Henry Dangar

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With his extensive surveys of New South Wales, Englishman Henry Dangar played an important role in the European settlement of Australia. Dangar’s life was plagued by controversy, including allegations of corruption and interfering in a trial following the massacre of Aborigines, on his land. But Dangar’s contribution to the development of Australia is undisputed, and his love for his birthplace of Cornwall is reflected in the Cornish names given to locations across New South Wales.

Dangar’s First Land Surveying Role in Australia

Henry Dangar was born in the Cornish village of St Neot, in 1796. Shortly after emigrating to News South Wales, Australia, in 1821, he became assistant government surveyor in the counties of Camden and Argyle. He held the role for six years, carrying out numerous land surveys in the Hunter Region, where his use of Cornish names reflected his affection for his rural, English home. He quickly gained a reputation as a skilled surveyor and a number of locations were named after him, including Mount Dangar, Dangarfield, Dangar Falls and Dangarsleigh. Dangar was tasked with carrying out a detailed survey of the Hunter Valley, to prepare for the region to be settled. He created plans for towns, villages, churches and settlers’ plots, mainly along the Hunter River.

In 1824, Dangar embarked on a surveying expedition, during which he discovered the confluence of the Hunter and Goulburn rivers. He followed the Dart Brook to its source and crossed the Liverpool Range to the wild plains beyond. Here, he came under attack from an indigenous clan and retreated, but his reports on the quality of the land on the plains prompted a flurry of applications for land grants.

Trouble Over Land Ownership

The next year, Dangar was commissioned to survey and select plots of land to be settled. After he allocated to himself some land which someone said they had already claimed, a board of enquiry found Dangar guilty of using his public position for private gain, and he was dismissed from office. He returned to England to appeal against the Governor of New South Wales’ recommendation that he should be dispossessed of the land in question, but was unsuccessful.

Before he briefly returned to England, Dangar was granted two pieces of land for his services to surveying: a 300-acre site named Neotsfield and 700-acre Baroona, near the city of Maitland. During his time in England, he wrote Index and Directory to Map of the Country Bordering Upon the River Hunter, which was published in London, in 1828. The book demonstrated his surveying expertise, and he was soon appointed to the position of land surveyor by the Australian Agricultural Company, in the region of Port Stephens. In 1830, he travelled back to Australia with his new wife and young son to take up his new position. Dangar carried out detailed topographical and soil surveys of the company’s 400,000-acre site, near the Manning River. He reported that the quality of the land was poor, and was sent to find a better location. After another surveying expedition, he recommended another site, on the Liverpool Plains, which was eventually acquired by the company, at which point Dangar and his family returned to his property at Neotsfield, near Singleton, which he developed into a flourishing farm.

Involvement in Massacre, Business Success & Retirement

In 1838, a notorious massacre of Aborigines, known as the Myall Creek Massacre, took place on Dangars’ land. Dangar used his wealth to influence the trial against the Aborigines, with whom he and a number of other wealthy settlers were involved in land disputes. Along with other members of a group called the Black Association, Dangar paid jurors not to attend and arranged for the arrest of a key witness.

In 1848, Dangar and two of his brothers launched a meat canning business called The Newcastle Meat Preserving Company, at Honeysuckle Point, Newcastle. The business was opened after a severe drought and drop in livestock prices, and the brothers were awarded at the Great Exhibition in London, in 1851. Their products were even exported to India and California, but by 1855, the business had closed.

After another trip to England and a tour of Europe, Dangar returned to New South Wales and lived in retirement at a house in Grantham, Potts Point. He died in 1861 and was buried at Singleton’s All Saints Church of England.


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