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Rear-Admiral Sir David Haslam: Hydrographer of the Navy and Hydrographer of the Royal Australian Navy.

Among the many innovative legacies of Britain's 19th-century naval dominance was the Admiralty Chart. The Royal Navy's Hydrographic Service is often credited with charting the whole world, and even as late as 1975, when David Haslam first bore the ancient title of Hydrographer of the Navy, his organisation oversaw 13 survey ships and craft and managed some 1000 specialists ashore and afloat.

All were concerned with the survey, production, updating and distribution of charts and navigational publications worldwide through a skein of 240 Admiralty chart depots and agents. In 1977 annual sales of charts peaked at more than three million and books at half a million, representing more than half the world's total sales and--uniquely for a Ministry of Defence department--earning the Queen's Award for Export Achievement. Towards the end of Haslam's tour in 1984, gross receipts for sales exceeded 10 million [pounds sterling], a considerable profit over the cost of production.


David William Haslam was born in 1923. He was educated at Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire, and was briefly a Bevin Boy in a Derbyshire coalmine. He went to sea in July 1942 as a midshipman in the cruiser Birmingham, then the Australian destroyer I Quickmatch and the battleship Resolution, taking part in Indian Ocean convoy operations and the taking of Madagascar from the Vichy French. After North Sea convoy duty in the destroyer Vivien, he opted to become a surveyor in June 1944 and was appointed to the armed yacht HMS White Bear. In this vessel he carried out clandestine surveys at night behind Japanese lines in Burma, mapping unexplored estuaries in support of the 14th Army's advance.

After the war Haslam's career took him to many parts of the world at a time when surveyors lacked most of today's electronic and satellite-based aids. Surveying required patient, meticulous measurement ashore and off the coasts of places that were often remote, sweaty, rugged and inhospitable. Highlights were wartime wreck surveys in the North Sea; two years seconded to the Royal Australian Navy with work on the Great Barrier Reef; then as navigator and subsequently second in command of the Scott, Dalrymple and Vidal from 1949 to 1958, conducting survey work in home waters, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, the Mediterranean, West Indies and Belize. There is now a shallow area in the Gulf named Haslam's Patches.

He was promoted to commander in December 1957; the first of his six captaincies was the survey ship Dalrymple in which he proved safe routes for new deep-draught shipping from the Channel to Southampton and Portsmouth. Commanding the Dampier in 1959-60, he was in charge of finding routes for deep-draught shipping off east and west Malaya, then off Singapore and North Borneo for the approaches to new oil terminals.

While in Owen off East Africa and the Seychelles, he participated in the International Indian Ocean Expedition, which provided evidence for the theory of continental drift and tectonic plates. In January 1964 Owen rescued 180 women and children from the bloody Zanzibar Revolt in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. For this, Haslam was appointed OBE.

A change of pace was a return to general service as second-in-command of the naval barracks at Chatham. A bachelor all his life, Haslam used to "live in" in the wardroom, and his lively personality brightened an environment often considered gloomy--even running the bar himself after the barman had gone home. Always interested in and involved with young people, he was concerned about sailors returning having had too much to drink, so he organised a late-night fish and chip stall within the barracks--having first perforce to join the Fish Fryers' Union, or so he averred.

While for two years the Hydrographer of Australia, he advised the Government on all hydrographic matters and represented the country at the April 1967 International Hydrographic Conference in Monaco.

In command of the Hecla, he took part in important surveys of the North Atlantic seabed to confirm the safety of deep-diving ballistic missile and attack nuclear submarines and to provide navigational references.

Although Rockall [a tall rock jutting into the North Atlantic Ocean, at 57[degrees]36' N, 13[degrees]41' W] had already been annexed to the UK in 1955, Hecla planted a Union Flag on it as a demonstration of sovereignty.

After a tour in Whitehall as assistant hydrographer, he commanded the Hydra during surveys in the Solomon Islands, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea, mainly in unexplored areas so as to provide shorter routes for commercial shipping. For these surveys he was awarded the Admiral Sir George Back Award in 1974 by the Royal Geographical Society. (Admiral Back was a 19th-century Arctic explorer and RGS vice-president.) After a tour at Taunton, the operational headquarters of the Service, as Assistant Director (Naval), Haslam attended the senior officers' war course and was promoted to rear admiral and Hydrographer of the Navy in 1975, a post he held for ten years.

Besides routine management, he became responsible for letting contracts of about [pounds sterling]7 million a year to private surveying contractors commissioned by the Department of Transport (DoT) to meet the needs of deep-draught vessels, and supervising their work. He frequently represented the UK at international conferences, often being elected chairman. He was appointed CB in 1979 and KBE in 1984.

On leaving the Navy, Haslam became for two years the acting Conservator, River Mersey, and the DoT's adviser on port appointments until, in 1987, he was elected president, directing committee of the International Hydrographic Bureau in Monaco where he lived for five years until 1992.

Visiting Burma in 1991, Haslam heard that the Chinese were laying an oil pipeline to the coast and advised an offshore survey. "Not necessary," he was told, "we already have a survey signed by a Lieutenant Haslam, RN, which must be accurate." He had to point out that it had been compiled in 1945 at night with handheld lead-and-line for the benefit of assault landing craft, not tankers.

Haslam was elected a Younger Brother of Trinity House in 1976 and while Hydrographer worked actively to bring Trinity House and the Royal Institute of Navigation closer. In 1984 he introduced the Local Radio Navigational Warnings Service in conjunction with HM Coastguard--a service covering hazards that fall outside local harbour broadcasts. In 1985 he was asked to chair a Nautical Institute working party to respond to the Government's Green Paper on maritime pilotage.

He was a Fellow, member of council and president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; a Fellow, member of council and vice-president of the Royal Institute of Navigation; Fellow, member of council and vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society; vice-president of the Nautical Institute; president of the Field Survey Association; and a liveryman of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. He was a frequent contributor to professional journals on both policy and technical matters.

Outside his profession he was no less active. He was much involved with education, sport and young people--he had a particular enthusiasm for Bromsgrove School, taking a deep interest in the students and serving as governor and chairman of governors for more than 20 years. He was for a similar period president of the English Schools Basketball Association. He was president of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, of the Derby and Taunton Sea Cadets and the Derby RN Association.

His family life was much devoted to his host of nephews, nieces, great-nephews, great-nieces and his 32 godchildren. He is survived by a brother and sister.

Rear-Admiral Sir David Haslam, KBE, CB, Hydrographer of the Royal Australian Navy 1965-67, Hydrographer of the Navy 1975-85, was born on June 26, 1923. He died during the first weekend in August, 2009, aged 86.

(Reproduced with permission from The Times, 18 August 2009 and also online at Photo: Crown copyright)
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Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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