An Ev­ery­day Story of Hy­drog­ra­phy

The London Magazine - - JONATHAN MARRIOTT - Jonathan Mar­riott

‘No one’s in­ter­ested so I gave it to Pete the Gar­dener’. As my grand­mother al­bum, my mother was able to step in and res­cue the con­tents. This chance sav­ing of a group of wa­ter­colours led to a trail of re­search, reaveal­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer that spanned both the world and the years of naval trans­for­ma­tion from sail to steam.

It tran­spired that my great-great-grand­fa­ther, Ed­ward Wolfe Brooker, who served in the Navy as a hy­dro­g­ra­pher in the mid-nine­teenth-cen­tury, had the peak in Hong Kong; oth­ers were more ob­scure. My mother had them framed and they hung on the walls of my fam­ily homes over the years.

Then one day I was in Water­stones on Lon­don Wall and on the ta­ble was a book en­ti­tled Rat­tlesnake by Jor­dan Good­man. On the front was a pic­ture of HMS Rat­tlesnake, which I rec­og­nized as the same ship that fea­tured in about this ship that a new book was be­ing writ­ten about her to­day? I had to look into it fur­ther.

- ter’s As­sis­tant on ships com­manded by John Wash­ing­ton on sur­veys of the North Sea. This must have been cold hard work but Cap­tain Wash­ing­ton went on to be a founder of the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety and to be Hy and en­cour­aged his ca­reer, sup­port­ing his move to the Rat­tlesnake.

HMS Rat­tlesnake was re­spon­si­ble for ex­plor­ing the en­trances to the Great Bar­rier Reef in 1847. She went on to chart the seas around New Guinea and is con­sid­ered im­por­tant in the his­tory of ex­plo­ration of Aus­tralia. The as­sis­tant sur­geon of the ship was Thomas Hux­ley. It was Hux­ley’s voy­age sup­port Charles Dar­win by en­cour­ag­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of On The Ori­gin of Species. So what was my great-great-grand­fa­ther’s po­si­tion?

He was a lowly Mas­ter’s As­sis­tant (the Mas­ter was a non-com­mis­sioned of the young man was re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing strip pic­tures of the coast­line for nav­i­ga­tional pur­poses. Nine­teenth cen­tury charts of­ten had a long thin pic­ture of the coast­line along the bot­tom to help iden­tify land­marks. The pro­vided help­ful in­struc­tion. Fam­ily leg­end had Brooker as com­mand­ing his own ship, so how had he pro­gressed to earn a com­mis­sion from such hum­ble begin­nings? My re­searches now had to delve fur­ther into his life.

Af­ter the Rat­tlesnake re­turned to Eng­land, Brooker was pro­moted to Mas work in the work in the Mediter­ranean. This work was in­ter­rupted by the start of the Crimean War.

I have a dark pic­ture of the bom­bard­ment of Se­bastopol in 1854, painted by my rel­a­tive. This is timed, dated and in­scribed with the ships’ names and - edged as be­com­ing some­thing of an artist at this time, as the Green­wich Mar­itime Mu­seum has sev­eral prints of Brooker’s pic­tures from this pe­riod. Amongst them is a print from Se­bastopol at­trib­uted to him. The Mu­seum refers to him hold­ing the Le­gion d’Hon­neur and the Turk­ish or­der of Med­ji­die. Look­ing into naval records, it was also around this junc­ture that he was com­mis­sioned. He clearly had done more than just paint pic­tures.

in the Crimea. Un­der cover of dark­ness, Brooker was sent to ex­plore the

en­trance to the Dnieper River. He was ac­com­pa­nied by Lieu­tenant Mar­ryat who was the nephew of Cap­tain Mar­ryat, au­thor of Mid­ship­man Easy and The Chil­dren of The New For­est. They placed buoys to mark the safe com­man­der Sir Hous­ton Ste­wart, then pi­lot­ing the ships up the chan­nel. In Sir Ste­wart’s re­port to the Com­man­der-in-Chief Sir Ed­mund Lyons, he which they had ex­e­cuted ad­mirably. Sir Ed­mund duly com­mended them to the Ad­mi­ralty and, within a few weeks, they were both pro­moted, Mar­ryat by dec­o­ra­tion by both the Turk­ish and French gov­ern­ments.

Af­ter the Crimean War was over, Brooker re­turned to work with Cap­tain Spratt on sur­veys of the Eastern Mediter­ranean. Lt E.W. Brooker’s name now ap­pears on charts on the coast of Asia Mi­nor, Egypt, Cyprus and Crete. was pub­lished along with his de­scrip­tion of his time there. He dis­cov­ered many of the sites that are fa­mil­iar to vis­i­tors to­day. On a re­cent hol­i­day to his role ac­knowl­edged on one of the ex­plana­tory boards. While on Crete, I also found the an­cient bridge near the vil­lage of Vrises that was de­scribed by Spratt and was painted by my an­ces­tor 150 years ago. His pic­ture shows sight that was oth­er­wise un­changed from when my great-great-grand­fa­ther painted the scene.

Brooker re­turned to do­mes­tic wa­ters and con­tin­ued his chart­ing work on the south coast of Eng­land be­fore another over­seas post­ing. His next des­ti­na­tion was Tas­ma­nia, to chart the is­land coast and Ho­bart har­bour in par­tic­u­lar. For a time he be­came part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity in Ho­bart. He ex­hib­ited a wa­ter­colour of a Cairo street scene in a lo­cal art ex­hib­tion. When the lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­fused fur­ther funds for sur­vey­ing, he sold his tents and packed up. The Ho­bart Mer­cury of 16th March 1863 paid trib­ute

to him in the fol­low­ing words:

We were fore­most to hail the prospect of en­gag­ing the ser in var­i­ous parts of the world, as Di­rec­tor of Marine Sur­veys. We knew that there was hardly any district of the globe in which he had not mer­ited the high en­co­ni­ums of the Lords of be­hind him in the colony.

De­spite his time be­ing cut short in Tas­ma­nia, his mea­sure­ments were still used for an Ad­mi­ralty chart pub­lished in 1913 with his strip pic­ture along the bot­tom.

East he was given com­mand of HMS Sylvia. Once again he was to touch on global events and it is from this voy­age that we get some idea of what he was like as a man. Writ­ing his mem­oir in 1906, the then Ad­mi­ral J.W. Gam­bier gives an ac­count of life as a Lieu­tenant on the Sylvia un­der the

The Skip­per was an ami­able lit­tle per­son who gave him­self no trou­ble about any­thing un­der the sun - not even his “h’s,” which he left en­tirely to look af­ter them­selves, pop­ping in and out of his mouth like rab­bits in a war­ren.

to have a Skip­per who came from a rather dif­fer­ent back­ground. He was ap­par­ently un­aware of the ac­tions that led to Brooker’s dec­o­ra­tion and pro­mo­tion. He goes on to say:

He was ex­traor­di­nar­ily for­tu­nate in his ca­reer: be­gin­ning as Mas­ter’s As­sis­tant and be­ing trans­ferred to our line and be­ing made com­man­der very young. The same thing oc­curred

to a brother of his. They had a pow­er­ful pa­tron in a high Ad­mi­ral of high so­cial po­si­tion, and any­thing was pos­si­ble in those days.

From this, it would seem that Gam­bier was a bit of a snob who looked down on those who had risen from the ranks. If Brooker did have high Ad­mi­rals) he had cer­tainly earned their re­spect and sup­port.

Gam­bier does ac­knowl­edge that he was res­cued on one oc­ca­sion by the swift think­ing of his lit­tle Skip­per. One night on his way back to the boat, Gam­bier climbed onto a bal­cony to try and join a party. When his stick came into con­tact with the eye of some­one who came to the win­dow to see what was go­ing on, there was a fright­ful row and he was ar­rested by a slipped an­chor im­me­di­ately, get­ting out of reach of any sig­nals by morn­ing,

From this pe­riod we also have a let­ter writ­ten home to his young daugh­ter. He takes care to write in big let­ters and to make it in­ter­est­ing to a small girl. He drew a pic­ture of the ship in the mar­gin and went on to de­scribe the mis­be­haviour of the ship’s mon­key. He comes across as a car­ing fa­ther and hus­band, ask­ing the lit­tle girl to look af­ter her baby brother and their mother. On his trav­els, he car­ried a minia­ture pic­ture of his smil­ing wife, who is wear­ing one of his uni­form jack­ets whilst car­ry­ing his baby daugh­ter.

HMS Sylvia was a steamship de­signed for sur­vey­ing but still ar­moured as a naval ves­sel. She was sent to Asia, prin­ci­pally to sur­vey the wa­ters around ex­pe­di­tions. The Mar­itime Mu­seum has an al­bum of pic­tures by Lieu­tenant James Butt, who served on the Sylvia and painted Ta­ble Moun­tain at what must have been ex­actly the same time. The view is iden­ti­cal, with

both paint­ings in­clud­ing a small rowing boat with a blue coated man in the fore­ground and the sails par­tially set on a ship in the dis­tance. We can pic­ture the Com­man­der and his ju­nior paint­ing side by side on the wharf,

Ja­pan had been closed to for­eign trade for many cen­turies but in the 1860s had be­gun to open up. The Sylvia was at­tached to Ad­mi­ral Kep­pel for the open­ing of trade ports of Osaka and Kobe in 1869. Hav­ing vis­ited the Daymio in Osaka, they pro­ceeded to sur­vey the In­land Sea of Ja­pan, be­fore go­ing on to re­fuel in Shang­hai and to over-win­ter in Hong Kong. Brooker painted the Sylvia in Ja­pan and a view of Hong Kong where a sem­a­phore sta­tion is just vis­i­ble on the peak. The strip of de­vel­op­ment along the coast

Sadly, Brooker fell ill in Ja­pan and was in­valided out. He re­turned home but died in the fol­low­ing year, 1870, aged just 43. His ca­reer had started in the age of sail in the North Sea and ended un­der steam in Ja­pan. He had open­ing of Ja­pan to trade. He was an ex­am­ple of the of­ten-anony­mous across the globe dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury.

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