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Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Percy Douglas






Henry Percy DouglasVice-Admiral Sir Henry Percy Douglas KCB CMG FRGS FRAS AICE (1 November 1876 – 4 November 1939) was a British naval officer who specialised in surveying and was Hydrographer of the Navy. he was the 2nd son of Admiral Sholto Douglas, CB Born 1st November 1876, in Rock Ferry, Cheshire, died 4th November 1939.

Percy Douglas, hydrographer, was born at Dacre Hill, Higher Bebington, Cheshire, on 1 November 1876, the second son of Admiral Sholto Douglas (1833–1913) and his first wife, Maria Louisa, the only daughter of William Bickford, of Stonehouse, Devon. He entered the training ship Britannia as a naval cadet in 1890 and in 1892 was appointed to the Cleopatra on the North America and West Indies station as midshipman. At the end of 1895 he was transferred to the Majestic, the flagship of Lord Walter Kerr in the channel squadron, and in 1896 he was promoted sub-lieutenant. Then followed the usual courses at Greenwich and Portsmouth. Having decided to enter the surveying branch, he served in the Stork, a surveying ship, in the Pacific for nearly three years; he was promoted lieutenant in 1898. In that year he married Katherine Chute, the second daughter of Captain John Mackenzie, Lincolnshire militia, of Belmont, near Kirkcudbright. They had one daughter.

Until the end of 1906 Douglas was continuously employed on surveying work in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, China, the west coast of Africa, and home waters. He then had a short spell ashore as naval assistant to the hydrographer, and in June 1907 joined the Egeria at Esquimalt for survey work in the north Pacific. A year later he was selected for command of the Waterwitch for the survey of the Malacca Strait and other Far Eastern waters. In March 1910 he was brought to Whitehall to be superintendent of charts in the hydrographic department, a post he held for nearly five years, and at the end of the year was promoted commander. By this time Douglas was recognized as one of the ablest of the younger surveying officers, and when Admiral John de Robeck, at the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign, asked the Admiralty for the addition to his staff of a good surveying officer, Douglas was sent out in February 1915 and joined the flagship Inflexible. Later he transferred to the Queen Elizabeth and Lord Nelson. De Robeck's dispatches contain several mentions of his ‘work of inestimable value to the fleet’. His expertise was in fact indispensable for successful landing operations: he compiled and printed new local charts and dealt with problems of minefields, ranges, and indirect bombardment. His zeal and ability were recognized by promotion to acting captain in October 1915, confirmed two months later.

In June 1916, after the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula, Douglas returned to the hydrographic department and held the new office of director of the naval meteorological service from April 1917 until January 1918. Then Admiral Roger (afterwards Lord) Keyes, who had been chief of staff to de Robeck, asked for Douglas's assistance on his staff at Dover in preparation for the Zeebrugge and Ostend exploits. He was accordingly appointed to the Arrogant (Keyes's flagship) for indirect firing duties. Keyes reported that his services were invaluable and his dispatches of May 1918 stated that the preparation of the routes from the starting point of attack by the removal of obstructions and the placing of navigational marks and marks for the long-range bombardments were carried out by Douglas and his assistant. For this service he was appointed CMG and received the Belgian order of Leopold and the Italian silver medal for valour.

From February 1919 until July 1921 Douglas was assistant hydrographer, after which he resumed duty at sea in command of the Mutine, and later the Ormonde, for surveys in British Guiana and the West Indies. He received the official commendation of the governors of Honduras, Jamaica, and Bermuda for surveying work in their waters.

Douglas returned to the Admiralty as hydrographer of the navy in October 1924 and, on completing the normal five years in that office, was offered and accepted an extension for three more years on condition of retiring from the active list. He was appointed CB in 1929 and KCB in 1933. He reached flag rank in February 1927 and was promoted vice-admiral on the retired list in 1931.

Douglas was much interested in the technical side of his professional work and had a probing, inventive mind for the discovery of new aids to navigation. When in command of the Waterwitch he developed the Douglas–Schafer sounding gear, which did much to facilitate the accurate determination of the depth of water in from 20 to 100 fathoms. He received the thanks of the Board of Admiralty ‘for devising and perfecting a sounding traveller for rapid sounding for ships under weigh’ and was given a money prize for this service. He was an enthusiastic advocate of echo-sounding, and it is mainly owing to his enterprise that this valuable invention was adopted for general use. Various improvements in surveying apparatus are due to him, especially the development of the 45° prismatic astrolabe.

In hydrography, Douglas's interest was chiefly in improvements of instruments and the geodetic and astronomical control of marine surveys, and he did much to improve both; he maintained his study of meteorology, begun officially in 1917. He was from 1928 to 1932 Admiralty representative on the Discovery executive committee, appointed by the Colonial Office for the promotion of research in the southern and Antarctic seas, and took a leading part in the design, equipment, and manning of the new ship built for that purpose. He gave close and invaluable personal attention to all her proceedings until she was finally laid up shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939. This work led to his being associated with other polar exploration schemes, in which his expert help was readily and unobtrusively given. He had many intimate friends, particularly in the scientific world, and seldom made enemies. He was a younger brother of Trinity House.


Sir Henry Percy Douglas devised the Douglas Sea Scale which classifies Sea Swell, Wind, and Wave length and height. It is wide use today - & There are other sea scales in use such as the Beaufort Wind Scale which was used by Sir Douglas Mawson on his Banzare Voyages to the Antarctic in 1929/30 and 1930/31. The Douglas Sea Scale and the Beaufort Wind Scale are complimentary measurement navigational scales.


A further innovation by Sir Henry Percy Douglas (when he was a Captain) was the Douglas Navigation Protractor and the Douglas-Appleyard Arcless Sextant.

After retirement from the service Douglas was appointed acting conservator of the Mersey and chairman of the Dover Harbour Board. On the outbreak of war in September 1939 he was employed as commodore superintendent of Dover, where he died on 4 November following; he was buried at sea on 7 November at his own wish in the Strait of Dover.

His name is inscribed on the Dover Harbour Board World War II memorial.

This is from the Chatham Naval Memorial:
DOUGLAS, Vice Admiral, Sir HENRY PERCY, K C B, C M G, H.M.S. Pembroke, Royal Navy. 4 November 1939. Age 63. Son of Admiral Sholto Douglas, C.B., and Maria Louisa Douglas; husband of Katherine Chute Douglas. Younger Brother of Trinity House; Chairman of the Dover Harbour Board 1934; Conservator of the Mersey. 33, 1. 

Note: His wife's maiden name was Mackenzie. They married 28/12/1899

Rank History RankDate attainedSourceMidshipman15 September 1892ADM 196/44Sub-Lieutenant14 March 1896ADM 196/44Lieutenant30 September 1898ADM 196/44Commander31 December 1910ADM 196/44Captain31 December 1915Navy List Apr 1929Rear-Admiral01 February 1927Navy List Apr 1929Vice-Admiral01 June 1931ADM 196/44



File:Sir (Henry) Percy Douglas by Walter Stoneman, 1919.jpgbromide print by Walter Stoneman, 1919


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