SCIENCE, Friday, February 19, 1897.
Mr. Henry L. Whiting,
Assistant U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and Chairman of the
Massachusetts Topographical Survey Commission, died at his residence
in West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, on Thursday, February
4th, the last day of the seventy-sixth year of his life. Mr.
Whiting’s position as a public officer was in many ways
unique; his services in the corps to which he belonged were
noteworthy, and he had, in addition, filled many positions of
responsibility and dignity, which came to him in recognition
of his high character and professional accomplishments. A brief
account of a career so remarkable will be of interest to the
many who knew him either personally or through his work, and
to all who appreciate a life full of useful activities in faithful
and efficient public service.
In the length of that service it is doubtful
if his equal is now living. Had Mr. Whiting lived a few weeks
longer he would have entered his sixtieth year of continued
public service, all as an officer of the Coast and Geodetic
Survey, which he entered at an early age. He served some time
under Hassler, the first Superintendent, and for many years
he stood alone as the only member of the corps who had served
under every superintendent of the Survey.
Mr. Whiting was born at Albany, New York. His
father was a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas at Troy. His
grandfather was William Bradford Whiting, a Colonel in the Revolutionary
War and a lineal descendant of Governor William Bradford, of
the Plymouth Colony. One of his brothers was a classmate of
General Grant at West Point and held high rank in the army at
the time of his death; another was graduated at the Naval Academy,
was one of Commodore Perry’s officers in the Japan Expedition,
himself holding the rank of Commodore at the time of his death.
Others of the family were distinguished, but Henry Laurens,
the youngest, survived them all, except a sister, now residing
In the Coast Survey his great work was the
development of the topographical operations of that bureau.
He was regarded as the father of the system so long and so successfully
in use, and every topographer in the service has at some time
been under his direction and instruction. He did, indeed, direct
at one time the main triangulation of the coast of Florida,
but his tastes and instincts were so strong in the direction
of topography that he was at an early day given entire charge
of that department of the Survey. Besides being actively engaged
in field work, he continued throughout most of his life to serve
as general topographical inspector.
Of the general conference of topographers of
the Survey held in Washington in 1892 he was chairman, and although
then over seventy years of age, one of its most active and useful
members. By detail of the Superintendent, Professor Peirce,
Mr. Whiting inaugurated the instruction in land and harbor surveys
at Annapolis, and under a similar detail he served for two years
as professor of topographical engineering at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. He was consulting engineer for the
Massachusetts Harbor Commission for twelve years and a member
of the Commission for three years. He was actively related to
and a member of other harbor surveys and commissions at various
points along the New England coast. With the approval of the
Superintendent he was appointed, in 1884, a member of the Massachusetts
State Topographical Survey Commission, serving as chairman after
the resignation of General Francis A. Walker, in 1892. In 1890
he was appointed a member of the Mississippi River Commission
by President Harrison, whose grandfather’s inaugural address
he had heard from the east front of the Capitol while temporarily
at the office of the Coast Survey after a long period of field
duty. He continued to serve on this Commission until his death.
In common with a number of his colleagues in
the Survey, Mr. Whiting did important service during the Civil
War. Of those officers absent in the field at the time of its
beginning he was the first to report in Washington for volunteer
service, reaching there by way of Annapolis, after Baltimore
was cut off, at the same time with the New York 7th Regiment.
During the war he made many topographical surveys for military
purposes. On the laying of the French cable it was on his recommendation,
the question having been referred to him, that Duxbury was selected
as the terminal station, his excellent judgment being fully
proved by the remark subsequently made by Sir Charles Hartley
that it was the most successful ocean cable landing in his experience.
Personally Mr. Whiting was most agreeable and
charming. He had the dignity of manners which is usually associated
with “a gentleman of the old school,” along with
a simplicity of character and openness of heart that made him
beloved by all who came in contact with him. He was a man of
splendid physique, as his long and uninterrupted service shows,
and even after passing the allotted threescore and ten he never
shrank from any duty, however arduous it might be.
His activity in the field ceased only with
his death, and in 1894 he was, by direction of the Superintendent,
in general charge of the resurveys of Boston Harbor, the field
work of which was done by a half dozen of his younger colleagues.
During some months before his death the unusually
excellent condition of his health and his ever youthful spirit
excited comment among his friends; the end of his life had not
for several years seemed more remote than on the day and within
the hour in which it came. In his nearly sixty years of continuous
public service he achieved a distinction in his profession of
which his corps may well be proud, and all who have enjoyed
personal relations with him will hold him in loving remembrance.
T. C. MENDENHALL
MEMORANDUM OF SERVICE OF
HENRY LAURENS WHITING
In the U. S. Coast Survey, aside from ordinary
By Henry L. Whiting
Joined Coast Survey under Superintendent Hassler July, 1838.
First Charge of Topographical party, as Aid, June, 1842.
Appointed Sub-Assistant under Superintendent Hassler, March
Appointed full Assistant under Superintendent Hassler, June
Proposed the scheme and was assigned, by Superintendent Bache,
to conduct the first systematic inspection of field work and
continued it through the superintendency of Prof. Bache, Prof.
Peirce, and part of that of Capt. Patterson.
In 1849 was ordered, by Superintendent Bache, to take charge
of and carry forward the main triangulation of the coast of
Florida, previously in charge of Assistant Hilgard, and executed
Was the first officer appointed, by Superintendent Peirce, to
a general charge of a Sub-department of the Survey – that
of Topography, Prof. Mitchell in Physical Hydrography, and Mr.
Cutts in Triangulation, following in order.
Was detailed by Superintendent Peirce as Acting Instructor in
field surveys in the Naval Academy at Annapolis, then under
Admiral David Porter, and had the graduating class in charge,
and inaugurated the system of making a survey of Annapolis Harbor,
which has been followed annually since.
Was appointed, with the approval of Superintendent Peirce, Professor
of Topographical Engineering in Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
and that office for two consecutive years.
During the winter of 1859-60 made the study and devised the
system of conventional signs, rules and regulations, and the
system of lettering in connection with the nomenclature for
field and publication work on respective scales which have governed
those operations of the Survey since.
Proposed the system of double field parties, working two or
more sets of instruments, and successfully executed it under
Made an examination of the Mississippi River from Dubuque to
St. Paul, with a view to its topographic survey, under Superintendent
In 1867, by direction of Superintendent Peirce, made a topographical
and hydrographical survey of Provincetown Harbor, Mass., for
a State commission, on the results of which an appropriation
of $150,000 was made by Massachusetts, and engineering work
of harbor improvement executed by Mr. James B. Francis.
In 1869 was detailed, by Superintendent Peirce, to do service
for the Harbor Commission of Massachusetts, and continued that
service until July, 1881. During that time devised the present
system of draw-way openings in the railroad and city bridges
In 1876, by direction of Superintendent Patterson, made an examination
of the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Puget Sound, in reference
to extending the range of coast topography.
In July, 1881, by authority of the Secretary of the Treasury
and concurrence of Superintendent Patterson, was appointed by
Governor Long of Massachusetts a member of the State Harbor
Commission, and continued to hold that office until its time
expired in July, 1884.
In August, 1884, by authority of the Secretary of the Treasury
and concurrence of Superintendent Hilgard, was appointed by
Governor Robinson a member of the Massachusetts State Topographical
Survey Commission, and, by vote, made the executive member of
that board, which office is still held.
Was an acting member of the State Commission for Portland Harbor,
Maine, and devised and laid out the scheme of the Harbor Lines
and the Flats Improvement of that Harbor in connection with
the physical surveys by Prof. Mitchell, and had charge of the
topographical parties of the Coast Survey making the city Survey,
by authority of Superintendent Peirce.
Was instrumental in obtaining a State appropriation of $5,000
for the re-survey of the Inner Harbor of Boston, Mass., and
executed that work and devised and laid out the Harbor Lines
of that port, by authority of Superintendent Patterson.
Made the Topographical Surveys and devised and laid ou the Harbor
Lines of Providence Harbor, Rhode Island, in connection with
the Physical Surveys of Prof. Mitchell, by authority of Superintendent
Was associated in the study of harbor lines for New Haven Harbor,
Conn., based on the surveys of Mr. R.M. Bache and Prof. Mitchell,
by authority of Superintendent Peirce.
Made the topographic Surveys and studies in connection with
the hydrographic surveys by Prof. Mitchell, which are the bases
of the engineering work by G.K. Warren, U.S.A., under an appropriation
by Congress of $22,000, for opening the south inlet of Edgartown
Harbor, Mass., by authority of Superintendent Peirce.
Made and participated in various surveys of New York Harbor
and Sandy Hook, N.Y.
When the Civil War broke out was the first officer of the Survey
absent on other duty to come to Washington for volunteer service,
reaching there, via Annapolis, after Baltimore was cut off,
at the same time with the New York 7th Regiment.
When Gen. Mansfield first crossed the Long Bridge, made the
first co-operative survey on the part of the Coast Survey with
the Army, by order of Gen. Scott and direction of Superintendent
Subsequently made the survey of the ground of occupation by
the Confederate Army at Manassas immediately after it was evacuated
by Gen. Beauregard.
Had charge of the Coast Survey parties making the first surveys
of the Potomac River after the blockade of Mathias Point was
At the time of the panic at Philadelphia, when Gen. Lee invaded
Pennsylvania, was called from other duty by Superintendent Bache,
then having charge of the defences of Philadelphia, and made
a military reconnaissance with a radius of 15 to 20 miles of
the approaches to that city from the right bank of the Delaware
to the right bank of the Schuykill, with location and sketches
of strategic positions, including the ground of Washington’s
battle of the Brandywine, and prepared large plans and devised
a system of conventional signs representing the various classes
of proposed military works of defence. These and accompanying
report were approved and accepted by Gen. Totten, chief of U.S.
By direction of Superintendent Bache and order of Gen. Totten
made an examination of the islands of the Atlantic coast north
of Mason and Dixon’s line for the purpose of establishing
a guarded station for Prisoners of State. After visiting the
islands from Virginia to Massachusetts the final selection of
Dutch Island in Narragansett Bay, R.I., was determined on, which,
with accompanying report, was approved by Gen. Totten.
Made a topographical and hydrographical survey of Coaster’s
Harbor Island, near Newport, R.I., for the purpose of removing
the Naval Academy from Annapolis to Newport.
By direction of Superintendent Peirce the subject of the landing
of the French Cable was referred for examination. After thorough
reconnaissance of the south-easterly part of the coast of New
England – the general ground designated in the order –
and after conference with the French and English Commissioners,
the site of Duxbury Beach in Massachusetts Bay was determined
upon as the preferred location and “Rouse’s Hommock”
selected as the point of landing. The report on this subject,
with accompanying charts, sketches and descriptions, were approved,
and adopted without modification by the authorities having charge
of the cable, and the landing was made by Sir Charles Hartley
at the precise point indicated, and subsequently stated by him
as the most successful ocean-cable landing in his experience.
In the co-operative work of the Government in furnishing points
to States, from September, 1884, to the present time, April,
1890, have had charge of the triangulation in Massachusetts
on the part of the United States as an officer of the Coast
Survey and the part of the State as a commissioner.
In the line of the Department of Topography which has been the
more especial work officially without personal volition, as
much has been accomplished, individually, by precept and example,
towards the higher attainment of standard in results and in
advancing the interests of the Survey, as that effected by any
single officer in any one department of the Survey.
In 1881, when other duty withdrew continued personal service
from the field, the official record in topographical results
showed the largest amount of work individually done in the Survey
up to that date.
May 3, 1890, was appointed by President Harrison a member of
the Mississippi River Commission.
1892, on the resignation of Gen. Francis A. Walker as a member
of the Massachusetts Topographical Survey Commission, who had
been chairman of the Board since its organization, was elected
by the Board its chairman.
1892, was appointed by Superintendent Mendenhall Chairman of
the Topographical Conference of officers of the U.S. Coast and
Geodetic Survey held in Washington, D.C., from January 18th
to March 7th; a printed report was submitted and published.
January 11, 1894, was instructed by Superintendent Mendenhall
to take general supervision of the surveys of Boston Harbor
being made by Assistants Bache, Boyd, Ogden, Tittmann, Vinal
OFFICE OF THE COAST AND GEODETIC SURVEY,
Washington, D.C., February 6, 1897.
To the Members of the
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey:
It becomes my painful duty to announce to you
the death of our oldest and most faithful Assistant of the Survey.
Henry L. Whiting, Assistant, U.S. Coast and
Geodetic Survey, died at his home in Martha’s Vineyard,
Massachusetts, February 4, 1897, in the seventy-sixth year of
his age and in the fifty-ninth year of his services on the Survey.
Assistant Whiting was born at Albany, New York,
February 5, 1821, and entered the Survey in July, 1838, as topographer,
and he was the last survivor who served under all Superintendents
the Survey has had. During this extraordinarily long career,
he most faithfully devoted his energies to his life’s
task, and it can justly be said that to him, more than to anyone
else, is due the development of the art of the topography on
the Survey. How much his services were appreciated in this direction,
and the confidence placed in his ability by the several chiefs
of the Survey, are abundantly shown by the fact that he was
from early times frequently called upon to inspect the field
work of other survey parties, and that his counsel was sought
in questions of improvement of navigation and investigations
of changes in natural features of coast and harbor lines.
Though the field of his principal labors was
on the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New
York, we find him also engaged in special surveys along the
coast as far south as Florida, and in 1876 he was directed to
inspect the topography so far executed on our Pacific Coast
and report as to the best manner of its continuation, under
In 1866 he was detailed, for a time, as instructor
in practical surveys at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. In 1869
his knowledge of the features of the coast was called for in
the location of the Trans-Atlantic Cable at Duxbury, Massachusetts.
It was, however, in the direction of the performance
of larger and more responsible duties that he rendered the most
important services; thus in 1884 we find him appointed as one
of three Commissioners to conduct the topographic survey of
the State of Massachusetts, which afterwards developed into
a complete trigonometric survey, including town as well as State
boundaries. Of this work he has been director since 1892, and
one of his last acts, but a few days ago, was in the interest
of the continuance of the trigonometric survey of the State.
He was also a member of the Board of Harbor
Commissioners for Boston Harbor. A not less important position
was filled by him as a member of the Mississippi River Commission.
His appointment dates from June 10, 1890, and the duties connected
therewith were faithfully discharged by him to the time of his
Since his appointment in 1884, as one of the
Commissioners of the topographic survey of the State of Massachusetts,
his active field duties as an Assistant of the Coast Survey
have ceased. Yet he still retained the position of an Assistant,
and as such represented the Coast Survey upon both the topographic
survey of Massachusetts and the Mississippi River Commission.
With him a most useful life has passed away,
and his devotion to its duties may serve as an example worthy
to be followed.