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In: 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 Philadelphia.

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.




In the U. S. Coast Survey, aside from ordinary Routine Duty,
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 1, 1843.
Appointed full Assistant under Superintendent Hassler, June 1, 1843.
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 that work.

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 Superintendent Bache.
Made an examination of the Mississippi River from Dubuque to St. Paul, with a view to its topographic survey, under Superintendent Peirce.
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 around Boston.

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 Patterson.
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 Bache.

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 raised.
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. Engineers.

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 and Wainwright.

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 pressing conditions.

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 death.

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.


Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

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