KERR, JAMES HOOPER, staff commander in the Royal Navy and hydrographic surveyor; b. in 1828 in Jersey, Channel Islands; m. in March 1862 at Simonstown, Cape of Good Hope, to Mary J. Bull; d. 24 Aug. 1877 at Hammersmith, Eng.
James Hooper Kerr entered the Royal Navy at Portsmouth on 18 Oct. 1843 as a volunteer in the Victory. His mathematical ability must have been exceptionally high for he was soon rated acting master’s mate in the navigating branch of the navy. In 1844 Kerr joined the Flamer in the Mediterranean and in the same year was promoted second master in the Volage on the same station. He was appointed in 1851 to the surveying ship Pandora for the New Zealand survey. Five years later he was promoted master in the Actæon for the survey of China and the Tartary coasts. The Actæon was engaged in operations against the Chinese and Kerr was awarded the China War Medal (1857–60).
James Kerr’s work in the surveying service – to which so much is owed by all the maritime nations of the world – had been noted by the Admiralty, and in April 1864 he was appointed master in charge of the important Newfoundland survey. For nearly eight years, working both ashore and afloat, he surveyed and charted the coasts and harbours of Newfoundland. Lines of soundings, rocks, shoals, and other hazards to navigation had to be accurately fixed by compass bearings or sextant angles of special marks on the coast line; then they had to be plotted on charts. In 1867 Kerr was promoted staff commander.
Over 40 of Kerr’s Newfoundland surveys, topographic maps, and sketches – including that of the telegraph cable in 1866 – are preserved in the archives of the Hydrographic Department. Current editions of Admiralty charts which still give credit to Staff Commander Kerr include Gander Bay to Bonavista and Cape Bonavista to Bay Bull, including Trinity and Conception bays.
In 1871 Kerr returned home to take charge of the survey of the west coast of England. He remained at that post until his retirement, shortly before his death. Staff Commander Kerr was one of the distinguished fraternity of seaman-scientists who have served in the Royal Navy down the ages. The work of surveying uncharted coasts was always arduous, often dangerous, and called for a high degree of professional skill. James Kerr was a man dedicated to his profession.
G.B., Ministry of Defence, Hydrographer of the Navy (Taunton, Somerset), Admiralty charts by J. H. Kerr, 1866–71. PRO, Adm. 38/2118 (Victory, muster books); Adm./Ind. 12568–57/1 (surveying officers services). G.B., Adm., Navy lists (London), 1844–77. Archibald Day, The Admiralty hydrographic service, 1795–1919 (London, 1967).