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SHORTLAND, PETER FREDERICK, Royal Navy officer and marine surveyor; b. in 1815, probably in England, the son of Thomas George Shortland, a captain in the Royal Navy, and Elizabeth Tonkin; m. in 1848 Emily Jones, and they had several children; d. 18 Oct. 1888 at Plymouth, England.

Peter Frederick Shortland entered the Royal Navy in January 1827 and two years later graduated with distinction from the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. In 1834 he was appointed sub-lieutenant and in 1836–37 he served as mate of the Rattlesnake, during which time he assisted in the settlement of Melbourne, Australia, by making a survey of Port Phillip Bay, his first such work. On his return to England in 1838 he received a leave of absence and entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, from which he graduated 1st class in mathematics in 1842. He then applied to join the Excellent and was promoted lieutenant. Shortly after, he was sent to join the Columbia under Captain William Fitz William Owen*, who was just starting an extensive trigonometrical survey of the Bay of Fundy. Detailed soundings were to be taken, surveys were to be made of all rivers and creeks as far inland as their first bridges or to the farthest navigable point, and the exact positions of all settlements, mills, and factories were to be determined. The work was later broadened to include the examination of possible sites for a canal to link the Bay of Fundy with Northumberland Strait and of harbours which might be developed on the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Shortland was actively involved throughout this survey, which was begun in 1842 and not completed until 1865. Owen, a demanding superior, reported in 1843 that Shortland had completed a series of measurements on the ice of the Saint John River for a distance of 90 miles as part of the triangulation for the survey of the river. He continually praised Shortland as an “intelligent” officer who “understands the precise objects in view, and pursues them with a proper spirit, and with a tact seldom acquired without much more experience.” In 1844 Shortland was entrusted with the supervision of the survey of Passamaquoddy Bay and given command of the Columbia.

Shortland was promoted commander in 1848. In the same year the Admiralty considered cancelling the Bay of Fundy survey because of its expense and Owen, by now a rear-admiral, was told that his rank precluded him from engaging in the work. The Admiralty was persuaded to reconsider and Owen recommended that Shortland replace him. The survey was resumed in 1849 with Shortland in charge. Promoted post-captain in 1858, he reported in 1861 that the survey of the last piece of the Fundy coastline and of the Petitcodiac and Memramcook rivers had been completed. He then surveyed the southeast coast of Nova Scotia and worked on his charts before submitting the completed survey in 1865. He received the thanks of the Admiralty for his excellent work.

After his return to England Shortland was placed in charge of the Hydra and accepted postings to survey the coast of Sicily and later to take ocean soundings between Aden and Bombay. He retired from the Royal Navy in November 1870, but then studied law at Cambridge and was called to the bar in January 1873. He was promoted rear-admiral in 1876 and vice-admiral in January 1881 before his death in 1888. Shortland was a dedicated and conscientious officer who spent most of his naval career in a branch of the service which rarely receives the attention it deserves. He gave 23 years to the Bay of Fundy survey and his competence is evident in the 15 major charts he completed of the coast of Nova Scotia and the shores of the Bay of Fundy. They form the basis for present-day charts of the region.

William Arthur Spray

Peter Frederick Shortland was the author of Bay of Fundy: remarks for sailing directions, etc. (2v., London, 1856–57); Sounding voyage of her majesty’s ship Hydra, 1868 . . . (London, 1869); A short account of the laws which govern Her Britannic Majesty’s navy (London, 1887); and Nautical surveying (London and New York, 1890).

G.B., Ministry of Defence, Hydrographic Dept. (Taunton, Somerset), Surveyors’ letter file, no.44 (mfm. at UNBL). Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 3 Dec. 1842. Times (London), 19 Oct. 1888. DNBMemoirs of hydrography, including brief biographies of the principal officers who have served in H.MNaval Surveying Service between the years 1750 and 1885, comp. L. S. Dawson (2v., Eastbourne, Eng., [1883]–85; repr. in lv., London, 1969).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William Arthur Spray, “SHORTLAND, PETER FREDERICK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shortland_peter_frederick_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shortland_peter_frederick_11E.html
Author of Article: William Arthur Spray
Title of Article: SHORTLAND, PETER FREDERICK
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: November 22, 2014