The first determined effort to survey the coastline of New Zealand and adjacent waters took place in 1848. On this date Captain J. Stokes, RN, in command of HMS Acheron, an auxiliary paddle steamer, began the task which was to cause his name to be inscribed with honour in the annals of the hydrographic surveying profession. Until the British Admiralty dispatched Captain Stokes on his mission to New Zealand, the only charts of the coastal regions and ports were those published as a result of Captain James Cook's exploratory voyages. A few local plans had been surveyed by Charles Heaphy, and other early pioneers, under the auspices of the New Zealand Company; an occasional HM ship, notably HMS Herald (1840), contributed soundings of anchorages visited in the course of their regular duties. But the expedition mounted in Acheron was to provide a complete coverage of all the coastline. The object was achieved in 1855. The final three years of the period saw Commander B. Drury, in HMS Pandora, a small brig, completing the work by surveying the small harbours and bar-protected rivers of the North Island. Very few people today realise the immensity of the task that was undertaken so successfully, and how the results provided the basis, until very recently, for almost all the charts of New Zealand published by the British Admiralty and other hydrographic offices.
That part of the east coast lying between Gable End Foreland and the Hauraki Gulf was revised during the early years of this century by HMS Penguin, an auxiliary steamer, but until 1937 practically no further surveying was done in our waters. Stokes and Drury laid the firm foundations of our modern hydrography and, indeed, were responsible for building the greater part of the structure still resting upon them.
HMS Endeavour, a converted coal-burning steam yacht, under the command of Captain A. G. N. Wyatt, RN, began the resurvey of the coast in 1937. In agreement with the New Zealand Government, who were to assist with a part of the costs involved, the Admiralty undertook to provide a complete scheme of new charts for the country involving the resurvey of much of the coastline and many of the ports and anchorages. It was calculated that the task would take about 20 years, but not included in this calculation was the advent of the Second World War. Shortly before the outbreak of war, Endeavour departed from the shores of New Zealand for the last time, having sounded out all the area from Mercury Islands to the Bay of Islands. She had earned a wonderful name in the country's maritime history for the work she completed, and her commander subsequently became the Hydrographer of the Navy. Many will still remember the vessel's graceful lines, and quite a number of her company later settled in New Zealand.
After the war the Admiralty had very heavy commitments for surveying work to be undertaken in many parts of the world and they were unable to send a surveying ship to New Zealand. As this state of affairs was likely to continue to be the case for some years to come, a solution to the problem was sought by the Government. It was suggested that the Royal New Zealand Navy should continue the work begun by Endeavour and, to assist this young, newly formed service, experienced senior officers and ratings would be lent by the Admiralty and Royal Australian Navy. There were no trained hydrographic surveyors in New Zealand and it was very obvious that our charts needed extensive modernisation. The suggestion was welcomed and in October 1949 the Surveying Service of the Royal New Zealand Navy was born.
HMAS Lachlan, an Australian surveying frigate built in 1944, was acquired on loan pending the construction of a suitable vessel for local conditions. As HMNZS Lachlan, she began work on the coast very soon after being handed over and, due to the generosity of the Royal Australian Navy, the loan agreements were extended until she was purchased in 1963. This ship is still the core of the service.
Much ground has been covered since Commander J. M. Sharpey-Schaffer, O.B.E., RN, took command of the Lachlan in 1949. One of the young New Zealand officers who joined the ship originally as a junior watchkeeper is now the Hydrographer, Royal New Zealand Navy, and all the officers and crew are personnel of that service. The results have been excellent; out of a chart scheme of 28 coastal charts, nine have been published, and 25 of the 30 port and port approach charts originally planned are also available for sale to the public. Further schemes are in hand to enlarge the scope of the coverage of our waters, and the requirement for new types of chart continually arises. The contribution to maritime safety is not the only factor to prove the usefulness of the surveying service, for it has been found that the development of new industries often depends on finding new ports and sea lanes. The hydrographic surveyor has had, and no doubt will continue to have, quite a generous hand in contributing to the nation's expanding economy.