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Charles Hope Harris (1846–1915)

Charles Hope Harris, c. 1915 photographer unknown

Charles Hope Harris, c. 1915 photographer unknown

Observer (Adelaide), 3 July 1915, p 50

Present and future generations of Australians will know Mr. Charles Hope Harris, who died at his residence at Blackwood, early on Saturday morning, by his works in their interests. Astronomy, nomenclature, and surveying were his strong subjects, and his researches and publications in each of these spheres will endure as a monument to his memory. Few residents of South Australia were as highly respected as the late Mr. Harris. Born at Clare, Suffolk, England, in 1846, he was a son of the late Rev. Samuel Link Harris, a Congregational minister, who came to South Australia with his wife and family in the sailing ship Asia in 1851, and settled in the district of Macclesfield. At the close of his school days Mr. Harris entered the Survey Department in 1863 as a cadet in the field branch. He was promoted to the charge of a party in 1863. He was employed-in the department at intervals until 1869. During that year he obtained his surveyor's licence, after having spent a period in Melbourne qualifying as a mine surveyor and shire engineer. Mr. Harris opened on his own account in Hresham Chamber, on the site where the Australian Mutual Provident Buildings now stand. There he remained until 1871.

—Special Survey Work.—

In that year he was specially engaged by the Government to push on surveys in the northern agricultural areas. In 1871 he laid out the town of Port Pirie on the "spider-web" system, and also surveyed Laura, Curramulka, Ardrossan, and other towns. In 1874 he took charge of the trigonometrical survey north-west of Port Augusta, and pushed out beyond Lake Gardiner, as far as Wilgena. In the course of his survey he discovered and mapped Lake Harris. During 1875 he was transferred to the office staff, and subsequently engaged on special survey work for the department. In 1886 Mr. Harris was appointed Examiner of Licensed Surveyors' Work, and held the position until the time of his death. He was the Trigonometrical Computer and Secretary to the Board of Examiners for Surveyors. He was a member of the Institute of Surveyors from its inception, and was elected Vice-President for many years in succession. Mr. Harris was the acknowledged authority on variation and dip of the magnetic needle in South Australia, having taken observations and made records for nearly 30 years. For 10 years he was lecturer and examiner on surveying at the Adelaide School of Mines and at Roseworthy College.

—Valuable Works.—

The deceased gentleman was one of the founders of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Astronomical Society, and in 1910 he was honoured by the Royal Astronomical Society of London by election to a fellowship. He was the compiler, under the direction of the Surveyor-General, of the "Handbook for Government Surveyors," which has been revised, and is now in its fourth edition, issued last year. To this edition many valuable additions were made. He was author of pamphlets on "Variations of the Compass" (read before the Royal Society in 1883), "Terrestrial Magnetism," "Limits of Error in Field Work," and "Declination of the Magnetic Needle" (read before the Surveyor's Institute), "Geographical Nomenclature in South Australia," and "Photogrorometry" (given at the Science Congress meeting in Adelaide in 1893), and "South Australian Latitudes and Longitudes" (submitted at the Science Congress held in Adelaide in January, 1907). All those contributions were published by the associations in whose interests they were prepared. He also prepared MSS. for a work on "Geodesy and Practical Astronomy."

—An Astonishing Calculation.—

As one of the editors of The Public Service Review, Mr. Harris contributed interesting biographical and historical article to that journal, and was known all over Australia as a correspondent on scientific matters. It is related of him that, on one occasion he calculated, to an astonishing degree of accuracy the weight of a heavenly body which appeared every 70 years. The merit of his effort in this respect was proved by subsequent astronomical observations. Although failing sight necessitated the discontinuance of some activities, he continued to engage in the practice of his profession, and manifested a keen interest in the early history of the State and in native names. For many years he was a member of the Clayton Congregational Church, and on the occasion of its jubilee, in 1906, wrote up the history (printed as a brochure of 31 pages).

—The Family.—

In 1876 Mr. Harris married Margaret, second daughter of the late Rev. James Howie, for 35 years Congregational Minister at McLaren Vale. In addition to the widow, three sons—Messrs. H. P. Harris (of Dunstan Limited), who resides at North Kensington Park, and R. H. and C. J. Harris, of Blackwood—and three daughters, Misses Ethel, Rosalie, and Dora Harris, of Blackwood, survive.

—Mr. Harris on Nomenclature.—

1 .. Mr. R. Cockburn, author of "Nomenclature of South Australia," writes:—There was no subject in which the late Mr. Harris, was more keenly interested than that of South Australia's nomenclature. He and this colleague of the Survey Department, Mr. H. C. Talbot, worked on it for many years as a labour of love. It was rarely possible to put Mr. Harris out in the meaning of aboriginal names, and the authority with which he spoke was all the more remarkable in view of the restrictions which loss of vision imposed upon him. He drew upon his mental storehouse for everything, and with the use of a little brass rule to keep his lines horizontal he could turn out "copy" equal to that produced by the majority of sighted people. All the newspapers and many private correspondents drew upon his inexhaustible fund of knowledge incessantly, and his gentility of manner and natural inborn courtesy made him a most approachable man. Twenty-two years ago, Mr. Harris prepared and read before an Adelaide meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, a paper on the "Geographical nomenclature of South Australia." In concluding it, the author remarked that the work was too large for any one to take up single-handed, and expressed a wish that it would be tackled by a section of the Royal Geographical Society. That paper, however, formed the foundation of all the subsequent research on the subject of our nomenclature. In it Mr. Harris revealed the passion for native patronymiea that he always entertained. He remarked:—"Ignoring the wealth of history and romance wrapped up in the names given by the natives, to various natural features and localities, we have obliterated them for the sake of names more dear to viceregal representatives, such as Alice, Caroline, Anna, Joyce, Joanna, Julia, Laura, George, John, and James. Our territorial rights may be equivocal, but this surely does not trouble our conscience so much that we need hasten to destroy every vestige of the people who were once supreme here. We are said to be making history, but are we not lacking in courtesy an effacing the history of a less fortunate people whom we have displaced? . . . The Romans had a good deal of experience in colonisation, and they were particular to preserve the names of places of the people they conquered. This was ordered upon the ground that names of places chronicle scenes, sights, actions, wisdom, folly, and fate, end are the people's heritage. Camden (A.D. 1856), quoting from Porphyry, a learned Athenian (A.D. 278), notes that barbarous names are emphatic and concise, and considers it the duty of an enlightened people to preserve them, as fixing ideas, images, or conceptions of preceding races. He believes that all native languages are significative; that is, they all have a meaning, and are not mere appellatives. What is here quoted appears to be equally true of names which the Australian aborigines have applied to the distinctive features of their trackless home. It is surely not necessary to close the annals of this inoffensive, simple race. Certainly it is not generous of us to destroy their only records, nor as at wise to exclude from mental view, the panorama of their past." Mr. Harris was one of few surveyors who took the trouble to investigate the meaning of aboriginal names which came under their notice in the course of their earlier service to the State. He recorded many of them, but lack of encouragement prevented him from publishing a complete budget of his knowledge in this direction, and with his death, a lot of highly interesting, valuable, and exclusive information is lost for ever. Mr. Harris's honoured name occurs twice on our map through no self-exerted influence. Mount Harris, the highest point in Wood's Range, was named by Thetkins after the deceased civil servant "as an offering of regard and esteem." Lake Harris was discovered by Charles Hope Harris in August, 1874, and named by Governor Musgrave.

—Surveyor-General's Tribute.—

"He was a remarkable man," remarked the Surveyor-General (Mr. E. M. Smith) in the course of a fine tribute to the deceased. "Notwithstanding that he had entered upon his 70th year, I had hoped that his health would have permitted of his services being remained for an extra year beyond the time alloted in the Civil Service Act, should the Governemtn have seen fit to grant the extension. Although Mr. Harris had been afflicted with blindness for many years, his work was of great value to the department. His memory for mathematics was marvelous. In revising last year the handbook for Government surveyors, he added much valuable information. This publication is considered to be the best of its kind in Australasia. Mr. Harris was assisted in making the additions by a youth who wrote down at his dictation various problems which presented themselves. The late surveyor's health had failed very much during the last few months. Notwithstanding his great infirmity and impaired health, he was very bright and cheerful at all times, and dischargd his duties in a highly creditable manner."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Harris, Charles Hope (1846–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Charles Hope Harris, c. 1915 photographer unknown

Charles Hope Harris, c. 1915 photographer unknown

Observer (Adelaide), 3 July 1915, p 50

Life Summary [details]


Clare, Suffolk, England


26 June, 1915 (aged ~ 69)
Blackwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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