Captain Michael Slater

This film is for Captain Michael Atwell Slater [1796-1842].

Music credits:
(1) ‘Chasing the Sun’ by James Ross
(2) ‘Motets’ – by Johann Christian Bach

The following is a passage from ‘The Gate of Angels’ by Penelope Fitzgerald:

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In May 2021, David L Walker kindly got in touch with me and offered to share detailed accounts of Captain Slater’s surveys [and his correspondence with] the Admiralty Hydrographer, Captain Francis Beaufort. David Walker said this about Captain Slater: “I feel that I know him personally from his correspondence and superb coastal views.”

I explained to David Walker that I was not a relation of Captain Slater but was drawn to Thurso by the story of the captain and that I first came across him through old ordnance survey maps. Sadly, on my visit to Thurso, I found that Captain Slater’s cliff-top  memorial had collapsed and none of the locals that I spoke to seemed to have heard of him.

In reply David Walker shared with me  a wonderful manuscript that  he had written about Captain Slater*. From this manuscript I learned more about Captain Slater’s fascinating and rather brilliant career. I also learned that Captain Slater was made a Commander 5 years before he died!

*Largely based on Beaufort's letter books (UKHO, LB6 to LB10) and those from Slater (UKHO, SL6a and SL6b).

David Walker’s manuscript begins: “This [account] describes Slater’s surveys from the Moray Firth to Caithness, with particular reference to information provided by the Ordnance, and the relationships between Captain Beaufort, the Admiralty Hydrographer, and ‘his’ surveyors.  It also describes the deployment of the steam vessel Meteor to the Pentland Firth, Slater’s relations with Mr George Thomas, who was responsible for surveying the north side of the Firth, and the appointment of Slater’s successor after his fatal fall from Holburn Head.”

Which is followed by this summary of Captain Slater’s career: “Between 1828 and 1831 he completed charts of the English coast from the Tees to the Tweed, and returned there from 1838 until the summer of 1840 when Beaufort found that additional surveys of the harbours were needed; from 1832 until 1835 he completed the Scottish coast from the Firth of Tay northwards to Kinnaird Head and westwards to Cullen in Banffshire; in 1836 and 1837 he was engaged on both sides of the Moray Firth as far as    the Ord of Caithness; from the autumn of 1840 until his death in February 1842 he made good progress with the coasts of Caithness including the southern shores of the Pentland Firth (although some of this work had to be completed by Lieutenant Otter, who succeeded Slater on the northern coasts of Scotland).”

David Walker also sharred with me details of a recent ‘attic sale’ that included  for the Sutherland Estate which included this illustrated volume by Captain Otter: Illustrated manuscript survey of the North coast of Scotland:

This volume includes a painting of Slater’s monument based on the following sketch from Captain Otter’s sailing instructions:

This sketch - OD301, North Coast of Scotland, Captain Otter, 1845 - is reproduced with permission from the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.