Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Findlay, Alexander George

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FINDLAY, ALEXANDER GEORGE (1812–1875), geographer and hydrographer, born in London, 6 Jan. 1812, was a descendant of the Findlays of Arbroath, Forfarshire. His grandfather was a shipowner of that port, who transferred his business to the river Thames about the middle of last century. Findlay's father, Alexander Findlay, also a geographer, was born in London in 1790, and became one of the original fellows of the Royal Geographical Society on its foundation in 1830. Among his numerous undertakings successfully completed was an atlas sheet of the environs of London (1829) to a distance of thirty-two miles from St. Paul's (upon a half-inch scale), every line of which was his own handiwork. He died in 1870. The son early devoted himself to the compilation of geographical and hydrographical works, and his atlases of 'Ancient and Comparative Geography' are known all over the world. In 1851 he completed the revision of Brookes's 'Gazetteer,' and the same year published his earliest important work, on the 'Coasts and Islands of the Pacific Ocean,' in 2 vols. of 1,400 pages. By the death of John Purdy, the hydrographer, in 1843, he succeeded to the foremost position in this branch of nautical research and authorship. His researches in the kindred science of meteorology further attracted the attention of Admiral Fitzroy, who in the earlier days of meteorological investigation invited him to join an official department then about to be established, but Findlay preferred an independent career. In the course of years of immense labour he prepared and issued six large nautical directories, which have proved invaluable to the maritime world. These directories are accompanied by illustrations, charts, &c., and include 'the North Atlantic Ocean,' 'The South Atlantic Ocean,' 'The Indian Ocean,' 'Indian Archipelago, China, and Japan,' 'The South Pacific Ocean,' and 'The North Pacific Ocean.' 'These works,' observes Sir Henry Rawlinson, 'constitute a monument of industry and perseverance, and are accepted as standard authorities in every quarter of the globe.' As a cartographer Findlay exhibited a wide practical knowledge of the sailor's requirements which even the hydrographic department of the admiralty was not able to surpass, and he executed a series of charts universally known and appreciated by the mercantile marine. The Society of Arts awarded Findlay its medal for his dissertation on 'The English Lighthouse System.' Subsequently he published 'Lighthouses and Coast Fog Signals of the World.' At the time of Sir John Franklin's catastrophe he carefully sifted all the probable and possible routes, and as a member of the Arctic committee of the Royal Geographical Society materially assisted in preparing the arguments which induced the government to send out the Alert and Discovery expedition of 1875. On the death of Laurie, the London geographical and print publisher, in 1858, Findlay took up his business, which soon sprang into renewed activity under his guidance, and in 1885, on the dispersal of the navigation business of Van Keulen of Amsterdam, founded in 1678, it became the oldest active firm in Europe for the publication of charts and nautical works. Findlay devoted much time to the labours of his friend, Dr. Livingstone, in central Africa, and he also carefully investigated the question of the sources of the Nile. For the record of the Burton and Speke explorations in the lake regions of central equatorial Africa during 1858-9 he constructed a map of the routes traversed. He also wrote a paper on the connection of Lake Tanganyika with the Nile, accompanying it by a comparative series of maps relating to the northern end of the lake. Findlay served on various committees appointed by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and contributed the following papers to section E : at Liverpool in 1853, 'On the Currents of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans;' Exeter, 1869, 'On the Gulf Stream, and its supposed influence upon the Climate of N.-W. Europe.'

In 1844 Findlay was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and soon became an active member of its council and committees. To the 'Journal' of the society he contributed several papers, as well as to the 'Transactions of the Royal United Service Institution,' and to the 'Transactions of the Society of Arts.' Findlay's services were pronounced equally worthy of remembrance with those of Arrowsmith and Petermann. In 1870 the Società Geografica Italiana elected him one of its foreign honorary members. Findlay's various publications embrace a total of no less than ten thousand pages, all of which are in active use. He died at Dover on 3 May 1875.

[Royal Geographical Society's Journal, vol. xlv. 1875; Athenæum, May 1875; Bookseller, June 1875; private memoranda.]

G. B. S.