Raper, Henry (1799-1859) (DNB00)

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RAPER, HENRY (1799–1859), lieutenant in the navy and writer on navigation, born in 1799, was eldest son of Admiral Henry Raper [q. v.] He entered the navy in November 1811 on board the Mars, then commanded by his father. When the Mars was paid off he was sent to the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, whence he passed with distinction, obtaining the silver medal for proficiency in mathematics. After a short time in the Nymphen frigate he was appointed, in October 1815, to the Alceste with Captain Murray Maxwell [q. v.] In her he made the voyage to China, experienced shipwreck in Gaspar Straits, and took part in the encampment on the island of Pulo Leat. He was afterwards in the Tyne and the Seringapatam; and in January 1821, by his father's interest, joined the Adventure sloop with Commander William Henry Smyth [q. v.] With Smyth he served in the Mediterranean, was placed in charge of the chronometers, and had exceptional opportunities for the scientific study of navigation, nautical astronomy, and surveying. On 17 May 1823 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and was appointed to the Euryalus, from which he was shortly after moved to the Dispatch brig. In January 1825, when Captain Frederick William Beechey [q. v.] commissioned the Blossom for a voyage round Cape Horn and to Behring Strait, he placed the filling up of three vacancies in the hands of Smyth, and on his nomination offered Raper the post of first lieutenant. Raper, however, imagined that his father had been undeservedly slighted by the admiralty, and declined Beechey's offer, thus virtually retiring from active service.

From that time he devoted himself to nautical science. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical and Royal Astronomical Societies, repeatedly served on their councils, and was for many years secretary of the latter. In 1832 he was appointed by the admiralty on a committee to consider the method of measuring the tonnage of ships, and the report was drawn up principally by him. In 1840 he published his ‘Practice of Navigation,’ which was at once recognised as the best work on the subject, a position which it still holds in the opinion of practical navigators, although at the Royal Naval College the preference has always been given to the work of Dr. James Inman [q. v.] or later modifications of it. For this valuable work Raper was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society; and in 1850 Smyth, then president of the society, called special attention to the third edition ‘as well, generally, for the useful additions engrafted on its pages, as, particularly, for its admirable and well-organised table of geographical positions,’ to the number of eight thousand eight hundred. Raper always intended to publish a second volume, treating of the theory of the practical rules contained in the first; but the work grew under his hands, and his failing health prevented his completing it. He died at Torquay on 6 Jan. 1859, leaving a widow.

[Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. xxix. p. ccxxvi; Gent. Mag. 1859, i. 221.]

J. K. L.