Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Wharton, William James Lloyd

WHARTON, Sir WILLIAM JAMES LLOYD (1843–1905), rear-admiral and hydrographer of the navy, born in London on 2 March 1843, was second son in a family of three sons and four daughters of Robert Wharton, county court judge of York, by his wife Katherine Mary, third daughter of Robert Croft, canon residentiary of York. After receiving his early education at Woodcote, Gloucestershire, and at the Royal Naval Academy, Gosport, Wharton entered the navy in August 1857. On passing his examination in 1865 he was awarded the Beaufort prize for mathematics, astronomy, and navigation [see Beaufort, Sir Francis]. As sub-lieutenant he served in the Jason, corvette, on the North America and West Indies station, and on 15 March 1865 he received his commission as lieutenant. In July 1865 he was appointed to the Gannet, surveying vessel, and in her served for another three years on the North America station. In February 1869 Sir James Hope [q. v.], commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, on the recommendation of Prof. Thomas John Main [q. v.] of the Royal Naval College there, offered Wharton the appointment as his flag-lieutenant. Wharton was inclined to refuse, wishing to enter the surveying branch of the service, but accepted on the advice of Main, who thought that the three years ashore would be to his advantage. On 2 March 1872 he received his promotion to commander, and in April was appointed to command the Shearwater, in which during the next four years he made surveys in the Mediterranean and on the east coast of Africa. ‘In the Mediterranean his work was especially distinguished, and his examination of the surface and under-currents in the Bosphorus, the account of which was officially published, not only solved a curious problem in physical geography, but may be considered as prescribing the method for similar inquiries.’ In May 1876 he was appointed to the Fawn, and continued his surveys on the same stations till 1880. On 29 Jan. 1880 he was promoted to captain, and in February 1882 was appointed to the Sylvia, in which he conducted surveys on the coast of South America, and especially in the Straits of Magellan. In 1882 he published his ‘Hydrographical Surveying: a Description of the Methods employed in constructing Marine Charts,’ a work which at once took its place as the standard textbook of the subject. In August 1884 he was appointed hydrographer to the navy in succession to Sir Frederick Evans [q. v.], and continued to hold this post, with increasing credit, until August 1904, when the state of his health compelled him to resign it. Wharton was a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Astronomical and Royal Geographical Societies. He was perhaps most devoted to the last-named of these, as a vice-president, and as a member of numerous committees on which he did much important work. He was retired for non-service on 2 Aug. 1891, and was promoted to rear-admiral on the retired list on 1 Jan. 1895. He was made a C.B., civil, in 1895, and was raised to the K.C.B., civil, at the jubilee of 1897. In 1899 he took a prominent part in the work of the joint Antarctic Committee of the Royal and Royal Geographical Societies.

The chief of Wharton's publications were his ‘Hydrographical Surveying,’ already mentioned, of which new editions continue to appear; ‘A Short History of H.M.S. Victory,’ written while he was flag-lieutenant at Portsmouth, and re-issued in 1888; ‘Hints to Travellers,’ an edition of which he edited for the Royal Geographical Society in 1893; and the ‘Journal of Captain Cook's First Voyage,’ which he edited with notes in 1893.

In July 1905 Wharton left England for Capetown to act as president of the geographical section of the British Association, which was holding its annual meeting in South Africa. He attended all the meetings of the association, and subsequently visited the Victoria Falls of the Zambesi. There he fell ill of enteric fever. He was removed to the Observatory, Capetown, where he was the guest of Sir David Gill. He died there on 29 Sept. 1905, and was buried with full naval honours in the naval cemetery at Simonstown. He married on 31 Jan. 1880 Lucy Georgina, daughter of Edward Holland of Dumbleton, Woodcote, Gloucestershire, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. After his death ‘The Wharton Testimonial Fund’ was formed wherewith an addition was made to the value of the existing Beaufort prize for naval officers, the double award being entitled ‘The Beaufort Testimonial and the Wharton Memorial,’ and including a gold medal, bearing on its obverse Wharton's bust. Two posthumous portraits were also presented in 1908, one of which was accepted by the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery and hung there immediately; and the other was placed in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

[The Times, 30 Sept. 1905; R. N. List; Geog. Journal, xxvi. 684.]

L. G. C. L.