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Humphrey Derek Howse

Male 1919 - 1998  (78 years)


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  • Name Humphrey Derek Howse  [1
    Born 10 Oct 1919  Weymouth, Dorset Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Birth Abt Nov 1919  Weymouth RD, Dorset Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Honour 1945  [1
    Distinguished Service Cross 
    Service 1945 
    Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy 
    Honour 1954  [3
    Member of British Empire 
    Name Humphrey D Howse  [2, 4
    Occupation Between 1963 and 1969  [1
    • Assistant Keeper, Department of Navigation and Astronomy, National Maritime Museum
    Occupation Between 1969 and 1976  [1
    Head of Astronomy, National Maritime Museum 
    Occupation Between 1976 and 1979  [1
    • Deputy Keeper and Head of Navigation and Astronomy, National Maritime Museum
    Occupation Between 1979 and 1982  [1
    Keeper, National Maritime Museum 
    Died 26 Jul 1998  London Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Humphrey?Derek?Howse Obituary Daily Telegraph
    Humphrey?Derek?Howse Obituary Daily Telegraph
    Notes 
    • Obit from The Independent, August 4, 1998
      When Derek Howse was the head of a large and active Department of Navigation and Astronomy at the National Maritime Museum, there was a project he would say he was saving "for my dotage". He never reached his dotage, but in retirement he did write a biography, Nevil Maskelyne: the seaman's astronomer, published in 1989, of the fifth Astronomer Royal. In the preface Howse explained that his ambition to write on Maskelyne went back as far as 1967 and, more precisely, to a conversation he had had in the Meridian Building of the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich with Colonel Humphrey Quill.

      Quill was Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and the author of a fine biography of John Harrison. He had brought a manuscript to show Howse, who thought at first it was a collection of notes by Maskelyne in preparation for an autobiography. Howse decided "there and then" to write the book that was to appear over 20 years later.

      The story is interesting on several counts. Quill and Howse were sitting in the building where for 46 years Maskelyne had carried on his astronomical work. Howse leaves the reader of his preface to notice another coincidence: the date he is careful to mention, 1967, was the 200th anniversary of Maskelyne's greatest achievement, the inaugural year of the annual Nautical Almanac.

      At that point in his career Howse had no publications to his credit; indeed he had been professionally involved with historical and curatorial work only since 1963, when he had joined the Museum as an Assistant Keeper. It seems rather a sudden resolution on the basis of a slight command of the available sources. But whether instinctively or on account of some prior knowledge, Howse may have recognised a rapport between his subject and himself. As a young man Maskelyne went to sea on astronomical and navigational ventures at the behest of the Royal Society and the Admiralty, before spending most of his working life in the Observatory at Greenwich. Howse was a seamen and navigator, who enjoyed a second career in the Old Royal Observatory much in the company of astronomers.

      In an excellent biography, Howse describes a likeable, helpful, clubbable, friendly man, who enjoyed the company of family, friends and colleagues, and who enjoyed his work. The parallels are obvious. At the end of the standard recital of acknowledgements, Howse takes the unusual step of thanking his subject for having a legible hand and a "pleasant personality", which "made the writing of this book a most agreeable task for me".

      Howse was born in Weymouth in 1919. His father was a Captain in the Royal Navy, and after entering the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1933 as a cadet, Howse was at sea as a Midshipman by 1937. As Sub-Lieutenant and Lieutenant in destroyers and minesweepers he served throughout the Second World War, in the Battle of the Atlantic, in the Dover Straits and North Sea, and in the Mediterranean. He specialised in navigation and in aircraft detection, was mentioned in dispatches three times and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945.

      It was typical of Howse to be modest about his war service and his friends learnt little about what lay behind this distinguished record. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant- Commander in 1949, and his post-war service included navigating the cruiser Newcastle during the Korean War. He retired in 1958.

      After several positions in the commercial world, Howse found his metier in 1963, when he joined the National Maritime Museum as an Assistant Keeper in the department of the distinguished historian of navigation Lt-Cdr D.W. Waters. His timing had been perfect: the museum was set for a period of development unimaginable today and Howse had the challenge of turning the observatory buildings recently vacated by the astronomers, the historic meridian building in particular, into one of the world's great astronomical museums. Howse grasped the opportunity with characteristic energy, delighting in recovering and restoring the original instruments to their proper settings, and founding his displays on scholarly research preserved in his 1975 volume Greenwich Observatory: the buildings and instruments.

      Howse became Head of Navigation and Astronomy in 1976, with the rank of Keeper in 1979. He ran a good-humoured and productive department, promoting esprit de corps, encouraging his staff in their various projects and taking pride in their success. He wrote one of his most successful books, Greenwich Time and the Discovery of the Longitude (1980), recently republished, among many authored and edited books and articles on the histories of navigation, hydrography, astronomy and horology.

      As his scholarly work gathered pace, Howse gave the impression that he was enjoying it all enormously. It gave him particular pleasure that, having been a naval cadet by the age of fourteen and without having attended university, he was becoming respected in an academic role. Yet there was nothing pompous about his occasional reference to his lack of formal qualifications, rather a modest and genuine surprise at what was happening to him. This aspect of his career reached its zenith in 1983 when, in retirement, he was appointed to a Visiting Professorship attached to the Clark Library of the University of California, Los Angeles.

      His productivity was scarcely affected by retirement in 1982, when he was appointed a Caird Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum. Among other work, his valuable international compilation of observatory instruments to 1850, the Greenwich List of Observatories, appeared as a special issue of the Journal for the History of Astronomy in 1986, his biography of Maskelyne was published in 1989, and a history of Radar at Sea in 1993.

      Among other marks of distinction, Howse became President of the British Astronomical Association, President of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, and a Liveryman of the Clockmakers' Company. He served on the councils of numerous societies and had a wide circle of friends who shared his interests. He particularly relished being secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society Club, whose dinners are linked to the monthly meetings of the Society, and also enjoyed the meetings of the Equinoctial Club of instrument enthusiasts who, as might be imagined, dine less frequently.

      A final and signal award to Derek Howse will be posthumous. The Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Navigation will be presented in October to mark his service to the history of navigation. It is a recognition in which his many friends will take particular pleasure.

      Jim Bennett

      Humphrey Derek Howse, naval officer and historian of astronomy and navigation: born Weymouth, Dorset 10 October 1919; DSC 1945; MBE 1954; Assistant Keeper, Department of Navigation and Astronomy, National Maritime Museum 1963- 69, Head of Astronomy 1969-76, Deputy Keeper and Head of Navigation and Astronomy 1976-79, Keeper 1979-82, Caird Research Fellow 1982-86; married 1946 Elizabeth de Warrenne Waller (three sons, one daughter); died London 26 July 1998.

      Also: Obit from the Daily Telegraph:
      LIEUTENANT COMMANDER DEREK HOWSE, who has died aged 78, was a leading authority on maritime navigation and astronomy, and the author of many books and articles on navigational history, instruments and personalities.

      The range of Howse’s knowledge of navigation, the depth of his scholarship, and his skill as a writer were all very evident in his Radar At
      Sea, commissioned by the Naval Radar Trust and published in 1993. In preparation for the book, Howse wrote to the editors of nautical and technical journals, asking for relevant reminiscences and anecdotes. He had an overwhelming response, from Admirals of the Fleet to ordinary seamen, and from Fellows of the Royal Society to laboratory assistants.

      From such personal material, and from official records and reports of proceedings, Howse produced a definitive account of the development
      of radar and its operational use at sea in the Second World War.

      It was necessarily a technical subject, demanding the reader’s close attention, but Howse also wrote about the people who designed and fitted the equipment, and those who used it at sea. He included such wartime events as the recovery of a radar set from the wreck of
      the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spec, scuttled in the River Plate in 1939, the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Haguro off
      Penang in 1945, and eye-witness accounts by submarine COs of their use of radar in war patrols.

      Humphrey Derek Howse was born on October 10 1919, the son of a naval captain, and went to Dartmouth as a cadet in 1933. His first ship
      as a midshipman in 1937 was the battleship Rodney. After sub-lieutenant’s courses in 1939, he spent almost the whole of the Second World War at sea in small ships, where, he later said, "I hardly ever saw a radar officer." He served in the destroyer Boadicea and
      was First Lieutenant of the destroyer Sardonyx, escorting Atlantic convoys in 1941. He was then First Lieutenant of the destroyers Garth and Inconstant.

      On July 12 1945, lnconstant was escorting a convoy off Algeria when she obtained an asdic contact which was classified as "fish". But
      when a depth charge failed to disperse the "fish", the contact was hurriedly up-graded to "submarine". lnconstant made six depth-
      charge attacks, driving U409 to the surface, where the crew abandoned ship before it sank. Inconstant picked up 55 survivors. The next Anti-Submarine Monthly Report described this as -"an excellent example of a single ship hunt’’. Howse was mentioned in despatches.

      He then qualified as a specialist navigating officer and returned to the Mediterranean in April 1944, as "N" of the minesweeper Rinaldo,
      leading the 19th Minesweeping Flotilla. The 19th took part in Operation Brassard, the assault on Elba in June 1944, and Dragoon, the landings in the south of France in August, when Howse was again mentioned in despatches.

      Until the end of the war, the 19th and other Flotillas kept pace with the advancing armies on both coasts of Italy, clearing many miles of
      inshore channel under shell-fire, so that supplies for the armies could be landed right up to the front lines. For Rinaldo's work in the Adriatic in April and May 1945, Howse was mentioned in despatches a third time. He was finally awarded the DSC in December 1945 for his service in the ship.

      Howse specialised in fighter direction in 1947, and joined the radar staff at HMS Dryad, the navigation school at Southwick Park, near
      Portsmouth. In 1953 Howse was appointed MBE after serving as "N" of the cruiser Newcastle in the Korean‘War. He retired in 1958.

      He was appointed Assistant Keeper in the Department of Navigation and Astronomy at the National Maritime Museum in 1963, retiring as head of the department in 1982. He was then Caird Research Fellow of the museum until 1986.

      Howse was Clark Library Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1983-84. He was also a stalwart of .such scientific bodies as the Antiquarian Horological Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Institute of Navigation, who awarded him their
      Gold Medal this-year.

      Howse’s- other books include Clocks and Watches of Captain James Cook, (1969); The Tompion Clocks at Greenwich (1970); Francis Place and the Early History of Greenwich Observatory (1975); Greenwich Time and the Discovery of the Longtitude (1980, revised 1997); and Neoil Maskelyne, the Seaman’s Astronomer (1989).

      Derek Howse wore his learning very lightly. He was always ready to lend his expertise to others, and he kept up a regular correspondence with friends and fellow scholars all over the world. He married, in 1946, Elizabeth Waller; they had three sons and a daughter.
    Person ID I42742  ONS
    Last Modified 24 Jan 2015 

    Father Humphrey Francis Howse,   b. Abt Jul 1889, Stamford Hill, Hackney, London Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Abt Nov 1967, Greenwich RD, London Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 78 years) 
    Mother Henrietta R C Thornton 
    Married Abt Aug 1918  Steyning RD, Sussex Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    Family ID F13054  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Elizabeth J De Warrenne Waller 
    Married Abt May 1946  Hove RD, Sussex Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    Children 
     1. Living
     2. Living
     3. Living
    Last Modified 24 Jan 2015 19:06:53 
    Family ID F13055  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 10 Oct 1919 - Weymouth, Dorset Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBirth - Abt Nov 1919 - Weymouth RD, Dorset Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - Abt May 1946 - Hove RD, Sussex Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 26 Jul 1998 - London Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Sources 
    1. [S323] The Independent, Newspaper of London, August 4, 1998.
      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-ltcdr-derek-h owse-1169494.html

    2. [S476] BMD register (England & Wales) - births - multiple sources.
      available online from various sources

    3. [S323] The Independent, 1998 August 4.
      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-ltcdr-derek-h owse-1169494.html

    4. [S475] BMD register (England & Wales) - marriages - multiple sources.
      available online from various sources