The Irish Bomfords

Extract from Survey Review Vol. 37 No. 291 January 2004 pages 418 to 420, ISSN 00396265, reproduced here with permission. Copyright © Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy 2004.





It is with deep regret that we record the death on May 10 2003, at the age of 76, of Tony Bomford. The son of Brigadier Guy Bomford, Tony was born in Dehra Dun, India while his father was attached to the Survey of India and of which he was later to become Director. At the age of four he went to England with his mother to start his schooling. At a later stage Bomford senior arranged for his son to drop choir and piano lessons in favour of more mathematics and this was greatly appreciated.

As with many past land surveyors, Tony was attracted by the adventure of the profession, but he took that liking to extremes by concentrating on the wild wastes of areas such as Antarctica and Greenland. He particularly enjoyed the challenge of little-known landscapes, fostered by the experience of several mapping projects with the British Schools Exploring Society on expeditions to northern Quebec, Iceland and Lapland. He once remarked that "If I had been born in Captain Cook's day, I'd have wanted to be one of his lieutenants."

With the military background of his family, he was destined to join the Royal Engineers in 1944 straight from Shrewsbury School and then follow his father's geodetic interests. This latter was aided when the Army sent him to Cambridge University first in 1945 and then again a few years later. On each occasion he obtained First Class Honours.

As a captain in the RE he had a period from June 1953 to June 1955 on secondment to the Directorate of Colonial Surveys and this was spent in Tanganyika. He joined the DCS party under C G T Bere on the reconnaissance for a 1100 km long primary triangulation chain in the south of the country. This started from old German primary stations in the Uluguru mountains south of Morogoro, crossed the Rufiji river, headed south to the Moçambique border, then followed the Ruvuma river westwards to Lake Nyasa. Bomford also built and observed many of the stations of the chain. He selected the site for the Nachingwea base line in the Southern Province and was one of the team of six surveyors who measured what was to be one of the last lines to be measured using the Macca equipment with invar tapes. From there Bomford was sent to Lushoto, in the Usambara Mountains to put in a secondary triangulation network up to the Kenyan border.

Bomford was an extremely fit and enthusiastic field surveyor, strongly motivated and fully focussed in whatever he did. As an example, his routine when in the Rufiji area was to rise at 5am, breakfast in the dark and be ready to move off with his team just as dawn was breaking. In one camp an even earlier start was made, having been over‑run by safari ants at 2am. It was also Bomford who volunteered to observe the highest peak in the Ulugurus, a 2 day march in. He returned with harrowing stories of a night spent wondering if he and his team would survive a huge storm, with lightning bolts striking the ground all around. He was a very practical surveyor, who was patient with his junior colleagues; some on their first tour overseas.

Soon after returning from East Africa he became a member of Duncan Carse's South Georgia Survey of 1955‑56. He was First Surveyor of the 8‑man team. He had been introduced to Carse by the Directors of DCS "as a suitable candidate to properly tie up South Georgia". The expedition sailed from South Shields 25 Aug 1955 and returned to Tilbury on 6 May 1956.

The aim was to complete the work of Carse's 1951‑2 and 1953‑4 surveys and thus achieve a new and accurate map, the first with full trigonometric control and reliable form lines. The results were good and 4 out of 5 field excursions were completely successful, and only a few small (5‑10 sq. mile) areas were incomplete. Bomford and his seven companions endured atrocious weather, hauling heavy sledges over mountainous terrain, living in two‑man tents and negotiating innumerable treacherous first ascents with their survey gear.

His map of South Georgia won him the Mrs Patrick Ness Award of the Royal Geographical Society, the citation stating that his work had established a new standard in Antarctic mapping. For more than 40 years his map has remained the definitive one of South Georgia and one of the sharp peaks marked on it bears his name. His detailed report of the expedition, together with numerous photographs, is preserved in the Port Stanley museum in the Falklands.

From the surveys of Carse and Bomford the DCS produced a monochrome 3 sheet map of South Georgia at 1:100 000 in 1957 and (incorporating further work by Carse in 1956‑7) a coloured map at 1:200 000 in 1958 (DOS 610). When DOS 610 was being printed in 1958, HMS Protector returned from South Georgia with helicopter photos of much of the coast, a severe test of any map surveyed from the ground, which it passed creditably. Bomford later used these photos (at 1:18 000) to produce three further maps at 1:25 000 of the area of Stromness & Cumberland Bay; Willis Islands to Weddell Bay and Cooper Bay to Cape Harcourt. On May 26th 1996 Bomford attended a 40 year reunion in England of the five survivors of the South Georgia Survey 1955‑56.

In 1956 he was elected to membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and later became FRICS.

While at Cambridge in 1951 he married Australian‑born Elizabeth Honey, whom he had met the previous year. This provoked an interest in Australia and led him to take leave in 1954 to visit the country. Four years later he was back on exchange from the Ordnance Survey to work with the Australian Army Survey Corps. He worked on mapping projects in central Queensland and the Kimberley where, in the more difficult country, surveying was done with the use of helicopters. His work in the Kimberley led to one of the features he mapped being named Mount Bomford.

After that stint, Bomford returned to Britain, determined that he would make his future life in Australia. He spent two years with the Ordnance Survey geodetic control division, where he achieved his promotion to major, before moving to Australia and joining the Division of National Mapping in 1961 as a senior surveyor. The next 20 years at National Mapping saw him become supervisor of geodetic surveying, assistant director and then director in 1977, after having turned down the offer of an academic post at London University a year earlier.

He remained director for five years, during which he made a significant contribution as a member of the National Mapping Council's Technical Subcommittee, as well as to the Institution of Surveyors, of which he became President, and as Examination Secretary of the Australian Institution of Cartographers and President of its Canberra Division. As surveyor, assistant director and director, he made a major contribution, particularly on the technical front. He worked hard to establish harmonious working relations with state surveying organisations and the Army Survey Corps.

His first work in Australia was the geodetic survey and adjustment that established the control network and associated geoid over the launching range at Woomera. This was the first geoid determination in Australia and the techniques were extensively used during later years in mapping the continental geoid and determining the geodetic datum of best fit.

On moving to National Mapping he began work on the adjustment of the national geodetic survey. As well as cooperating at working level with each of the members of the National Mapping Council in collection of data he compiled the Fortran program to make the least squares adjustment by variation of coordinates. The only computer able to cope with the volume of data at the time was the CSIRO CDC 3600. He had much of the program written before the computer was installed in June 1964 and the Varycord program's first run was only three months later.

R H Hudson of the CSIRO Computing Research Section wrote the sub‑routine for solution of the normal equations, based on the Cholesky method. The adjustment covered 2506 triangulation and traverse stations, divided into 161 sections with 101 junction points, Laplace observations at 533 of the stations and some 53 000 km of Tellurometer traverse. Two connections across Bass Strait provided Australian Geodetic Datum (AGD) coordinates for Tasmania and USAF Hiran connections to a traverse up Cape York extended the Australian Geodetic Datum to Papua New Guinea.

The final run of the National Adjustment was made on 8 May 1966. The surveys were not free of mistakes, to use Bomford's distinction between 'mistakes' and 'errors'. His view was that 'Surveyors are paid to get the right answer, and the wrong answer scores nought; yet the only man who can be quite certain of making no mistakes is the man who says nothing and does nothing'. Mistakes were methodically tracked down and rectified, with no loss of good will anywhere at his working level.

The establishment of the AGD based on this adjustment was a very significant step in the availability of accurate coordinates over the Australian continent that we enjoy today.

When presenting a paper on the completion of the trans‑Australia traverse run by Federal Surveys his opening remarks were that it would take over 4 hours to fly from end to end in a jet and that certainly gripped the audience.

In 1982 he was finding that the objectives and techniques of survey were changing in ways that no longer satisfied him, so after five years as Director of the Division of National Mapping he took early retirement.

Bomford then turned to creative work at home and adventurous travel abroad. As his close friend Grahame Budd recalled, he walked and climbed in many parts of North and South America, Iceland, the Himalayas and other countries; kayaked in Greenland, New Guinea and other waters; and revisited South Georgia. In August 1997 when 70 years old he went kayaking in Scoresbysund, Greenland for 12 days; 6 kayaks, 12 people but with no backup.

Every trip yielded a written and illustrated narrative. Those narratives, along with his field and personal diaries, more than 80 volumes in all, will go into the Australian National Library's manuscripts collection.

Those close to him describe him as a warm‑hearted, generous man with a gift for friendship, invariably exuding cheerful matter‑of‑factness in trying circumstances. To any task in hand his commitment was absolute.

He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and children Richard, Philip, Mary and Annabel.

He wrote five papers for the (Empire) Survey Review:-

Among his other publications are the following:

This obituary has been compiled from a variety of sources for which due thanks are given.