Admiral Henry Charles Otter, RN

To mark the laying of the club's racing buoy on Otter Bank, members of the LBSC might like to read about the man who first surveyed the loch and whose name the bank bears.

Henry Charles Otter was born in 1808 (+/- 1 year) in Bolsover, Derbyshire which is roughly midway between Liverpool and Skegness and therefore a good distance from the sea. 

 In 1845, having been engaged to undertake a survey of the waters of, and off, Western Scotland, Henry Otter buys the Manor House in Oban (now a hotel).

In 1845 a very distinctive personality became the owner of the mansion. This was Admiral Otter, who was most aptly named, for he could swim and dive like that amphibious animal. The Admiral was appointed to carry out the Hebridean Survey of dangerous waters of the West Coast, a task that took twenty years to complete. He was a deeply religious man and belonged to the sect of the Plymouth Brethren.


When visiting the Islands in his naval vessel it was his custom to conduct evangelistic services at the ports. He and his sailors painted Bible texts on the rocks of Lorn. The sea has obliterated all of them except the one on the rock face near Tobermory Pier, where the huge letters of the text “God is Love” have been kept freshly painted every summer by seafaring men for well over 100 years. There is no doubt at all that it was Admiral Otter who, while in occupancy of the Manor House had the Hebrew words “Jehovah Shammah” (the Lord is here) engraved over a door of the house.

The Admiral was the first person to organise Christian Youth Fellowship in Oban, open to both boys and girls. Their meetings were held on Saturdays in a local hall. He was very popular with the boys whom he taught swimming and diving. His young converts he often baptized in the Manor grounds at a spring well there, in what the Oban people called the Plymouth tank.

1851 finds Henry C Otter, Commander RN, and his wife on Portsea Island, Hampshire, visiting John Birch, a General in the Royal Engineers. As it was this branch of the Army that provided services to the Ordnance Survey, it is extremely likely that the General and the Commander were discussing matters relating to surveying, whether on land or at sea.

In 1858 the first Transatlantic Telegraphy cable was laid and Captain Otter pilots the final stages of the journey into Trinity Bay, Newfoundland from HMS Porcupine, a paddle-steamer that he is also using in his survey of the waters of the Western Isles. He notes the peculiarities of the tides in the Sound of Harris at this time, too, and no doubt his survey played a pivotal role in the later cabling of the isles.

By 1871 Henry is an Admiral (Retired List) still living with his brother in Hanwell, Middlesex.

He is believed to have died in June 1876 in Hampshire at the age of 68

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