16 Jul 2021
by HCMM Admin

The Honourable Company and its History of Sundials

This article tells the story of two sundials, commissioned and gifted by the HCMM throughout the years.

Liaising with the Royal Navy

The Honourable Company from its inception sought to form and maintain links with the Royal Navy.  The First Sea Lord, The National Hydrographer, Commander Marine Reserves, The CO London Division RNR and the CO Royal Marine Reserves (City of London) have been Honorary Members of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners for many years.  However, the first Royal Charter restricted membership to holders of a Foreign Going Master’s Certificate of Competency.

In 1994 the Wardens became aware that the UK Hydrographic Office would be celebrating its bicentenary in 1995.  It was considered appropriate that the Company  recognised their 200 years of contribution to safety of life at sea.  Subscriptions were invited from commercial shipping organisations and a sundial commissioned from Captain Christopher St J. Daniel (Deputy Master 1989-90), who was a noted designer of sundials. 

Sufficient funds were raised and a dinner arranged when the Hydrographic Squadron were assembled in West India Dock as part of the celebrations.  The sundial was presented to the Hydrographer of the Navy by the Master.  It was later taken to the hydrographic office in Taunton for installation in the grounds.

The sundial is circular piece of slate with a spike gnomon.  Around the rim is inscribed the following,

Presented to the Hydrographer of the Navy by the Master of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners in recognition of 200 years contribution to safety of life at sea.

In order to complete the circumference the names of the hydrographer and Master were added.

At this time the Company was revising its charter and the opportunity was taken to expand the membership qualification to include mariners of equivalent competency.  When the new charter came into force, the then Rear Admiral Essenhigh assisted us in defining ‘equivalent competency’ which was defined as holding command of a major warship.  This presented an anomaly as the qualification for an MN member was to hold a certificate of Competency and not necessarily hold command. 

Later, as Commander in Chief Fleet, Admiral Essenhigh introduced the CQ1 and CQ2 qualifications for RN officers to conform with IMO STCW95.  Thus equivalence became defined by formal qualification.


Telling the Time, by Casting a Shadow

In 2000, Captain Daniel was commissioned to design a sundial, representing a chart of the world, at the National Arboretum at Arewas.  The project was funded by subscription from members of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.  The sundial and plaque were formally opened in October 2001 by Commodore Antony Barrett RNR, the Master at the time.

The sundial is created in a way that when used, the visitor's own shadow will indicate the time. It commemorates the loss of the 2,536 ships of the Merchant Navy and the 32,000 merchant seamen who died in the Second World War.

As well as paying tribute to the mariners, the sundial also marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Honourable Company. The large stone chart is designed with the months of the year engraved along the Greenwich Meridian. The shadow of anyone standing at the appropriate place will be cast towards a line of hour marks and will indicated the time.

The sundial lies in front of a grove of oak trees and is surrounded by a garden of rosemary, lavender and roses.


A plaque is in place near the sundial which provides instruction on how to use the sundial as well as being inscribed with the following,

Unrecognised, you put us in your debt; Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave; Whether your land remember or forget; You saved the land, or died to try to save.

For all Seafarers - John Masefield, OM (1878-1967)


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HCMM Admin

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