Alexander Thomas Emeric Vidal
(1792 – 5 February
1863) was an officer of the Royal Navy
He became an accomplished surveyor
, and reached the rank of
Vidal was born in 1792, the youngest of four children of Emeric
Vidal, who served in the Royal Navy. Alexander followed his father,
embarking on a naval career in December 1803 when he joined as a
1st class volunteer. He served alternately under Sir
, Michael Seymour
initially served in the English Channel, off the north coast of Spain and in the
Indies, until November 1805. He later joined the
Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, before joining in November 1809.
served under Lord William
, and George Digby. He spent three years aboard the
Lavinia at the rank of midshipman, and saw service in the Mediterranean
and West Indies, and at Cadiz and Lisbon.
He then served on the Home Station, successively aboard , , , , and
sailed aboard the Conway to the North American Station, and on
arrival, spent time on the Great Lakes working in a surveying role.
He was briefly
employed as flag-lieutenant to Commodore Sir Edward Owen
receiving his commission, dated February 1815. He was appointed to
in August 1818, rising to the post of first lieutenant under
. The death of
Commander Cudlip led to Vidal being appointed to his first command,
that of , and in May 1823 he was confirmed with promotion to the
rank of Commander. He accompanied Owen on his voyage to Africa and
on his return to England in October 1825, he was promoted to
Hunt for Aitkin's Rock
Rockall, first surveyed by Vidal in
Aitkin's Rock was a supposed rock in the North Atlantic. Despite
being observed and named by a merchant, it had not been reliably
charted, and expeditions, by in 1824; and in 1827; and and had all
failed to locate it. In the summer of 1830, the Admiralty
placed Vidal in command of and and
ordered him to investigate. There had been at least seven separate
reports of the potential hazard, said to be small and protruding
only about four feet from the water. Francis Beaufort
worked out a rough
position for the rock and Vidal set out to investigate. He spent
six weeks charting the supposed locations and all of the positions
in between, without discovering any evidence. Satisfied that the
rock was a mere vigia, he returned to port. During his surveys in
search of the rock, he discovered and charted Vidal bank, and the
next year became the first to accurately chart and describe
Vidal sailed aboard in December 1835, carrying 12 chronometers
. He intended to calculate the meridian distances to the Cape Verde Islands, and the west coast of Africa.
eventually carried out detailed surveys all along the African
coast, so that by 1838 the Secretary of the Royal
Geographical Society could remark of the survey that
This tedious undertaking is drawing to a
close, and will then be of equal utility to the fair traders and
the anti-slavery cruisers.
It is fortunately in the hands of such a man as Captain
Vidal, R.N., who has steadily devoted himself during a long period
of ill-health, to complete this unpopular work, and to connect with
it a minute examination of the Canary Islands.
Vidal then carried out surveys of the Azores
aboard from September 1841 until January 1845. He then moved aboard
the yacht William
to complete the work.
Later life and legacy
Vidal was promoted to rear-admiral on 27 January 1851, and
vice-admiral on 17 June 1859. He had married Sarah Antoinette, daughter of
Henry Veitch, the Consul General of Madeira, in October
1839 and had two sons, Owen Alexander (b.
1841) and Beaufort Henry
(b. 1842). Following his wife's
death in 1843, Vidal emigrated to Canada, where he joined his
eldest brother Richard Emeric
Vidal in the founding of Sarnia, Ontario. He died at Clifton, Bristol on 5 February 1863, aged 73.
The survey ship , launched in 1951, was named in his honour.
In 1955 a
party from HMS Vidal were landed on Rockall to claim it as
part of the United
Kingdom, thus claiming the islet that Alexander Vidal had
first surveyed over a hundred years before.