Dr John Swallow FRS (1023 - 1994)

John Swallow (1923-1994) John Swallow was arguably one of Britain’s most influential modern-day marine scientists and is noteworthy for the long periods he spent at sea much of it on Discovery.

He was born in New Mill near Huddersfield (think of the scenery in “Last of the Summer Wine”). He won a scholarship to St John’s College Cambridge in 1941 completing his Natural Sciences Degree in 2 years (the norm during the war). He went to work at the Admiralty Signals Establishment at Lythe Hill near Haslemere in Surrey and was then posted to Ceylon installing and repairing radios on warships. This was his first real link with the sea apart from a day trip to Liverpool when he was 14.

In 1948 he started a PhD under E.C. (Later Sir Edward) Bullard on marine seismics and between 1950 and 52 he continued this work on the world circumnavigation of HMS Challenger. In October 1954 he was invited by the Director George Deacon to join the newly-formed National Institute of Oceanography at Wormley (only a few miles from Haslemere). Here he was set the task of devising a method to measure deep sea currents and solved the problem in 1955 with the first deployments of neutrally-buoyant (Swallow) floats.

Above: Unreeling piano wire for a dhan buoy mooring
Above: On RV Erica Dan in 1960 with a Swallow float (Photo Courtesy of WHOI)

Even without counting the 2 years continuously in HMS Challenger, between 1954 and 1973 he spent a total of 2022 days at sea (30% of his life!!) much of it on Discovery. He was on board during the International Indian Ocean Expedition from mid-February to mid August 1963 and from mid-February to the end of September 1964.

Understanding ocean circulation and making meticulous measurements were themes running through his sea-going career. He was principal Scientist on 17 cruises of RRS Discovery. His experience of sea-going and equipment handling was such that he was always in demand even for cruises outside his physical oceanography discipline. (e.g. on early cruises learning to handle the GLORIA vehicle).

Above:wallow (facing camera) and the Netman Dick Burt (R)
adjusting GLORIA’s towing rig

In the 10 years following his retirement from IOS in 1984 he and his wife Mary (for many years an Editor of Deep-Sea Research) moved from Surrey to Cornwall but he continued to go to sea primarily to the Indian Ocean with colleagues from Germany and France. He was a lifelong friend of Henry Stommel and it was fitting that he should have been awarded the Stommel Medal by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution not long before his death. This was one many accolades awarded him: the Albatross award 1960, the Bigelow Medal 1962, Fellowshipof the Royal Society 1968, Sverdrup Gold Medal 1978, Prince Albert 1er Medal 1984 and the Stommel Medal 1994.

Dick Burt (Netman)

Dick Burt was an indispensible crew member on RRS Discovery. His role was to assist scientists, whatever their discipline, in the safe deployment and recovery of equipment. The netman’s store had ready access to the after deck and was an Alladdin’s cave of shackles, wire stoppers, axes and marline spikes and had an aroma more reminiscent of the days of sail than of the 20th century.

His experience was invaluable but his temper sometimes short. When shackles started to be thrown around it was best to keep your distance.

His notebook of equipment drawings is in the archives in Southampton.

In recognition of his service he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1970.