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Robin Temple Hazell 1927 - 2017

sfyjPioneer of systematic groundwater development in Africa

Robin Temple Hazell, died at his home in Bodmin, Cornwall on Sunday 19 February, 2017 aged 89. During World War II, Robin, his sister and brother were evacuated to New Zealand where Robin completed his secondary education and began his university studies at the University of Otago.  At the end of the war, he returned to the UK and entered the Royal College of Science in London where he took a degree in Geology in 1948. 

Two months after graduation, aged 21, he arrived in Nigeria and began an association that was to last until his death.  Arriving in December, he joined the Geological Survey of Nigeria where he was involved in mineral exploration and water supply.  He mapped several marble, limestone, and coal deposits but his main interest was groundwater. 

He studied and documented the groundwater resources of Nigeria in several bulletins of the Geological Survey and other technical papers.  In his memoirs he said: “when the perception in the United States was of the British ruthlessly plundering the colonial mineral resources, often almost the entire staff of the Geological Survey of Nigeria was engaged in water supply work”. 


At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, aged 33, he retired from the colonial service and set himself up as an independent geological consultant operating under the name of Temple Hazell Associates.  In 1974, he registered Water Surveys Nigeria Limited.  The company became a leading hydrogeological firm in Nigeria and from the Nigerian base operated all over Africa, the Middle East and Europe. 

Several of the current notable names in groundwater development cut their professional teeth working under Robin’s tutelage in Water Surveys Nigeria including Richard Carter, Ian Acworth, Bruce Misteer, Tony Preston, Mike Barker, Peter Dumble, Diran Daramola, the late Sunday Arafan Mangai, Williams Ikponmwonba, Mohammed Dan Hassan, myself, and many others.

In the late 1960s, the groundwater supply to the Guinness brewery at Ikeja, north of Lagos was contaminated by engine oil discharged from a nearby service station.  Robin suggested to the brewery that the Cretaceous aquifer that crops out 50km north of Ikeja should persist to the brewery at a depth of 700m, and that they should consider drilling into it.  The brewery bought the idea. 

Robin recorded that supervising the drilling was a nerve-racking experience and that when his nerves were in tatters at 750m, the driller called for an urgent meeting.  Robin feared a catastrophe but the driller announced that the drilling mud was steaming and bubbling.  This meant the aquifer had been reached but the water was very hot.  The Guinness borehole turned out to be artesian at a temperature of 71°C!  It was the deepest water supply borehole in West Africa at the time.  About a dozen such deep boreholes have since been drilled by other big water users around Ikeja.


During the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade, Water Surveys was catapulted into borehole siting at a mass production level.  Thousands of boreholes had to be sited on the crystalline terrain of northern Nigeria.  Robin felt the best way to achieve this and for the siting to stay ahead of the drilling was by aerial photograph interpretation and electromagnetic (EM) conductivity surveying.  He developed an empirical system of EM data collection and interpretation. The boreholes were drilled at 83% success rate.

In 1986, in a report to the Bauchi State Agricultural Development Programme in Nigeria Robin advised that for rural water boreholes in crystalline terrains, the heavy duty rigs being used were unnecessary; smaller rigs would be more cost effective.  He encouraged and collaborated with Peter Ball, presently of PAT Drill Rigs, Thailand, to develop the appropriate technology Eureka rigs.

Robin’s knowledge of geology was faultless and his interest in rural water supply unflagging but he was also an old fashioned naturalist and a man of many parts.  Fieldwork with Robin was not just about geology or groundwater, it was also an engagement in birdwatching, botany, soil science, architecture, and anthropology.  It also meant savouring the local cuisine and brew. 

He was until his death a member of the choir of his church, an avid bridge player, crossword puzzle solver and a great raconteur, regaling his after-hours audience with anecdotes from his eventful life - a gift to which he put into great use in his hilarious memoirs, ‘Life on the Rocks’.


In spite of all his achievements and the many lives he touched and developed, he remained a very humble person.  He was very compassionate.  Once in Bauchi, I fell ill.  After two days in bed he drove me to Kano airport and put me on the plane to London to see a Harley Street doctor, at his own expense.  He was a man of deep faith and fortitude, attributes which sustained his spirits when he lost his first wife, Kath and later their two daughters. 

He is survived by his second wife, Ursula, the pillar of his old age and Sam, his grandson.  For me personally, his death brings to an end an era spanning nearly 40 years of almost daily communication. He guided me through my professional life and was always a jolly good friend. May his soul rest in peace. 

Dotun Adekile, Nigeria