Obituary: Robin Temple Hazell (1927-2017)

by Dotun Adekile, Nigeria

I regret to inform you all that Robin Temple Hazell, one of the pioneers of systematic groundwater development in Africa, a member of the RWSN and a contributor to Dgroup discussions, passed away in his home, Bodmin, Cornwall on Sunday, 19th February, 2017. He would have been 90 years on 12th  March, 2017.

During World War II, Robin, his sister and brother, were for safety evacuated to New Zealand. Robin completed his secondary education in New Zealand and began his university studies at the University of Otago with the intention of taking a degree in mathematics or physics. 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. Having been used to a true university environment in Otago, Robin said he thought of the Royal College of Science as a technical sweatshop.

Two months after his graduation, at the age of 21, he arrived in Nigeria and thus began an association with Nigeria that will last still his death. At a meeting of the British Geological Survey on Groundwater in Fractured Rocks, in Belfast in June 2016, Robin aged 89, delivered a paper on rural water supply in Nigeria, prefacing his presentation with the statement that Nigeria was his spiritual home.

Arriving in Nigeria in December 1948, 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 of the time “ that 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”. His brilliance is obvious from the reports he wrote at this young age when there were very few reference texts; the observations and conclusions he made then are still valid.

At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, being only 33 years old, 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. The names include Richard Carter, Ian Acworth, Bruce Misteer, Tony Preston, Mike Barker, Peter Dumble, Diran Daramola, the late Sunday Arafan Mangai, Williams Ikponmwonba, Mohammed Dan Hassan, the writer and a host of 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. This was caused by the practice of multiple screening of aquifers such that the contaminants of the shallow aquifers infiltrated into the deeper aquifers. Robin suggested to the brewery that the Cretaceous aquifer that outcrops  50 km north of Ikeja should persist to the brewery at a depth of 700m and they should consider drilling into the aquifer. This was a theory he had long held and wanted to prove. The brewery bought the idea. Robin recorded that supervising the drilling was a nerve wracking experience and that when his nerves were in tatters at 750m depth, 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 71OC. 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.

Robin in 1986, in a report to the Bauchi State Agricultural Development Programme in Nigeria 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. Field work with Robin was not just about geology or groundwater, it was also an engagement in bird watching, 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 hour 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. On another occasion, I dropped him off at the Lagos airport, on his way to the UK on a Friday morning. I was driving back to our base in Bauchi, 1000 km or so from Lagos in the company’s Volkswagen Beetle. I was surprised on eventually reaching Bauchi on Sunday evening to see Robin sitting in front of my house looking very pale. What happened? Nigeria Airways (Nigeria Errorways as he used to call them) were on strike, so no flights. He charted a taxi and was hoping they would catch up with me and we would continue to Bauchi together but he arrived in Bauchi without any sign of me on the road. Meanwhile, I had run into friends on the way and decided to party. It was a weekend. He said he was worried that I was in a ditch somewhere and in his characteristic manner said ‘young man you will pay for all the wahala you have caused with three bottles of Star beer, case closed’

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, who was 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.

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit to find out more

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