Charles was born at St Servan in Brittany on 28th June 1868, as the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Spencer Charles Dudley Ryder (1825-1873) and his wife, Julia (1831-1902) whose father was the Revd William Money, the Chaplain at St Servan.
After education Cheltenham College and training as an officer in the army at Woolwich, Charles joined the Royal Engineers. In November 1891 he went out to join the Survey of India and on 27th December 1892 he married Ida Josephine (1873–1948). She was the eldest daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Evans Grigg of the Indian staff corps. They had three daughters - Margaret (1893), Enid (1895) and Violet (1898), followed by three sons - Lisle (1902), Ernle (1906) and Robert (Bob) (1908).
Between 1898 and 1900 now a Captain Charles surveyed in the Chinese province of Yunnan under Captain Henry Davies. 1,400 miles of new routes were mapped after which he was sent to assist in the relief of the foreign legations in Peking being besieged by the Boxers. This meant first travelling down the Yangtze to Shanghai in July 1900.
In 1904 he led the survey party on Francis Younghusband's mission to Tibet, extending the triangulation of India up to Lhasa. Then from September with Captain C. G. Rawlings he surveyed Tibet from Gyantse to Gartok and south over the Himalayas to Simla. The onset of winter brought severe cold, and the treacherous terrain added to the challenge, supplies were also difficult. The expedition made it safely to Simla safely on 11th January 1905, having surveyed the Tsang Po / Brahmaputra to its source and mapped the upper Sutlej, together with the Manasarowar Lake region, and the Gartok source of the Indus. For this Charles was awarded the patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the silver and gold medals of the Scottish and Paris geographical societies. He was promoted to major and awarded with the DSO.
From 1907 Charles was superintendent of the survey of the north-west frontier. Then in 1913–14 he was in charge of the British survey party with the Turco-Persian boundary commission. After previous international attempts to define the border had failed, the work of the commission was achieved in good humour and proceeded surprisingly without acrimony. Arnold Wilson as leader of the British delegation attributed this in part to the trust the Russian, Persian, and Turkish commissioners had in Charles. They allowed him to correct and update their maps. By 27th October 1914 the commission had defined 1180 miles of the frontier from the Persian Gulf to Mount Ararat. On the 29th Charles and Arnold Wilson crossed into Russia, just as Turkey entered the war.
In 1915 Charles was created and in the following year he became superintendent of the map publication office in Calcutta. In 1917 he joined the Mesopotamia expedition force and in May 1918, now as colonel, he became deputy director of surveys in Baghdad. In 1919 he was promoted to be Surveyor General of India. He was made a CB in 1922 and retired in 1924.
His colleagues spoke of him as efficient, dependable, and tactful, also an ideal travelling companion. Much of his efficiency stemmed from the good relations he cultivated with his Indian technical staff; treating them courteously, as like-minded professionals, and in his reports readily acknowledged their expertise.
Charles died on 13th July 1945 at his home in Bognor Regis, Sussex leaving Ida who died three years later. Tragically Lisle and Ernle had been killed during the Second World War .
Documents to view: (see sub pages for papers relating to specific surveying expeditions)