Francis Beaufort

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Sir Francis Beaufort

Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, KCB, FRS, FRGS, MRIA (/ˈbfərt/; 27 May 1774 – 17 December 1857) was an Irish hydrographer and officer in Britain's Royal Navy. Beaufort was the creator of the Beaufort Scale for indicating wind force.

Biography[edit]

Francis Beaufort was descended from French Protestant Huguenots, who fled the French Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century. His parents moved to Ireland from London. His father, Daniel Augustus Beaufort, was a Protestant clergyman from Navan, County Meath, Ireland, and a member of the learned Royal Irish Academy. His mother Mary was the daughter and co-heiress of William Waller, of Allenstown House. Francis was born at Navan on 27 May 1774.[1] He had an older brother, William Louis Beaufort and two sisters, Frances and Harriet. His father created and published a new map of Ireland in 1792.[2] Francis grew up in Wales and Ireland until age fourteen.[3][4] He left school and went to sea, but never stopped his education. By later in life, he had become sufficiently self-educated to associate with some of the greatest scientists and applied mathematicians of his time, including John Herschel, George Biddell Airy, and Charles Babbage.

Francis Beaufort had a lifelong keen awareness of the value of accurate charts for those risking the seas, as he was shipwrecked at the age of fifteen due to a faulty chart. His most significant accomplishments were in nautical charting.

Beginning on a merchant ship of the British East India Company, Beaufort rose (during the Napoleonic Wars) to Midshipman, Lieutenant (on 10 May 1796) and Commander (on 13 November 1800). He served on the fifth rate frigate HMS Aquilon during the battle of the Glorious First of June, when Aquilon rescued the dismasted HMS Defence and exchanged broadsides with the French ship-of-the line, Impetueux.

When serving on HMS Phaeton, Beaufort was badly wounded leading a cutting-out operation off Malaga in 1800; the action resulted in the capture of the 14-gun polacca Calpe. While recovering, during which he received a "paltry" pension of £45 p.a., he helped his brother-in-law Richard Lovell Edgeworth to construct a semaphore line from Dublin to Galway. He spent two years at this activity, for which he would accept no remuneration.[5]

Beaufort returned to active service and was appointed a Captain (on 30 May 1810) in the Royal Navy. Whereas other wartime officers sought leisurely pursuits, Beaufort spent his leisure time taking soundings and bearings, making astronomical observations to determine longitude and latitude, and measuring shorelines. His results were compiled in new charts.

The Admiralty gave Beaufort his first ship command, HMS Woolwich, with the task of conducting a hydrographic survey of the Rio de la Plata estuary in South America. Experts were very impressed by the survey Beaufort brought back. Notably, Alexander Dalrymple remarked in a note to the Admiralty in March 1808, that "we have few officers (indeed I do not know one) in our Service who have half his professional knowledge and ability, and in zeal and perseverance he cannot be excelled".[6]

Marriage and family[edit]

He married Alicia Magdalena Wilson. Their son, Francis Lestock Beaufort (1815–1879) later went out to India and served in the Bengal civil service, from 1837 to 1876. He was for many years judge of the twenty-four Purgunnahs, Calcutta. He was the author of the well-known Digest of the Criminal Law Procedure in Bengal (1850), and died in 1879.

Alice Beaufort died before 1835. Francis Beaufort married again in 1838, to Honora Edgeworth, the daughter of his brother-in-law Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his second wife. (Francis' sister Frances Beaufort had married Edgeworth as his fourth wife years in the 1810s.)

Wind force scale[edit]

During these early years of command, Beaufort developed the first versions of his Wind Force Scale and Weather Notation coding, which he was to use in his journals for the remainder of his life. From the circle representing a weather station, a staff (rather like the stem of a note in musical notation) extends, with one or more half or whole barbs. For example, a stave with 3½ barbs represents Beaufort seven on the scale, decoded as 32–38 mph, or a "moderate Gale". Beaufort did not really develop something new, but he eventually succeeded in getting others to adopt it as a standard when there was no existing standard.

In 1811–1812, shortly after reaching 'post' rank (i.e. being promoted to Captain), Beaufort charted and explored southern Anatolia, locating many classical ruins. An attack on the crew of his boat (at Ayas, near Adana), by Turks interrupted his work and he received a serious bullet wound in the hip. He returned to England and drew up his charts. In 1817 he published his book Karamania; or a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor, and of the Remains of Antiquity.

In 1829, at age 55 (retirement age for most administrative contemporaries), Beaufort was appointed as the British Admiralty Hydrographer of the Navy. He served in that post for 25 years. Beaufort converted what had been a minor chart repository into the finest surveying and charting institution in the world. Some of the excellent charts the Office produced are still in use today.

During his tenure, he took over the administration of the great astronomical observatories at Greenwich, England, and the Cape of Good Hope, Africa. Beaufort directed some of the major maritime explorations and experiments of that period. For eight years, he directed the Arctic Council during its search for the explorer, Sir John Franklin, who was lost during his last polar voyage to search for the legendary Northwest Passage.

As a council member of the Royal Society, the Royal Observatory, and the Royal Geographic Society (which he helped found), Beaufort used his position and prestige as a top administrator to act as a "middleman" for many scientists of his time. Beaufort represented the geographers, astronomers, oceanographers, geodesists, and meteorologists to that government agency, the Hydrographic Office, which could support their research.

Beaufort trained Robert FitzRoy, who was put in temporary command of the survey ship HMS Beagle after her previous captain committed suicide. When FitzRoy was reappointed as Commander for what became the famous second voyage of the Beagle, he requested of Beaufort "that a well-educated and scientific gentleman be sought" as a companion on the voyage. Beaufort's enquiries led to an invitation to Charles Darwin, who later drew on his discoveries in formulating the theory of evolution he presented in his book The Origin of Species.

Overcoming many objections, Beaufort obtained government support for the Antarctic voyage of 1839–1843 by James Clark Ross for extensive measurements of terrestrial magnetism, coordinated with similar measurements in Europe and Asia. (This is comparable to the International Geophysical Year of our time.)

Beaufort promoted the development of reliable tide tables around British shores, inspiring similar research for Europe and North America. Aiding his friend William Whewell, Beaufort gained the support of the Prime Minister, Duke of Wellington, in expanding record-keeping at 200 British Coast guard stations. Beaufort gave enthusiastic support to his friend, Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal and noted mathematician, in achieving a historic period of measurements by the Greenwich and Good Hope observatories.

Beaufort retired from the Royal Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral on 1 October 1846, at the age of 72. He became "Sir Francis Beaufort" on being appointed KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath) on 29 April 1848, a relatively belated honorific considering the eminence of his position from 1829 onward.

Beaufort's extant correspondence of 200+ letters and journals contained portions written in personal cipher. Beaufort altered the Vigenère cipher, by reversing the cipher alphabet, and the resulting variant is called the Beaufort cipher. The deciphered writings have revealed family and personal problems, including some of a sexual nature. It appears that between 1835 and his marriage to Honora Edgeworth in November 1838, he had incestuous relations with his sister Harriet. His diary entries, in cypher, show that he was tortured by guilt over this.[3][page needed]

Beaufort tomb in St John's Church Gardens, London

He died on 17 December 1857 at age 83 in Hove, Sussex, England. He is buried in the church gardens of St John at Hackney, London, where his tomb may still be seen. His home in London, No. 51 Manchester Street, Westminster, is marked by an historic blue plaque noting his residency and achievements.[7]

Beaufort, like other patrons of exploration, has had his name given to many geographical places. Among these:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mollan, R Charles (2002). Irish Innovators. Royal Irish Academy. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-874045-88-5. 
  2. ^ www.nmm.ac.uk.
  3. ^ a b Alfred Friendly, Beaufort of the Admiralty, Hutchinson, 1977
  4. ^ Image:BeaufortTomb.JPG
  5. ^ Royal Naval Biography (1828), p. 85
  6. ^ deCourcy Ireland, John. "Francis Beaufort (Wind Scale)". http://lugnad.ie/. On-line Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Francis Beaufort Blue Plaque". openplaques.org. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]