Francis Beaufort was born May 27, 1774 in Ireland.
At the age of 14, Francis left school and went to sea.
One year later, the ship he was sailing on became shipwrecked due to a faulty chart.
As a result, Francis developed a keen awareness of the value of accurate charts for those risking their lives on the sea.
Francis rose to the rank of midshipman during the Napoleonic Wars, and then became a Lieutenant on May 10, 1796.
While serving on the HMS Phaeton, Francis Beaufort was badly wounded while leading a cutting-out operation off Malaga in 1800. While recovering, he helped his brother-in-law Richard Lovell Edgeworth construct a semaphore line from Dublin to Galway. He spent two years at this activity, for which he would accept no remuneration.
When Francis returned to active duty, he was appointed a Captain in the Royal Navy.
Whereas other wartime officers sought leisurely pursuits at each opportunity, Francis spent his leisure time taking soundings and bearings, making astronomical observations to determine longitude and latitude, and measuring shorelines. This work resulted in many new charts.
The British Admiralty gave Francis Beaufort his first ship command on the HMS Woolwich, and gave his ship the task of conducting a hydrographic survey of the Rio de la Plata estuary in South America.
Experts were very impressed by the survey Francis 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”.
Wind force scale
During these early years of command, Francis Beaufort developed the first versions of his new Wind Force Scale and a Weather Notation coding, which he used in his personal journals for the remainder of his life.
Francis didn’t really invent something new; rather, he eventually succeeded in getting others to adopt it as a standard when there was no existing standard.
Between 1811–1812, Francis Beaufort charted and explored southern Anatolia, locating many classical ruins.
An attack on his ship near Adana by Turks interrupted his work and gave him a serious bullet wound in the hip.
Francis returned to England and drew up the charts himself, publishing them in 1817 with his book Karamania; or a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor, and of the Remains of Antiquity.
Then in 1829, at the age off 55 (retirement age for most administrative contemporaries), Francis Beaufort became the British Admiralty Hydrographer of the Navy.
He remained at this post for 25 years.
Francis 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, Francis took over the administration of the great astronomical observatories at Greenwich, England, and the Cape of Good Hope, Africa.
He also directed some of the major maritime explorations and experiments of that period.
For eight years, Francis Beaufort directed the Arctic Council during its search for the explorer, Sir John Franklin, lost in 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), Francis Beaufort used his position and prestige as a top administrator to act as a “middleman” for many scientists of his time.
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 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. Francis then invited Charles Darwin, who later drew on his discoveries from this voyage in formulating the theory of evolution presented in his book The Origin of Species.
It is sometimes forgotten today that the ‘Beagle’s’ prime mission on that voyage was essentially that of surveying and charting little known straits and coasts for navigation purposes, but that side of the voyage was shadowed by the findings and discoveries of Darwin over time.
Francis retired from the Royal Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral on October 1, 1846, at the age of 72.
Francis Beaufort became “Sir Francis Beaufort” after being appointed KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath) on April 29, 1848 – a relatively belated honorific considering the eminence of his position from 1829 onward.
He died on December 17, 1857 at the age of 83 in Hove, Sussex, England.
Francis Beaufort is buried in the church gardens of St John at Hackney, London, where his tomb may still be seen.
He also has a blue plaque on his home in London, No. 51 Manchester Street, Westminster.
Beaufort, like other patrons of exploration, has had his name applied to many geographical places. Among these:
Beaufort Sea (arm of Arctic Ocean)
Beaufort Island, Antarctic
Beaufort Inlet, North Atlantic Ocean
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