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Francis Beaufort

(1774 - 1857)





Born in 1774, near Navan in Co.Meath , Francis Beaufort was the son of a rector. His father was well respected in the fields of geography and topography , publishing in 1972 one of the earliest detailed maps of Ireland. Beaufort had a passion for the sea, and at the age of 14 was sent to his father's friend Dr.Henry Ussher, Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College , for five months study at the newly founded Dunsink Observatory.



In 1789 he joined the East India Company and enlisted in the Royal Navy the following year, remaining in active service until 1812. With the Navy he served in the Napoleonic wars and was only 26 years old when he received nineteen wounds, in a battle off Malaga. A bullet was to remain in his lungs causing him chest pains intermittingly throughout his life. While recovering he helped his brother-in-law Richard Lovell Edgeworth (father of Maria Edgeworth ) to establish a telegraph line from Dublin to Galway. In 1812, he was wounded again, in a battle against pirates, off the coast of Turkey .

He was a courageous captain and devoted himself to making meticulous surveys of uncharted coasts. In 1829, at the age of 55, he was appointed hydrographer to the Royal Navy, a post he held until he reached the age of 81. During his time in office he commissioned voyages to survey and chart areas of the world, while also politicking and wheedling for funds for most of the great seaborne scientific expeditions of the late 19th century. It was through him that it was made possible for Charles Darwin to sail with Captain Robert Fitzroy on board the Beagle .

Beaufort is probably best remembered for originating the table for estimating the force of wind velocities at sea - the Beaufort scale .

First recording, in his journal, of Beaufort's Wind Scale, 1806

This was an objective scale ranging from calm (0) up to storm (13). It was first used officially by Robert Fitzroy in 1831 and adopted by the British Admirality in 1838. As a respected scientist, he played an important liason role between the scientists of his time and the British Government.

In 1812, Beaufort surveyed and charted the Turkish coast, later writing his account of the expedition, Karamania (1817).

Karamania, account of Turkish Expedition

Later life:

Beaufort married Alicia Wilson. They had four sons and three girls. His wife died on 27 August 1834, ending a marriage of more than 21 years. Beaufort's many letters and journals, written in cypher, disclose Beaufort's intense emotional troubles and his many family problems. One such trouble was his incestuous relationship for three years with Harriet his sister. Ever since his childhood, Beaufort's relationship with Harriet had been particularly close. Their relationship continued until his second marriage in 1838, to Honora Edgeworth, his sister Frances's stepdaughter.

Today, the sea north of Alaska is named the Beaufort sea in honour of Francis Beaufort. He died in London, on the 17th December, 1857.

At his birthplace in Navan, there is a memorial plaque that proudly commemerates Sir Francis Beaufort.