Francis Beaufort
Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, FRS, FRGS (27 May 1774 – 17 December 1857) was an Irish hydrographer and officer in Britain
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

's Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. Beaufort was the creator of the Beaufort scale
Beaufort scale
The Beaufort Scale is an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. Its full name is the Beaufort Wind Force Scale.-History:...

 for indicating wind force.


Francis Beaufort was descended from the French Protestant Huguenot
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

s, who fled the French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

 in the 1500s.

Sir Francis Beaufort's father, Daniel Augustus Beaufort, was a Protestant clergyman in Navan
-People:Navan was the childhood home of Pierce Brosnan, who appeared in the television series Remington Steele and was the fifth film actor to play James Bond. TV personality Hector Ó hEochagáin, and comedians Dylan Moran and Tommy Tiernan also hail from Navan....

, County Meath
County Meath
County Meath is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the ancient Kingdom of Mide . Meath County Council is the local authority for the county...

, Ireland, and a member of the learned Royal Irish Academy
Royal Irish Academy
The Royal Irish Academy , based in Dublin, is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. It is one of Ireland's premier learned societies and cultural institutions and currently has around 420 Members, elected in...

. Francis was born in Navan on 24 May 1774. Since Francis was to become eminent in nautical maps, it is noteworthy that Francis's father created and published a new map of Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 in 1792. Francis grew up in Wales and Ireland until age fourteen. He then left school and went to sea, but later in life had become sufficiently self-educated to associate with some of the greatest scientists and applied mathematicians of his time, including Herschel
John Herschel
Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Baronet KH, FRS ,was an English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and experimental photographer/inventor, who in some years also did valuable botanical work...

, Airy
George Biddell Airy
Sir George Biddell Airy PRS KCB was an English mathematician and astronomer, Astronomer Royal from 1835 to 1881...

, and Babbage
Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage, FRS was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer...


Francis Beaufort had a lifelong keen awareness of the value of accurate charts for those risking the seas, having been shipwrecked himself at age fifteen due to a faulty chart, and his life's biggest accomplishments were in nautical charting.

Beginning on a merchant ship of the British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

, Beaufort rose (during the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

) to midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

, 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
Glorious First of June
The Glorious First of June [Note A] of 1794 was the first and largest fleet action of the naval conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the First French Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars...

, when Aquilon rescued the dismasted HMS Defence
HMS Defence (1763)
HMS Defence was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 31 March 1763 at Plymouth Dockyard. She was one of the most famous ships of the period, taking part in several of the most important naval battles of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars...

 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
Málaga is a city and a municipality in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. With a population of 568,507 in 2010, it is the second most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth largest in Spain. This is the southernmost large city in Europe...

 in 1800 that resulted in the capture of the 14-gun polacca
A polacca is a type of seventeenth-century sailing vessel, similar to the xebec. The name is the feminine of "Polish" in the Italian language. The polacca was frequently seen in the Mediterranean...

HMS Calpe (1800)
HMS Calpe was the former 14-gun polacca San José of the Spanish Navy, originally built in 1796 in Greece. The British captured her in 1800 and commissioned her as a sloop-of-war...

. While recovering, during which he received a "paltry" pension of £45 p.a., he helped his brother-in-law Richard Lovell Edgeworth
Richard Lovell Edgeworth
Richard Lovell Edgeworth was an Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor.-Biography:Edgeworth was born in Pierrepont Street, Bath, England, grandson of Sir Salathiel Lovell through his daughter, Jane Lovell....

 to construct a semaphore line from Dublin to Galway
Galway or City of Galway is a city in County Galway, Republic of Ireland. It is the sixth largest and the fastest-growing city in Ireland. It is also the third largest city within the Republic and the only city in the Province of Connacht. Located on the west coast of Ireland, it sits on the...

. He spent two years at this activity, for which he would accept no remuneration.

He returned to active service and became captain (on 30 May 1810) in the Royal Navy. Whereas other wartime officers sought leisurely pursuits at each opportunity, Beaufort spent his leisure time taking sounding
Depth Sounding
Depth sounding refers to a historical nautical term for measuring depth; it is often referred to simply as sounding. Sounding is finding the depth of a given point in a body of water. Sounding data is used in bathymetry to make maps of the floor of a body of water. Soundings were traditionally...

s and bearings
Bearing (mechanical)
A bearing is a device to allow constrained relative motion between two or more parts, typically rotation or linear movement. Bearings may be classified broadly according to the motions they allow and according to their principle of operation as well as by the directions of applied loads they can...

, making astronomical observations to determine longitude
Longitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earth's surface. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds, and denoted by the Greek letter lambda ....

 and latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

, and measuring shorelines. His results were compiled in new charts.

The Admiralty gave Beaufort his first ship command, HMS Woolwich, and gave him the task of conducting a hydrographic survey
Hydrographic survey
Hydrographic survey is the science of measurement and description of features which affect maritime navigation, marine construction, dredging, offshore oil exploration/drilling and related disciplines. Strong emphasis is placed on soundings, shorelines, tides, currents, sea floor and submerged...

 of the Rio de la Plata
Río de la Plata
The Río de la Plata —sometimes rendered River Plate in British English and the Commonwealth, and occasionally rendered [La] Plata River in other English-speaking countries—is the river and estuary formed by the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paraná River on the border between Argentina and...

 estuary of South America. Experts were very impressed by the survey Beaufort brought back. Notably, Alexander Dalrymple
Alexander Dalrymple
Alexander Dalrymple was a Scottish geographer and the first Hydrographer of the British Admiralty. He was the main proponent of the theory that there existed a vast undiscovered continent in the South Pacific, Terra Australis Incognita...

 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, Beaufort developed the first versions of his Wind Force Scale
Beaufort scale
The Beaufort Scale is an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. Its full name is the Beaufort Wind Force Scale.-History:...

 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 "Fresh Gale". Beaufort didn't really invent something new here; rather, 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
Ayas (city)
Ayas is a small town in Yumurtalık district, Adana Province, Turkey, located east of the mouth of the Ceyhan River. It was the ancient Aegea and medieval Ajazzo or Lajazzo. It passed between the Mamluks and the Armenians several times in the 13th and 14th centuries, and was definitively taken by...

, near Adana
Adana is a city in southern Turkey and a major agricultural and commercial center. The city is situated on the Seyhan River, 30 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean, in south-central Anatolia...

), by Turks
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 interrupted his work and gave him a serious bullet wound in the hip. He returned to England and drew up the charts himself, also publishing in 1817 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 became the British Admiralty Hydrographer of the Navy
Hydrographer of the Navy
Hydrographer of the Navy is a Royal Naval appointment. From 1795 until 2001 the post was responsible for the production of charts for the Royal Navy, and around this post grew the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office...

. He remained at the 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
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

, Africa. Beaufort directed some of the major maritime explorations and experiments of that period. For eight years, Beaufort directed the Arctic Council during its search for the explorer, Sir John Franklin
John Franklin
Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin KCH FRGS RN was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer. Franklin also served as governor of Tasmania for several years. In his last expedition, he disappeared while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic...

, lost in his last polar voyage to search for the legendary Northwest Passage
Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans...


As a council member of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, the Royal Observatory
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich , in London, England played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is best known as the location of the prime meridian...

, 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
Robert FitzRoy
Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy RN achieved lasting fame as the captain of HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin's famous voyage, and as a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality...

, who was put in temporary command of the survey ship HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle was a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig-sloop of the Royal Navy. She was launched on 11 May 1820 from the Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames, at a cost of £7,803. In July of that year she took part in a fleet review celebrating the coronation of King George IV of the United Kingdom in which...

 after her previous captain committed suicide. When FitzRoy was reappointed as Commander for the famous second voyage of the Beagle
The Voyage of the Beagle
The Voyage of the Beagle is a title commonly given to the book written by Charles Darwin and published in 1839 as his Journal and Remarks, bringing him considerable fame and respect...

 he requested of Beaufort "that a well-educated and scientific gentleman
Gentleman scientist
A gentleman scientist is a financially independent scientist who pursues scientific study as a hobby. The term arose in post-Renaissance Europe but became less common in the 20th century as government and private funding increased.-History:...

 be sought" as a companion on the voyage. Beaufort's enquiries led to an invitation to Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

, who later drew on his discoveries in formulating the theory of evolution he presented in his book The Origin of Species
The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the...


Overcoming many objections, Beaufort obtained government support for the Antarctic voyage of 1839–1843 by James Clark Ross
James Clark Ross
Sir James Clark Ross , was a British naval officer and explorer. He explored the Arctic with his uncle Sir John Ross and Sir William Parry, and later led his own expedition to Antarctica.-Arctic explorer:...

 for extensive measurements of terrestrial magnetism, coordinated with similar measurements in Europe and Asia. (This is comparable to the International Geophysical Year
International Geophysical Year
The International Geophysical Year was an international scientific project that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. It marked the end of a long period during the Cold War when scientific interchange between East and West was seriously interrupted...

 of our time.)

Beaufort promoted the development of reliable tide tables around British shores, motivating similar research for Europe and North America. Aiding his friend William Whewell
William Whewell
William Whewell was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.-Life and career:Whewell was born in Lancaster...

, Beaufort gained the support of the Prime Minister, Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS , was an Irish-born British soldier and statesman, and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century...

, in expanding record-keeping at 200 British coastguard stations. Beaufort gave enthusiastic support to his friend, the Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal is a senior post in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. There are two officers, the senior being the Astronomer Royal dating from 22 June 1675; the second is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland dating from 1834....

 and noted mathematician George Airy 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.

Francis Beaufort became "Sir Francis Beaufort" on becoming a 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
Vigenère cipher
The Vigenère cipher is a method of encrypting alphabetic text by using a series of different Caesar ciphers based on the letters of a keyword. It is a simple form of polyalphabetic substitution....

, by reversing the cipher alphabet, and the resulting variant is called the Beaufort cipher
Beaufort cipher
The Beaufort cipher, created by Sir Francis Beaufort, is a substitution cipher that is similar to the Vigenère cipher but uses a slightly modified enciphering mechanism and tableau....

. The deciphered writings revealed family and personal problems including some of a sexual nature.

He died on 17 December 1857 at age 83 in Hove
Hove is a town on the south coast of England, immediately to the west of its larger neighbour Brighton, with which it forms the unitary authority Brighton and Hove. It forms a single conurbation together with Brighton and some smaller towns and villages running along the coast...

, Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. He is buried in the church gardens of St John at Hackney
Hackney Central
Hackney Central is the central district of the London Borough of Hackney in London, England. It comprises the area roughly surrounding, and extending north from Mare Street. It is situated north east of Charing Cross...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, where his tomb may still be seen.

Beaufort, like other patrons of exploration, has had his name applied to many geographical places. Among these:
  • Beaufort Sea
    Beaufort Sea
    The Beaufort Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort...

     (arm of Arctic Ocean
    Arctic Ocean
    The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

  • Beaufort Island
    Beaufort Island
    Beaufort Island is an island in Antarctica's Ross Sea. It is the northernmost feature of the Ross Archipelago, lying north of Cape Bird, Ross Island. It is approximately in area. It was first charted by James Clark Ross in 1841...

    , Antarctic
    The Antarctic is the region around the Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole. The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica and the ice shelves, waters and island territories in the Southern Ocean situated south of the Antarctic Convergence...

  • Beaufort Inlet
    Beaufort Inlet
    Beaufort Inlet also locally known as Pallinup Estuary is an inlet located in the Great Southern region of Western Australia about east of Albany. There is a similarly named inlet leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the town of Beaufort, N.C...

    , North Atlantic Ocean

Further reading

  • Alfred Friendly. Beaufort of the Admiralty. Random House, New York, 1973.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (sub nomine)

External links

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