Robert Fitzroy

(1805—1865) hydrographer and meteorologist

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British naval officer who is, perhaps, best remembered for the voyage of the Beagle, 1831–6, in which he was accompanied by the naturalist Charles Darwin. After working up the mass of data collected on the voyage, completing the charts based on his surveys, and writing an account of the Beagle's circumnavigation with Darwin, he was elected a Member of Parliament and introduced a Bill for the improvement of conditions in the merchant marine. Although the Bill was defeated, it was the means of bringing about the introduction of voluntary certificates for masters and mates by the Board of Trade in 1845. Many other ideas embodied in Fitzroy's Bill were included in the Mercantile Act of 1850. In 1843 he was appointed governor of New Zealand but was recalled in 1845 after declaring that the land claims of the Maori population were as valid as those of the settlers. In 1850 he retired through ill health with the rank of rear admiral. Having always had an interest in marine meteorology, in 1854 he was appointed by the Board of Trade to form its first meteorology department. He was the first man to draw a synoptic chart for forecasting weather patterns based on observations at sea, and was also the first man in England to realize the usefulness of the newly invented electric telegraph to send warnings of imminent gales to ports, a system that had already been introduced in the USA. He also arranged for the dissemination of this information from coastguard stations by semaphore to passing ships, and the hoisting of storm signals at conspicuous places such as lighthouses. He was always concerned with lifesaving—he was for some time secretary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution—and took the welfare of seamen very much to heart, so much so that he committed suicide when, so it was said, one of his forecasts proved incorrect.

See also port (1).

See also port (1).

Mellersh, H., Fitzroy of the ‘Beagle’ (1968).

Subjects: Maritime History — Meteorology and Climatology.

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