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The Legacy of Irish Scientists: Francis Beaufort
By Annella Bellot
Posted: 2024-04-17T16:21:34Z

Scientist Remembered throughout History - Part IV

Francis Beaufort

Have you ever wondered how fast the wind is? Nowadays we just measure using an anemometer and we can get more accurate measurements. But what was used before that? There were no precise tools to measure the wind however there was a scale that related wind speed to what could be observed. That scale is the Beaufort Scale, which was first officially used in 1831 on the HMS Beagle and later adopted by all British navy ships in 1838. Ranging from 0 to 12 it described calm winds all the way to those with hurricane force, conveniently including the effects on land to help observers.

Now you might be wondering how this relates to Ireland and Irish history. The answer lies with who created the Beaufort Scale, which was an Irish scientist and naval captain named Francis Beaufort. He had created the scale in 1805 while on HMS Woolwich and it was found in his logbook on January 13th. The scale would eventually go worldwide and greatly impact navigation of the time.

Francis Beaufort was born on May 27th, 1774 in Navan in County Meath, Ireland. His parents were Mary and Daniel Augustus Beaufort who had previously lived in London. His grandparents had been Protestants who fled from France. His father was very important in his uprising because he was a scientist as well. He had studies at Trinity College, was a known rector, an amateur architect, and created one of the earliest detailed maps of Ireland. Schooling was important to him, so after getting kicked out of grammar school because of his accent, Francis Beaufort went to David Bates’s Military and Naval Academy in Dublin as well as studied at the Dunsink Observatory with a Trinity College professor.

While into science, Beaufort also wanted a life of adventure leading him to join the navy after spending a short time working on a British East India Company’s merchant ship. He later joined the British navy in 1790 and quickly rose in the ranks, partly because of the Napoleonic Wars. Starting as a midshipman he rose all the way to captain. He continued to make discoveries, since in his free time he made astronomical observations and surveyed uncharted waters.

Notably in 1811 he discovered Hadrian's Gates in Turkey. He spent a lot of time in the Navy, however he was often hurt. In 1812, he got severely wounded by a bullet in his femur, ending his military service. He continued to work on his scale, adding more criteria so it could apply to fishing smacks and merchant ships, not just ships of war. Beaufort became a hydrographer for the British Navy, going on expeditions to survey the world's waters. In one of his expeditions, he went to Antarcitia to chart its magnetism. In Britain, he was able to develop reliable tide tables for the British coast. Overall, he was able to transform the British navy's knowledge and collection of charts, some of which are still used today.

Beaufort had died on December 17th, 1857 leaving behind his legacy. Places were named after him like the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Island near Antarctica. By his death, he had made it to the rank of rear admiral and received knighthood. Overall, as an Irish scientist his work impacted navigation globally and still does. Even now when we have more advanced equipment, the scale continues to be used.

Read about more Irish scientists, including Kathleen Longsdale, Robert Boyle, and William Thomson.

Author: Annella Bellot, North Central College student

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