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Francis Beaufort

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Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857)

1835 Captain F. Beaufort, Hydrographer of the Admiralty, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1859 Obituary [2]

REAR-ADMIRAL SIR FRANCIS BEAUFORT, K.C.R., BC., was born in 1774, at Collon, County Louth, of which place his father, the Rev. Daniel Angustus Beaufort, D.D., was the vicar, holding at the same time the rectory of Navan, County Neath.

In his father he had a good example of study and application, and the well-known Map of Ireland, published by him with an accompanying Memoir, was long considered a high authority.

Young Beaufort was sent to sea at the early age of thirteen years, on board the ‘Vansittart ’ East Indiaman, under the command of the accomplished Captain Lestock Wilson ; and during his first voyage he displayed the germ of those qualifications for which he ultimately became so remarkable. His Commander had received instructions to search for a shoal in the Macclesfield Strait, on which a valuable Indiaman had been lost, and during this investigation young Beaufort afforded good assistance in surveying Pulo Leat, an isle in the fairway of the Strait of Gaspar, in the Sea of Java. The shoal was not made out, scientifically ; but the ‘Vansittart,’ by a singular fatality, struck and was totally stranded on the very reef that had been the object of their search. The crew were nearly all saved, but underwent severe sufferings for some days, in open boats at sea, before they were rescued.

This was so far from damping his maritime ardour, that, on his return to England he entered the Royal Navy, joined the ‘Latona,’ and having been subsequently removed to the ‘Aquilon,’ he was engaged in the memorable action off Brest, on the 1st of June 1794, under Lord Howe. He subsequently saw a great deal of hard service, both against the enemy and in hunting out pirates.

He obtained his Post Captain’s rank in 1810 ; and after much good and useful service at sea, in command and on surveying duty, he was selected, in 1829, by Sir John Barrow, for the post of Hydrographer to the Navy, a position which he held for twenty-six years, with distinguished credit to himself and the greatest advantage to the Naval services of this and all other countries ; as under his direction the Hydrographic Office, at the Admiralty, became the model upon which the Navies of other Governments formed their establishments. He was not only indefatigable in suggesting surveys, but in having their results recorded with remarkable rapidity, and in disseminating the charts with the utmost liberality. Had his wise views been followed, the Hydrographic Department of the British Navy would have retained the pre-eminence it once possessed, and which has only been lost through misplaced parsimony.

The Profession of Civil Engineering is particularly indebted to him for assistance and information, willingly imparted at all times, and for his advocacy of all the important Harbour and River Improvements requiring the assent of the Admiralty.

The professional services and scientific labours of Admiral Beaufort have been so fully and so eloquently described in the Obituary of the Royal, the Geographical, and the Astronomical Societies, that it is unnecessary to recapitulate them here. During the term of his official career, his application to the duties of his post was not only unremitting, but the quantity of work accomplished by him wa.s extraordinary : by constantly rising at an early hour, he found time to project and to carry out numerous scientific investigations, and to write for the benefit of society. Early in his career he gave his zealous co-operation and gratuitous assistance to Mr. Richard Love11 Edgeworth in establishing a line of Telegraph from Dublin to Galway.

In the full tide of official occupation he found time to superintend personally the production of the Maps of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, in order that they should be given to the public at a very reduced cost.

He was a very original thinker, and reasoned accurately and deliberately on all subjects ; few men could have recorded so minutely as he did, in his celebrated communication to Dr. Wollaston, the sensations of a drowning man : the narrative, as given in the Autobiography of Sir John Barrow, is peculiarly interesting as proceeding from so acute an observer and from so truthful a recorder of events.

In 1846, Sir Francis accepted, somewhat unwillingly, the rank of Retired Rear-Admiral, while he was, however, permitted to retain his official position at the Admiralty, where his presence was nearly indispensable ; in fact, until he was upwards of eighty years of age, he seldom missed a day in attending to the duties of his post, which he only finally resigned about two years ago, when the office was placed under the charge of your distinguished Associate Member, Captain Washington, R.N.

Sir Francis Beaufort was an old and distinguished Fellow of the Royal, the Astronomical, and the Geographical Societies, upon whose Councils he had served. He became F.R.S. at an early age, under the Presidency of Sir Joseph Banks, and he was even solicited by Dr. Wollaston and other leading men to allow himself to be proposed for the Chair, but he declined the honour. He was one of the founders of the other two societies. He became an Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1835, and on all occasions aided by any means in his power its advancement and prosperity.

He had a seat at the Board of Visitors of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and took much interest in the proceedings of all Provincial and Colonial Observatories. He was connected with numerous useful Societies, and in the cause of Charity he was untiring. He was a leader in the hopeful band of men who urged upon the Government never to abandon the search for the gallant Franklin ; and when the ruling powers declined to prosecute any further researches, he united with those who aided the magnanimous Lady Franklin in despatching Captain M'Clintock on the voyage, from whence he happily returned, crowned with such triumphant success.

Sir Francis Beaufort became a Commander of the Bath in 1848 ; the degree of D.C.L. of Oxford was conferred upon him : he was elected a Corresponding Member of the Institute of France, and attained several other honorary titles and dignities; and his decease, which occurred on the 17th of December 1857, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, cast a gloom over all who had the happiness of enjoying his friendship.

In truth, 'there was in him a genuine and innate kindness of soul, united with the highest moral worth, and the brightest intellect, as displayed throughout a long life, that attached every friend to him with an abiding regard, and obtained for Francis Beaufort a reputation which will endure as long as the English nation shall honour one of her truest worthies.'


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