May 20th, 2012 by bachmann
Robert Fitzroy is mostly remembered as the captain of the HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyages of 1828-1836. His complex role in those landmark voyages and his turbulent relationship with Darwin are well documented by scholars. What is often overlooked about Fitzroy’s life, though, are his significant contributions to weather forecasting and modern meteorology. He was a true a pioneer in the field, developing and applying available technology to predict weather more accurately. He is even credited with coining the term “forecasting the weather”. By 1860, through telegraph reports, barometers, time checks, recorded patterns, and using his own set of nautical charts, Fitzroy was able to make more accurate and advanced predictions than his contemporaries on the daily weather. Beginning in 1861, his forecasts were printed daily in the “Times” of London, and not unlike today, he was held to unrealistic expectations by the public. Furthermore, Britain’s fishing fleet owners were concerned about losing their business as fishermen refused to head out without a favorable Fitzroy weather prediction. Constant ridicule and criticism over his forecasts would soon dampen his reputation and overshadow his achievements. Unfortunately, Robert Fitzroy passed into obscurity during his own time, tragically taking his life in 1865. However, with the 150th anniversary of the “first forecast” in the London Times, celebrated just last year, Fitzroy’s legacy as the “father of forecasting” is finally being recognized.
In 1862, he published his seminal work,”The weather book : a manual of practical meteorology“, which is considered to be well ahead of its time….
Under so plain a title neither abstruse problems nor
intricate difficulties should be found. This popular
Work is intended for many, rather than for few,
with an earnest hope of its utility in daily life. The
means actually requisite to enable any person of fair
abilities and average education to become practically
‘ weather-wise ‘ are much more readily attainable than
has been often supposed. With a barometer, two or
three thermometers, some brief instructions, and an
attentive observation, not of instruments only, but the
sky and atmosphere, one may utilise Meteorology.
- Fitzroy, Robert. The weather book :a manual of practical meteorology. London : Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1863.
- Persistent Link:
- Widener Library
- Harvard University