I was intrigued to read recently about the career of Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805-65).
A campaign has been set up to encourage public support (crowd-funding) for the digitisation of weather records dating back to the middle of the 19th century which were championed by FitzRoy who was a pioneering meteorologist back in those days.
Following a distinguished career in the British Royal Navy, including a spell as Captain of the HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage, FitzRoy spent the latter part of his life as a ground-breaking meteorologist, establishing in the 1850s the organisation which would later become known as the UK Met Office.
He was further spurred on in his efforts by the tragic loss of lives in the Royal Charter disaster in 1859, when a steam clipper smashed onto the rocks at Anglesey in North West Wales en route to Liverpool from Melbourne. The storm that day became known as the Royal Charter storm (and was also known as the Great storm of 1859). A total of well over 100 ships were sunk during the storm with loss of life estimated at around 800 in total. FitzRoy believed, passionately, that more needed to be done to analyse and predict weather patterns and for information to be disseminated to help sailors be better prepared.
He introduced the first gale warning service in 1860 and worked with The Times newspaper in the UK to publish weather forecasts. He also championed the distribution of barometers to many small ports and harbours across the country. This was not universally popular work, with the owners of some fishing fleets angered when the fleets did not set sail due to adverse weather warnings.
Tragically, FitzRoy ended his own life a few months short of his 60th birthday having been on the receiving end of much criticism and lampooning, especially when some of the forecasts were shown to be inaccurate. This was seen by many as a key factor in his suicide, although there was also, apparently, a backdrop of financial worries and depression blended into his story.