Sir Francis Beaufort was an Irish hydrographer and Rear Admiral of the British Royal Navy. He was descended from French Protestant Huguenots who had fled France and settled in Ireland after the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre on 23-24 August 1572. Beaufort devised the well-known Beaufort scale, an empirical measure of wind force. Although Beaufort abandoned his studies to go to sea, he associated with eminent scientists of his time. He was a member of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society.
At the age of fifteen, Beaufort was shipwrecked, due to a faulty nautical chart. This event led him to deal systematically with the training of sailors and to create highly accurate nautical charts. His rapid rise to the highest ranks of the Royal Navy (from Midshipman, then Lieutenant, Commander and finally Rear Admiral) attests his aptitude for the profession, alongside his astronomical observations and his studies on latitude and longitude, and the measuring of shorelines. Between July 1811 and June 1812 Beaufort explored the south coast of Asia Minor, from Lycia to Alexandretta. He located a number of historical remains and mapped the shores. His work was interrupted near Adana, when Ottomans attacked the crew of his boat and he was seriously wounded. In 1817 he returned to England and published the account of his voyage. The text is accompanied by his extraordinarily accurate maps and drawings, as well as ancient inscriptions and references to Strabo, Livy, Herodotus, Plutarch and Pliny.
In 1829, at the age of 55, Beaufort was appointed British Admiralty Hydrographer, a position he held for 25 years. He turned what was previously an insignificant depository of maps and charts into the foremost map-making, surveying and charting institute worldwide. During his career Beaufort supported numerous researchers and scientists, supervised some of the major observatories and directed some of the most significant maritime explorations, to the Antarctic, South America and Europe. It was he who invited Charles Darwin to take part in the second voyage of the "Beagle" to the Galapagos Islands. He was knighted in 1848. He left a rich corpus of letters and journals. One island, an inlet and one sea have been named after Francis Beaufort.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou