Wednesday, 6 July 2016

In praise of Robert Fitzroy

Do you recognise this fine fellow? And no, I am not talking about myself (for once). I refer to the picture below.

OK, so certain clever clogs will have read the title to this post and correctly deduced that it is the very estimable Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy, captain of the survey ship HMS Beagle (of Darwin fame) and early pioneer and advocate of the science of weather forecasting.

We take weather forecasts for granted these days, don't we? I was thinking about this when I visited the attractive seaside town of Stonehaven last Saturday. 

It was sunny at the start of the walk,

But then it started to rain quite hard, and Gail and I sought shelter. 

Nearby to where we sheltered, on the old clock tower just along from the harbour, you can see a barometer. It was originally installed in the 1850s, around the time when Fitzroy was putting all his efforts into organising the systematic collection of weather data from ports all over the UK. He used these data to make scientific predictions about forthcoming storms - a novel and controversial concept at the time.

You'll notice that on Saturday the barometer was correctly predicting 'change'.

Fitzroy's life ended tragically. A lifelong sufferer from what we would these days describe as depression, he spent his considerable personal fortune in pursuit of his scientific endeavours, which were not always supported by his masters at the Admiralty. In the end, bankrupt and under-appreciated (except by the seamen who knew that his weather forecasts saved lives) he committed suicide. 

In 2002 that the Meteorological Office renamed one of the sea areas around the UK 'Fitzroy', in belated recognition of his very considerable achievements.

Gail still likes to listen to the Shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4. Don't tell her, but I think it's a bit boring...


  1. Bertie - There used to be a fish restaurant on the first floor of the warehouse on the Quay side. Did you visit ?

    1. Gail says: You must mean the Tolbooth? Bertie has never been inside, but 16 years ago my father and I took my mother there to celebrate her 70th birthday - happy and poignant memories of a delicious meal with the moonlit harbour in the background, and parents both still in fine shape.

  2. that was great to read some facts about a weather-pioneer... I wonder what Mr. Fitzroy would say about the tv-weather guys who fail so pitiful every day with the weather forecast...

  3. SHE never thought about a captain on the Beagle....just thought Darwin captained it..if thought about at all.

    Sad that he didn't have the recognition in his lifetime.

  4. it is sad so many brilliant people also suffer depression - but we have a lot to thank him for.

  5. Hari OM
    Oh Bertie, you know how to make a gal weak at the knees; grew up listening to the shipping forecast and loving all things shipping, still do! Today, they are a bit off in Malin; the Southerly at 14 is more like a SWly at about 20; the 60% precip is more like 99%; the VG visibility is down to about P; which all means that the UV prediction of 2 is well overestimated - as is the 16'C, more like 11-12... but the gulls are having a great time.

    Thanks for telling us about Fizroy; I knew his name, position and that he had something to do with the setting up of forecasting, but had not realised he met such derision and suffered so badly in himself. I guess Finisterre was the closest in sound, so the easiest to change so as not to confuse the hard-working sailors! Hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  6. Bertie (and Gail) thank you so very much for this most interesting post. We did not know this at least I didn't..TOGM may have once known it but didn't remember)!
    Speaking of weather it was 95 real temp here yesterday with heat index of 105. Miserable for man and beast
    Hugs madi your bfff

  7. such a sad end for such a great man lovely tribute post

  8. This is pawsome. Thanks, Bertie & Gail!
    Your doggy god-mother,

  9. We have noticed that the older hoomans get the more they pay attention to weather forecasts. This is odd. Anyway, thanks for the most informative post!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  10. Most interesting, Bertie. He deserves to be remembered.

  11. What a sad ending for him. Sounds like he was ahead of his time. Maybe even that led to his depression.

  12. Scientific studies and suicide ~ I wonder if anyone has studies the stats on how often the two correlate. Lee's father was in a scientific study for the first gamma knife radiation test group ever. He was the last guinea pig left in the study, then splat suicide.
    As for the weather who else can keep a job and be wrong a lot of the time other than weatherman.
    Thanks for being a friend
    Sweet William The Scot