Beaufort, Francis, Sir, 1774-1857

Alternative names
Birth 1774-05-27
Death 1857-12-17

Biographical notes:

Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort: hydrographer of the British Navy and member of the Royal Society, creator of the wind force scale and weather notation coding, and author of Karamania, or, A brief description of the south coast of Asia-Minor and of the remains of antiquity (London, 1817). Beaufort was married twice. His first wife was Alicia Magdalena Wilson (d. 1834). In 1839 he married Honora Edgeworth, the daughter of his long-time friend Richard Lovell Edgeworth and sister of the novelist Maria Edgeworth. His daughter Emily Anne Beaufort Smythe, Viscountess Strangford (d. 1887) was a noted humanitarian and traveler.

From the description of Papers of Sir Francis Beaufort, 1710-1953 (bulk 1780-1890). (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 228721110

Sir Francis Beaufort was head of the British Admiralty's Hydrographic Office. In 1805 he created the Beaufort Wind Scale for indicating wind force.

From the description of Letter to Frederick William Beechey, 1836, February 4. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 421112550

British rear admiral.

From the description of Account book, 1796-1802. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 154270448

From the description of Account book, 1796-1802. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 19211008


Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857) was the son of Daniel Augustus Beaufort, rector of Collon, co. Louth, Ireland, and Mary Waller Beaufort. His grandfather, Daniel Cornelius de Beaufort, had been a Huguenot refugee from France who established a ministry in London, and his family's consciousness of its religious heritage was very strong.

He was first sent to sea in 1789 on the Vansittart, commanded by Lestock Wilson, to whose family he became very close, and whose daughter, Alicia Magdalena, became his first wife in 1813. Subsequently, he entered the British navy, and from 1790-1800 served successively on the Latona, the Aquilon, and the Phaeton; the latter's commander (Sir) Robert Stopford became a close professional acquaintance. During these years his closest confidant was his older brother, William Lewis Beaufort, who took orders and served under Thomas St. Lawrence, Dean of Cork (marrying the Dean's daughter in 1805).

Active in the sea war against France, in particular Cornwallis's retreat (1795), Beaufort became Lieutenant in 1796, and, following a near-fatal wounding in a battle with the Spanish, November, 1800, he was promoted Commander. He was not given a command, however, and, invalided home, he lived with his family. He became close to Richard Lovell Edge-worth, inventor and landowner, father of the novelist Maria Edgeworth, and husband (after 1798) of Francis's beloved sister, Frances (Fanny). Beaufort and Edgeworth worked on projects including the Dublin-Galway semaphore telegraph (1803-04), until 1805, when he was named commander of the storeship H.M.S. Woolwich. Only in 1809, after much frustrations over his eventless command (although in 1807 he did his first major hydrographical work, surveying the Rio de la Plata), did he get an active command, that of the H.M.S. Blossom. Soon after his return on the Blossom from a mission to Quebec, in 1810, Beaufort was given post rank, and assigned command of the frigate, H.M.S. Frederiksteen. From his base on Malta, during 1810-1812 Beaufort conducted surveys geographical and hydrographical of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Karamania (the south Turkish coast). He was again grievously wounded in June, 1812, and returned home, marrying Alicia, living quietly, and writing his widely acclaimed book Karamania, or a Brief Description of the South Coast of Asia Minor... (1817), based on his survey. His researches and book earned him membership in the Royal Society, in which he was active throughout his life, and access to the scientific circles of England, which included such luminaries as Sir Humphry Davy. He was much involved in plans for the establishment of mining and other industries in Ireland, and with his father's revisions of his map of Ireland and financial troubles, until Daniel's death in 1821.

In 1829, after years of petitioning for reactivation in the Navy, Beaufort was named Hydrographer to the Navy. Until his retirement in 1854, this position was his constant concern. He expanded its staff and physical facilities, established surveys over the entire globe, and served on many naval commissions. Deeply affected by his wife's tragic death in 1834, he found support in closeness to his children: Daniel Augustus, Francis Lestock, William Morris, Emily Anne Sophia, and Rosalind Elizabeth. In 1839 he remarried, his new wife being Honora, daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. In 1846 he was named Rear Admiral (ret.), and knighted in 1848. His retirement was accompanied by unfortunate and painful quarrels over the amount of his annuity.

Sir Francis had spent his early married life at Lestock Wilson's house at Epping, Surrey. As hydrographer, he lived on Manchester St., London; he passed his last days at Brighton. At his death on December 17, 1857, he was survived by all six of his children.

From the guide to the Francis Beaufort (Sir) Papers, circa 1750-1900, (The Huntington Library)

Francis Beaufort was born in 1774 near Navan in County Meath, Ireland, the son of Reverend Daniel Beaufort, a renowned topographer. He entered the Royal Navy in June 1787, advancing to the rank of lieutenant in 1796 and promoted commander in 1800 after he was severely wounded during active service off the coast of Malaga. In 1805, he was appointed to the command of Woolwich, conducting a survey of the entrance to Rio de la Plata while serving off the coast of Buenos Aires. In 1811, Beaufort was appointed to survey the coast of Karamania but his work was brought to an end the following year when his crew was attacked and he himself seriously wounded by Turkish pirates. For many years after his return to Britain, he was engaged in constructing the charts of his survey.

In 1829, Beaufort was appointed Hydrographer to the Royal Navy, a post he held until his retirement in 1855. During this period, he commissioned voyages to survey and chart areas of navigational importance with the result that the Chart Catalogue listed 1,981 charts by the time of his retirement. He directed many exploring expeditions, including the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), the searches for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition, and the surveys of South American waters by Captain Robert Fitzroy in HMS Beagle, 1831-1836.

Beaufort is probably best remembered for originating the Beaufort Scale, a table for estimating the force of wind velocities at sea, first used officially by Fitzroy in 1831 and introduced into the Navy in 1838. Among his other achievements was the introduction of official Tide Tables in 1833 and Notices to Mariners in 1834. Promoted rear admiral in 1846, he was knighted in 1848 in recognition of his services as Hydrographer. He died on 17 December 1857 in London. Beaufort Sea, in the Canadian Arctic, and Beaufort Island, in the Ross Sea, are named for him.

From the guide to the Sir Francis Beaufort collection, 1849-1857, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


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  • Hydrography
  • Privateering
  • Beaufort scale
  • Nautical charts
  • Sailors
  • Hydrography--History--19th century--Sources
  • Geographers--Archives
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1815--Naval operations--Sources


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  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • South America (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Chile (as recorded)
  • Turkey (as recorded)
  • Egypt (as recorded)
  • Mediterranean Coast (Turkey) (as recorded)
  • Ireland (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Mediterranean Coast (Egypt) (as recorded)
  • Galapagos Islands (as recorded)
  • Northwest Passage (as recorded)