Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The First Weather Forecast, August 1, 1861

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150 years ago, on August 1, 1861, Admiral FitzRoy gave the world its first modern weather forecast as published in The Times.  Robert FitzRoy, who was, of course, the Captain of the HMS Beagle who took Darwin along for the ride and who later led the meteorological department in the Board of Trade (now named the Met Office).  There are many good resources on this and on FitzRoy himself, who was a fascinating figure in many ways.  Despite their many differences, Darwin always wrote fondly of FitzRoy and considered him to have been an excellent Captain despite the general context of Royal Navy's "rum, sodomy, and the lash."  He was prone to mood-swings and Darwin notes that nothing on deck or below escape his attention and reproach, though he was dedicated to his crew and to his goal that none be lost on their five year voyage.  He was a supporter of slavery as a civilizing institution which would fade from the scene as the Africans and their descendents were adopted to civilized life.  This was a common view amongst many of the British aristocracy at the time.  Darwin's Abolitionist sentiments led to their having many arguments over slavery, with FitzRoy banishing Darwin from their quarters for a time.  The rest of the crew would ask their "Philosopher" to not anger their Captain, because he was an even greater task-master the next day.  As also fit a Royal Navy Captain of the time, FitzRoy was so reticent that when the Beagle finally arrived back in England, FitzRoy announced his marriage to his fiancee.  Darwin writes that though they shared a tiny cabin and untold adventures during their five years together, FitzRoy had never mentioned that he was engaged.

Some websites about the first forecast:

The Met Office blog is a good place to start.  Also look at the Met Office's history page as well.

The American Meteorological Society has a article by Randell S. Cerveny "Charles Darwin's Meteorological Observations aboard the HMS Beagle" (2005). 

BBC - 23 Degrees: Helen Czerski's write up is nice and accessible.  She notes that: 
"In the end though, Fitzroy was given the most appropriate recognition possible. When the region that used to be known as Finisterre on the shipping forecast was renamed in 2002, they decided that it would be called Fitzroy. So now, four times a day on longwave radio, Fitzroy's name is broadcast to all shipping in the vicinity of the United Kingdom. Next time you hear "Trafalgar, Fitzroy, Sole, Lundy..." as you fall asleep, think of the man who started the journey towards the weather forecasts we all take for granted today."
FitzRoy's Barometer


BBC News: "Happy Birthday Weather Forecasts" a short report with some vintage images and recordings.

For Fitzroy's own writings, see  John van Wyhe's The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online remains a premier resource where you will find:  

FitzRoy, R. 1832. Extract of a Letter from Captain Fitz Roy, of H. M. Sloop Beagle, on the subject of the Abrolhos Bank. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 2: 315-316. Text A209

FitzRoy, R. 1836. Sketch of the Surveying Voyages of his Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, 1825-1836. Commanded by Captains P. P. King, P. Stokes, and R. Fitz-Roy, Royal Navy. Journal of the Geological Society of London 6: 311-343. Text Image A73

FitzRoy, R. 1837. Extracts from the Diary of an Attempt to Ascend the River Santa Cruz, in Patagonia, with the boats of his Majesty's sloop Beagle. By Captain Robert Fitz Roy, R.N. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 7: 114-26. Text Image A74

FitzRoy, R. 1837. Notice of the Mountain Aconcagua in Chile. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 7: 143-144. Text A210

FitzRoy, R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N. London: Henry Colburn. Text Image PDF F10.2

[FitzRoy, R.] 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Appendix to Volume II. London: Henry Colburn. Text Image PDF F10.2a

These last two sites are also invaluable for understanding Darwin's work, and his working and personal relationship with FitzRoy:

Darwin Correspondence Project

Voyage of the Beagle in Blog format