most famous son
No Navan man has had an impact on the world stage like Francis
Beaufort. A noted surveyor and hydrographer, he is best
known for devising the Beaufort Wind Scale.
Like many people I was aware of the Beaufort Wind Scale
long before I read that its developer was from my home town.
It is only in recent times that Navans greatest son
received some visible recognition in his native town, with
Beaufort Mall in the Shopping Centre and a housing development
close to his birthplace called Beaufort Place.
Sadly his home with its beautiful garden have fallen foul
of progress. However, a commemorative plaque was unveiled
in the early 1990s adjacent to his home in the grounds
of St. Ultans School.
Francis Beaufort was born at the family home at the top
of Flower Hill on May 27, 1774, the third of seven children
born to Daniel and Mary Beaufort, one of whom died in infancy
and another as a teenager.
Had he been born he few years later, the people of Mountrath
in Co. Laois would be hailing him as their greatest son.
His family later settled in Collon Co. Louth.
Apart from being the local Church of Ireland rector, the
Reverend Daniel Beaufort was a man of considerable talents
and many interests, but hopeless with money.
When Francis was two the family moved to his fathers
other parish of Mountrath, Co. Laois. However, he saw little
of his father who continued commuting to Navan, while also
managing two farms as well as working as a magistrate.
Daniel Beaufort excelled as a topographer and in 1792 published
the Grand Topography of Ireland one of the earliest collection
of detailed maps of the country.
When Francis was just five the family were on the move again,
this time to South Wales after his father conceived a scheme
to wipe out the familys debts. Within five years the
family were back in Ireland, settling in Dublin thanks to
funds provided by Marys brother Waller.
A nomadic existence was not unusual for the Beauforts. Their
line can be traced back to Francois de Beaufort, a survivor
of the anti-Huguenot massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572,
who fled the Champagne region to settle near Sedan in northern
A century later and four generations down the line, another
Francois de Beaufort, Franciss great-grandfather,
sought refuge in Westphalia in what is now Germany. His
seventh child Daniel Cornelis de Beaufort was born in 1700.
After serving time in the Prussian Army he embarked on a
career in the Church. Upon his ordination he moved to east
London to minister to the Huguenot community in Spitalfields.
His only son Daniel Augustus was born a decade later in
Daniel Cornelius Beaufort anglicized his name and was admitted
into the Church of England on becoming a British citizen
in 1742. He was befriended by William Stanhope, Earl of
Harrington who in 1746 was appointed Viceroy of Ireland.
Francis grandfather followed his patron to Ireland where
he expected to be given an elevated position within the
Church and not the benefice of Navan. In 1765 he was succeeded
by Daniel Augustus.
There was nothing in the Beaufort family to suggest a career
at sea. His interest in matters maritime seems can traced
back to marriage of aunt Leonora Waller to Captain Robert
Mayne when Francis was just five years old.
From then on young Beaufort was set on a career at sea.
When his family returned to Dublin in 1784, Francis was
enrolled at the Master Bates Military and Marine Academy.
The three years spent there were to be his only formal education.
Later he studied under Dr. Henry Ussher, first Professor
of Astronomy at Trinity College. Rather than enlist in the
Royal Navy, he joined the East India Company and by the
time he set sail on the Vansittart from Gravesend on a voyage
to China in March 1789, just two months short of his 15th
Birthday he was an accomplished navigator.
The Vansittart was shipwrecked later that year and rather
than wait for up to two years to find a position on new
ship, Francis joined the Royal Navy where he enjoyed an
illustrious career and rose to the rank of commander within
He was seriously injured during the Napoleonic Wars and
spent a long time convalescing in Portugal before returning
to London with his career in the Navy in jeopardy to be
awarded a pension and half-pay as a Commander in the Royal
By now his family were resident at Glebe Farm, Collon, Co.
Louth where his father was now rector and in early 1802,
Francis returned to live there. During his time there he
met Richard Lovell Edgeworth, one of the most remarkable
men of his time, who shared many interests with his father.
The ties between families were furthered strengthened when
Richard took Francis elder sister Fanny as his fourth wife.
He later assisted his esteemed brother-in-law in constructing
a prototype telegraph link between Dublin and Galway, which
Around this time he met and fell in love with Richards
daughter Charlotte, but she was in poor health and died
young. After a few frustrating years, his naval career took
off again with his appointment as commander of the Woolwich
In the next decade he undertook a number of major surveys
including that of the mouth of the River Plate in South
America and later the south coast of Turkey. The results
of the latter were published in Karamania (a medieval name
for Asia Minor), which boosted his standing among the scientific
Beaufort is best known for his Wind Scale. He had kept detailed
weather records since his early teens and in January 1806
produced the first draft of his scale of wind velocity,
which initially has 14 stages ranging from calm (0) to storm
Like many major developments the scale was developed for
military applications. In 1826, the explorer Sir John Franklin,
who later died in trying to navigate the North West Passage,
led the expedition which explored the sea to the North of
Canada and Alaska and named in honour of his friend.
This vast sea encompasses an area of 476,000 sq. kms (184,000
sq. mls, i.e. about six times the size of the island of
Ireland.) and is covered by ice for most of the year.
His Wind Scale wasnt totally his own creation, but
was derived from earlier attempts by Alexander Dalrymple
and the English engineer John Smeaton. Beaufort also improved
on earlier attempts by Dalrymple to devise a system of weather
notation, in which letter and abbreviations were used to
describe the prevailing weather systems, e.g. b = blue skies,s
= sultry and gr. = grey threatening appearance.
His efforts to denote wind strength were based on the effect
the various wind strength had on the amount of canvas carried
by naval frigates. By the time the scale was adopted by
the British Admiralty in 1838, it had been reduced to 13
In 1810, he received his biggest commission yet, that of
HMS Frederickssteen, and shortly afterwards proposed to
Alicia Wilson whom he had first met 21-years earlier on
the eve of his first voyage on board the Vansittart.
He didnt feel as passionately about her as he did
about Charlotte Edgeworth, but he shared a common interest
in navigation and surveying with her father, who was also
survived that fateful voyage two decade previously.
The marriage was delayed until Beaufort had completed his
first tour of duty with his new frigate and took place in
London in December 1812. Despite the unpromising start it
was a happy marriage and they had six children before her
death from breast cancer in August 1834.
In 1829 he was appointed Hydrographer to the Admiralty.
In the 1830s his system of weather notation and his wind
scale were adopted by the Royal Navy. In 1846, at the age
of 72 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and Knighted by Queen
Victoria two years later.
On November 11, 1838 Beaufort married Honora Edgeworth,
who was twenty years his junior and half sister to his beloved
Charlotte as well as being his sisters stepdaughter.
He finally retired from the Admiralty in 1855 after 68 years
service and died in Brighton in December 1857 in his 84th
year and after a simple funeral service in St. John-at-Hackney
Church on December 22, he was interred alongside his first
wife in the Wilson family tomb.
As a scientist he never made any startling discoveries but
his work as a surveyor and hydrogra-pher proved invalu-able
and he surely deserves the accol-ade as the greatest ever
Taken from Royal County