Written on 24 January 2017


Francis Beaufort, Parry’s successor, was certainly the longest-serving, and probably the greatest, of all the Hydrographers to date. When he was appointed in May 1829 he already had twenty-five years of sea service behind him.

Beaufort’s authority was increased by two moves early in his time as Hydrographer. In 1831 a Scientific Branch of the Admiralty was instituted, comprising the Hydrography Department, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Cape Observatory, the Nautical Almanac Office and the Chronometer Office. The estimates for this branch were prepared by the Hydrographer, who thus became its de facto head.

First, in 1831, Beaufort effected a piece of empire-building by taking over the superintendence of the Nautical Almanac Office from the Royal Observatory. Its annual publication Nautical Almanac, gave the-day to day position of the sun, moon and prominent stars throughout the year which, with the use of chronometer and Hadley’s quadrant was the indispensable tool of the mariner for determining his location

  •                 *Today the HM Nautical Almanac http://astro.ukho.gov.uk/nao/index2.html supports not just the mariners, but a wide range of commercial, public bodies and private individuals. It assists aviation professionals, surveyors, amateur astronomers, the Armed Forced, Police, lawyers, diary and calendar manufacturers, schools, architects and film crews. The catalogue of publications includes Annual Publications (The Astronomical Almanac – GP 100, The Nautical Almanac – NP 314, Astronomical Phenomena – GP 200, The Star Almanac for Land Surveyors – NP 321, The UK Air Almanac – AP 1602), Non-Annual Publications (NavPac and Compact Data – DP 330, Rapid Sight Reduction Tables for Navigation – NP 303 / AP 3270, Planetary and Lunar Coordinates, Sight Reduction Tables for Marine Navigation – NP401).
  • The HM Nautical Almanac publications are available to download or purchase from Admiralty Paper Distributors.

During Beaufort’s time a new Hydrographic Office publication, Notices to Mariners, was established, aiming to provide changes to navigation information for users of Admiralty Charts and their sailing directions. This is where Beaufort began including and promoting his Wind Scale.

In 1833 came the first publication on the Admiralty Tide Tables, at its onset a mere pamphlet giving the times of high water at five major English ports. Recognising its inadequacy – and the lack of observational data to permit not only its expansion but also the development of scientific theory on the tidal flows – Beaufort promptly organised systematic readings at coastguard stations and brought about an international effort to recognise the tides on both sides of the Channel. The foundation was laid for the present Admiralty Tide Tables.

After Parry, the policy of international co-operation in hydrography was furthered by Beaufort. A friendship with the Spanish hydrographer Don Felipe Bauza during his exile in London guaranteed good relationships with the Hydrographic Office in Cadiz when Bauza returned there. Relations were equally good with both the American and French office, the latter writing to Beaufort in hoping that France’s becoming a republic would not interfere with free exchange of data. Many Admiralty charts drawn from Russian surveys attest to the cordial relations with St Petersburg, though by 1850 these had cooled.

Beaufort was aware of the military applications of his work, and when the Russian War broke out he attached Brock and Sullivan to the Commanders in Chief in the Mediterranean and Baltic respectively. In 1854 he suggested that the Fleet should have a lithographic press on board to supply charts for war operations – a suggestion finally put in place in 1915!

In March 1854 Beaufort, now eighty and in failing health, asked to resign. With the Russian War breaking out Their Lordships refused to spare him, and he soldiered for a further nine months, finally being relieved in January 1855. By the time of his departure the Royal Navy was recognised as pre-eminent in hydrographic matters in Europe and throughout the world.

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