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Origins of Australian Meteorology



The Origins of Australian Meteorology
FitzRoy and Maury
Thomas Brisbane
Phillip Parker King
Charles Todd
Ellery and Neumayer
Henry Chamberlain Russell
Clement Wragge
The International Scene
The End of the Beginning

Appendix 1: Chronological Chart of Early Meteorologists



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The Origins of Australian Meteorology

FitzRoy and Maury

Robert FitzRoy was an officer in the Royal Navy when, at the age of 23, he made a voyage to Tierra del Fuego in the Beagle in 1828. In 1832 he was back in Tierra del Fuego, again in the Beagle but this time as its commander on a voyage which was to take four years. On the same voyage was the young Charles Darwin, a naturalist, whose observations were to prompt him to advance his ideas of natural selection which appeared in his famous Origin of Species.

Admiral Robert FitzRoy

Admiral Robert FitzRoy, 1805–1865

Matthew Fontaine Maury was another naval officer who in 1828 at the age of 22 was in the middle of a four-year voyage around the world with the US Navy. We will see how these two remarkable men were to stimulate the introduction of weather services as they exist today.

Lieutenant Fontaine Maury

Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, 1806–1873

It is not surprising that mariners were the first to become aware of the need for organised meteorological services. Traditions associating meteorology and maritime pursuits were strong in the time of FitzRoy and Maury. In 1805 Admiral Beaufort of the Royal Navy had developed a scale to estimate wind speeds from effects on ships' sails. His scale was readily adopted by mariners and the Beaufort scale today is still used internationally by shipping.

FitzRoy's naval career was interrupted by his becoming the member of parliament for Durham in 1843 and in that same year he was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand. His experience as Governor of New Zealand was less than happy. In 1850 he resigned from active service in the navy, the stated reason being health and the need to attend to private affairs. About this time he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, his proposers including Beaufort and Darwin.

Maury in the meantime had experienced misfortune. In 1839 a coach accident resulted in permanent lameness and rendered him unfit for active service. During his long recovery and convalescence he studied in the face of great difficulties and by 1841 became superintendent at the navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments. The fact that Maury was confined to an office was fortunate for meteorology. He made a study of a mass of dusty log books containing a record of every voyage made by ships of the US Navy. Convinced that the intelligent use of winds and currents could shorten the time taken for vessels to sail through the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans he laboured to obtain observations on winds and currents by distributing specially prepared log books to captains of vessels. The result was to show the necessity for combined action on the part of maritime nations in regard to ocean meteorology.

People in Bright Sparcs - FitzRoy, Robert; Maury, Matthew Fontaine

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Gibbs, W. J. 1998 'The Origins of Australian Meteorology', Metarch Papers, No. 12 June 1998, Bureau of Meteorology

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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