Beaufort's scandals

 

NOT often, if ever, does a whiff of scandal emanate from Weather Eye. But in a sad world in which daily cries of "oh he didn't, did he?" as heard on every hand, we must acknowledge that weather people, too, are human, with all the frailties that that implies. Indeed, one of the most illustrious names in meteorology, and an Irishman to boot, has been caught posthumously in the most Flagranti of delicto by the revelations of his secret diaries.

Francis Beaufort was born 222 years ago today on May 27th, 1774, in Navan, Co Meath, where his father, Dr Daniel Augustus Beaufort, was rector of the local church. At the tender age of 14, Francis left home to begin a career at sea, and after many adventures he became in due course Hydrographer to the British Royal Navy. During his long tenure of that office, from 1829 to 1855, he transformed what was then little more than a depot for the storing of charts of mediocre quality into the finest maritime surveying and cartographic institution in the world.

By the time he retired, Beaufort had become an admiral, a Knight of the Bath, and a household name as the originator of the well known scale for estimating winds at sea. He was also, ex officio perhaps, a landmark in virtually every corner of the globe: the Beaufort Dyke, for example, is a trough beneath the North Channel that separates Antrim from the coast of Scotland; the Beaufort Gyre is a current in the Arctic, the Beaufort Sea lies north of Canada, and there are Beaufort Straits, Beaufort Islands, and half a dozen towns called Beaufort in America. There is even a Beaufort under the Macgillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry, although I doubt if it has any direct connection with the Admiral Sir Francis.

"Yes, yes," I hear you say, "we know, we know all this! But what about the expose, the scandal and the idle gossip?" Well, when Beaufort was widowed in 1834, I continue sotto voce, his devoted sister Harriet left the family home in Ireland, and came to London to help him run the household. Intimacy, it seems, ensued: "Fresh horrors with Harriet," records the future Admiral in his ciphered diary in November, 1835: "O Lord forgive us both." Two months later the entry reads: "Again I employed Harriet. O Lord, take pity on my soul and strengthen my resolve." In all, there are 13 explicit allusions in the journals to this improper and unfortunate liaison, ending only with Beaufort's second marriage to Honora Edgeworth in November, 1838. This, then, is the sordid story - but don't let on you read it in Weather Eye.