Sir Francis Beaufort collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Beaufort on various subjects including the search for Sir John Franklin and the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 and the work of Sir John Ross.

Administrative / Biographical History

Francis Beaufort was born in 1774 near Navan in County Meath, Ireland, the son of Reverend Daniel Beaufort, a renowned topographer. He entered the Royal Navy in June 1787, advancing to the rank of lieutenant in 1796 and promoted commander in 1800 after he was severely wounded during active service off the coast of Malaga. In 1805, he was appointed to the command of Woolwich, conducting a survey of the entrance to Rio de la Plata while serving off the coast of Buenos Aires. In 1811, Beaufort was appointed to survey the coast of Karamania but his work was brought to an end the following year when his crew was attacked and he himself seriously wounded by Turkish pirates. For many years after his return to Britain, he was engaged in constructing the charts of his survey.

In 1829, Beaufort was appointed Hydrographer to the Royal Navy, a post he held until his retirement in 1855. During this period, he commissioned voyages to survey and chart areas of navigational importance with the result that the Chart Catalogue listed 1,981 charts by the time of his retirement. He directed many exploring expeditions, including the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), the searches for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition, and the surveys of South American waters by Captain Robert Fitzroy in HMS Beagle, 1831-1836.

Beaufort is probably best remembered for originating the Beaufort Scale, a table for estimating the force of wind velocities at sea, first used officially by Fitzroy in 1831 and introduced into the Navy in 1838. Among his other achievements was the introduction of official Tide Tables in 1833 and Notices to Mariners in 1834. Promoted rear admiral in 1846, he was knighted in 1848 in recognition of his services as Hydrographer. He died on 17 December 1857 in London. Beaufort Sea, in the Canadian Arctic, and Beaufort Island, in the Ross Sea, are named for him.


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Dictionary of National Biography volume 4, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1885) and 'Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort' by L S Dawson in Memoirs of Hydrography Part II Cornmarket Press, London (1969) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1969] and Irish Scientists and United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film, portraits and other illustrative material in the Picture Library, which include images of Beaufort. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.

Geographical Names