FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast

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Overview

The name of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, is forever linked with that of his most famous passenger, Charles Darwin. This exceptionally interesting biography brings FitzRoy out of Darwin’s shadow for the first time, revealing a man who experienced high adventure, suffered tragic disappointments, and—as the inventor of weather forecasting—saved the lives of countless fellow mariners.
John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin draw a detailed portrait of FitzRoy, recounting the wide range of his accomplishments and exploring the motivations that drove him. As a very young and successful commander in the British navy, FitzRoy’s life was in the mold of a Patrick O’Brian novel. Later disappointments, including an unpopular tenure as governor of New Zealand and a sense of dismay over his own contributions to Darwin’s ideas of evolution, troubled FitzRoy. Even his groundbreaking accomplishments in meteorological science failed to satisfy his high personal expectations, and in 1865 FitzRoy committed suicide at the age of sixty. This biography focuses well-deserved attention on FitzRoy’s status as a scientist and seaman, affirming that his was a life which, despite its sorrowful end, encompassed many more successes than failures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[A] superb and moving biography."—Toby Green, Independent

"[The] finely drawn portrait that emerges from FitzRoy is of a very British hero in the mould of Nelson, who sacrificed his health and personal fortune in the service of his country."—Gavin Bell, Daily Telegraph

Bruce Barcott
The Longest Winter adds a missing chapter to the history of polar exploration and may return some shine to Scott's reputation, which has suffered in the current vogue for his rival Ernest Shackleton. Lambert uses the mission of the Northern Party to argue that Scott was a devoted man of science, not a hapless pole-bagger. Her evidence is fairly convincing, but it will be difficult to overcome our image of Scott as the tragic hero who arrived at the pole after Roald Amundsen and perished on the return journey.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
History has not looked favorably on Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865), who captained the Beagle on Charles Darwin's famous trip around the globe. FitzRoy shared an inclination toward mental instability with his uncle Lord Castlereagh, one of the architects of post-Napoleonic Europe, and ultimately slit his own throat. He became a Bible-quoting literalist on the creation of the world and famously broke with Darwin after the publication of On the Origin of Species. However, the Gribbins (Stardust) show that FitzRoy was dedicated to public service. As governor of New Zealand he offended colonists in his zeal to be fair toward the native Maoris, which got him quickly recalled. As head of the Meteorological Office he helped put the young field of meteorology on firm scientific foundations by setting up observation stations all around the British Isles, linked to London by telegraph. His network of storm warnings and uniform system of storm signals for use aboard ships were highly successful. Fitzroy was also the first to use the term "weather forecast." The Gribbins successfully pull their subject out of Darwin's long shadow and portray him as a notable figure in his own right. Readers interested in Darwin, meteorology or 19th-century seagoing life will all find this a delightful read. B&w illus. Agent, Emma Sweeney at Harold Ober Assoc. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Gribbins (Stardust) provide a superb biography of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Darwin on the explorations that led to his theory of natural selection. They bring FitzRoy out of Darwin's shadow, revealing a man who experienced dramatic highs and lows in his life, which ended with his suicide at age 60. The authors delve deep into relatively obscure original sources, including the important three-volume Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle (1839), Volume 2 of which was written by FitzRoy. Readers will be intrigued to learn about FitzRoy's successful career as a British naval commander (he served as a model in a Patrick O'Brian novel), unpopular rule as governor of New Zealand, captaincy of Darwin's voyages and dismay over his contributions to Darwin's ideas of evolution, bouts with depression, and groundbreaking accomplishments in meteorological science (appointed Britain's first meteorological statistician, he began the science of weather forecasting). An essential addition to Darwinian literature and evolution collections in all academic libraries. Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300103618
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 7/26/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin are visiting fellows at the University of Sussex. John Gribbin has long been interested in the weather and is a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. Mary Gribbin has a special interest in exploration and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Together they have written many books on science topics.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
A Very British Hero 3
1 Before the Beagle 7
2 First Command 43
3 Interlude in England 77
4 FitzRoy's Passenger 89
5 The Darwin Voyage 123
6 The Happy Return 177
7 Difficulties Down Under 199
8 Unrequited Hopes 237
9 Prophet without Honor 249
10 Aftermath 285
Appendix I Loose Ends 295
Appendix II FitzRoy's C.V. 301
Appendix III Vice Admiral FitzRoy 307
Sources and Further Reading 311
Endnotes 315
Index 329
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