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The Birth Of Weather Forecasting

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The Royal Charter was a steam clipper which was wrecked on the east coast of Anglesey on 26 October 1859. The precise number of dead is uncertain as the passenger list was lost in the wreck, but about 459 lives were lost, the highest death toll of any shipwreck on the Welsh coast. It was the most prominent victim of about 200 ships wrecked by the Royal Charter Storm.


In late October 1859 the Royal Charter was returning to Liverpool from Melbourne. Her complement of about 371 passengers (with a crew of about 112 and some other company employees) included many gold miners, some of whom had struck it rich at the diggings in Australia and were carrying large sums of gold about their persons. A consignment of gold was also being carried as cargo. As she reached the north-western tip of Anglesey on 25 October the barometer was dropping and it was claimed later by some passengers, though not confirmed, that the master, Captain Thomas Taylor, was advised to put into Holyhead harbour for shelter. He decided to continue on to Liverpool however.

Off Point Lynas the Royal Charter tried to pick up the Liverpool pilot, but the wind had now risen to force 10 on the Beaufort scale and the rapidly rising sea made this impossible. During the night of 25/26 October the wind rose to force 12 "hurricane force" in what became known as the "Royal Charter gale". As the wind rose its direction changed from E to NE and then NNE, driving the ship towards the east coast of Anglesey. At 11 p.m. she anchored, but at 1.30 a.m. on the 26th the port anchor chain snapped, followed by the starboard chain an hour later. Despite cutting the masts to reduce the drag of the wind, the Royal Charter was driven inshore with the steam engines unable to make headway against the gale. The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but in the early morning of the 26th the rising tide drove her onto the rocks at a point just north of Moelfre on the eastern coast of Anglesey. Battered against the rocks by huge waves whipped up by winds of over 100 mph, she quickly broke up.

One member of the crew, Joseph Rogers, managed to swim ashore with a line, enabling a few people to be rescued, and a few others were able to struggle to shore through the surf. Most of the passengers and crew, a total of over 450 people, died. Many of them were killed by being dashed against the rocks by the waves rather than drowned. Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. The survivors, 21 passengers and 18 crew members, were all men, with no women or children saved.



In the aftermath Rear Admiral Robert Fitzroy, statist at the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade examines the course of the storm from carefully compiled observations: it develops in the Azores then moves over Brittany before advancing up the Irish Sea and across Scotland. This convinces him that the route of the storm could have been predicted in enough time to save the ship and lives.

He visualises, for the first time, the idea of foretelling weather by means of a synoptic chart. More significantly, the inquiry into The Royal Charter storm recommends that Fitzroy establish a network of forty British ports issued with barometers that will report daily weather observations via the new telegraph.

Thus storm warnings can be issued using a code of ‘cautionary signals’ involving drums cones and, at night, lights suspended at ports. It's the birth of weather forecasting.


On 4 February 2002, when the shipping forecast sea area Finisterre was renamed to avoid confusion with the Spanish peninsula of the same name, the new name chosen by the UK's Meteorological Office was "FitzRoy", in honour of their founder, the road in which the Met Office HQ is based in Exeter is also named after him.

More information: www.islandnet.com

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an interesting read-many thanks for that

Edited by johnholmes

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I'll second John's comment, a fascinating account. I'm wondering if there are any accounts of damage inland from the that storm, I'll check through the records when I get home.

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