The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers who Sought to see the Future by Peter Moore

The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers who Sought to see the Future by Peter Moore

Author:Peter Moore [Moore, Peter]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781448155972
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2015-05-06T18:30:00+00:00

CHAPTER 8

Beginnings

CATCHING SIGHT OF Robert FitzRoy across a west London street in early 1852 was to catch sight of a man in the prime of life. FitzRoy looked every inch the distinguished Victorian gentleman. Although he was firmly in middle age his hair had kept its rich chestnut colour and his face still shone with boyish vigour. Clad in a dark frock coat, waistcoat and necktie, he had retained something of his taste for fashion. The previous summer he had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society – ‘eminent in scientific navigation’ – his nomination paper signed by the recently promoted Admiral Beaufort.1 He had followed this with a social triumph, securing his election (without ballot) to the discerning Athenaeum Club, skipping its sixteen-year waiting list. A gentleman of consequence, FitzRoy’s appearances at society events were noted by the newspapers. Though he lived a little out of town in Norland Square in Holland Park with Mary, their four children and three servants, he was often in the thick of action. Known and respected, admired and connected, FitzRoy was in perfect health. Yet all was not well.

On Monday 15 March 1852 at his desk FitzRoy headed a sheet of paper in his flourishing fashion: ‘Private and Confidential: FitzRoy’s Curriculum Vitae, his past service, his health and readiness for future duties. Memorandum.’2

It was the start of a thousand-word summary of his professional career. FitzRoy outlined his experiences in succinct paragraphs. He sketched all his triumphs: the first medal, promotion to lieutenant of the Thetis, captain of the Beagle, Gold Medal of the Geographical Society, election to Parliament.

Then he reached more difficult territory.

In April 1843, Lord Stanley proposed to Captain Fitz Roy to go out to New Zealand as governor; and he thought it was his duty to undertake the onerous office, however distant and ill-remunerated. He gave up his seat in Parliament – and other employments, (though tenable for life by remaining in England) and went, with his family, in a merchant ship to New Zealand.

His proceedings there gave such umbrage to the New Zealand Company – then very powerful – that they occasioned his recall in 1846.

It was plain and accurate, an unvarnished account of a painful memory. It is not hard to detect the undercurrent: that by accepting Stanley’s offer he had forfeited a stable position at home. This sense of events gone awry permeates FitzRoy’s Memorandum, a document that is more complex than first appears. What was the point of writing it? Why should a man as well known as FitzRoy be asked to write a CV? Reading it a hundred and fifty years later you are left with a sense of a man seeking to convince himself of his worth. His use of the third person, although a common period device, is also revealing. Does it enable him to be objective? Is it a way of confronting perplexing questions?

FitzRoy had reason to be perplexed. Once so wealthy he could have bought, built or maintained a stylish house



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