From the age of four, FitzRoy lived at Wakefield Lodge, the Palladian-style mansion of the Grafton family in Northamptonshire. In February 1818, when he was almost 13, he entered the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth. He entered the Royal Navy in 1819, moved through the ranks of college volunteer and midshipman and was promoted lieutenant on 7 September 1824. At the naval college he had completed a 20 month course, which included mathematics, Classics, history, geography, English, French, drawing, navigation, fencing and dancing, with great distinction. On leaving the naval college, he had been awarded first medal, and in 1824 passed his examination for promotion to lieutenant with 'full numbers', a result that had not been achieved before.
From his first ship, the Thetis, FitzRoy was appointed in August 1828 to the Ganges as flag lieutenant to Rear Admiral Sir Robert Otway, commander in chief of the South American station. Three months later FitzRoy was given his first command, the Beagle, which was carrying out the survey of the coasts of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Straits of Magellan. After returning to London in 1830, the Beagle was assigned to continue this survey and left England in December 1831, carrying the young Charles Darwin as naturalist. On this second voyage FitzRoy visited the Cape Verde Islands, the South American Coast, the Strait of Magellan, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, the Maldives, and Mauritius before returning to England. The voyages of the Beagle established FitzRoy as an excellent navigator, a sound surveyor and a man of science. He was the first to record much of the language of the Fuegians and was partly responsible for the establishment of the first, unsuccessful, Fuegian mission. He had formed and expressed views on the government of native peoples.
Probably on 8 December 1836 Robert FitzRoy married Mary Henrietta O'Brien, daughter of Major General Edward James O'Brien; they had three daughters and one son. On 22 April 1854 in London, after the death of his first wife, Robert FitzRoy married Maria Isabella Smyth, daughter of a FitzRoy cousin; they had one daughter.
FitzRoy began a brief parliamentary career in 1841, as the Tory member for Durham. But on 7 April 1843 he was appointed governor of New Zealand but was dismissed in 1846 largely because he contended that Maori land claims were as valid as those of the white settlers.
In September 1848 FitzRoy was appointed acting superintendent of the Woolwich dockyard, and in March 1849 was given his final sea command, the screw frigate Arrogant, which he had himself fitted out for sea trials. After retiring from active service in 1850, FitzRoy was briefly, in 1853, private secretary to his uncle by marriage, Lord Hardinge, commander in chief of the army. Probably the event that gave FitzRoy the greatest personal satisfaction was his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1851, supported by 13 fellows, including Charles Darwin. By seniority he was promoted rear admiral in 1857, and vice admiral in 1863.
On his death it was necessary, according to Darwin, for his friends to pay off his debts, many of which had been incurred in service to his country. His widow was given the use of a grace-and-favour residence by Queen Victoria. His achievements were considerable. His command of the Beagle and the excellence of the survey from the Equator to Cape Horn and up the eastern side of South America alone would have assured him a place in history, as would his pioneering work in meteorology. In New Zealand his determination that the Maori should be treated with fairness and justice, while European settlers should discover their new life in peace and harmony, constituted a major contribution to the life of the new colony. That he had less ostensible success as governor was the result of Colonial Office policy rather than of his own shortcomings.
Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin
Robert Fitzroy Links:
A Short Biography of Robert Fitzroy - AboutDarwin.com
Robert Fitzroy Biography - Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Robert Fitzroy Biography - New Zealand History
Heavy Weather - Science Museum
The Journal of Syms Covington
HMS Beagle Voyage - AboutDarwin.com
The Voyage on the Beagle - Charles Darwin
Make Your Own Barometer
Make Your Own Barometer - Franklin Institute
Hands On Activity: Make Your Own Barometer - Following the Path of Discovery
Make a Barometer - WorldNow
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