Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, 1774-1857

(Updated, April 2019) Beaufort is shown seated in a low-backed wooden library armchair, facing the viewer but looking to the right in profile. He wears dark civilian dress and a fawn wistcoat with a double magnifying glass hanging on a cord round his neck. His left arm rests on charts on a simple sturdy table, along with an Admiralty blue book, pens in and by an inkwell holder, and a ruler. He holds his glasses in his left hand and there is a red curtain hanging to the left, behind. His right forearm rests on the arm of his chair, the hand hanging relaxed at waist level. Beaufort was 76 when he sat to Pearce in 1850 and the general impression of this image is of a commanding and self-possessed man of science, still fully a leader in his field despite his advanced years.

Beaufort was the son of a notable amateur geographer, the Revd Daniel Augustus Beaufort. He went to sea in the East India Company in 1789, suffering shipwreck before entering the Navy in 1790 and becoming a Royal Naval lieutenant in 1796. He had a gallant and active early career, in which he took part in a number of actions and was badly wounded. However, having a sound education which his own efforts improved, he also turned early to hydrography. As a commander he surveyd the entrance to the River Plate in 1807 and, as a captain from 1810, the coast of southern Turkey (1811-12), publishing the results in 1817. He became Hydrographer of the Navy in 1829 and retired in 1855, aged 81. In that time he exerted a huge influence on the development of naval hydrography and exploration, and made British Admiralty charts the standard of comparison for the rest of the world. His record was prodigious, both in quality and output. An average of 68 new charts a year were published during his tenure and he became a figure of both national and international repute in the field, though most generally remembered today for his Beaufort Scale of wind speeds, measured in 'forces' on a scale of one to ten.

The portrait is a single-figure version of Beaufort as shown in Pearce's 1851 group work entitled 'The Arctic Council discussing the plan of search for Sir John Franklin', now in the National Portrait Gallery. It was painted for the Naval Gallery of Greenwich Hospital 'at the desire of the subscribers to the Beaufort Testimonial' though the painting date of 1860 given in the last edition of the printed catalogue (HMSO, 1922, p. 33) appears to be wrong: this may perhaps indicate when it finally arrived at Greenwich. 1855-56 is that given by ODNB, which also notes that the NPG has Pearce's original oil study of Beaufort (1850) on which both this and 'The Arctic Council' version are based.

Object Details

ID: BHC2541
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Pearce, Stephen
Date made: 1855-1856; 1855-56
People: Beaufort Testimonial; Beaufort, Francis
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Frame: 1500 mm x 1260 mm x 103 mm;Painting: 1275 mm x 1020 mm x 23 mm

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