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Log books and the law of storms: maritime meteorology and the British Admiralty in the 19th century

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This paper contributes to debates about the relationship between science and the military by examining the British Admiralty’s participation in meteorological projects in the first half of the 19th century. It focuses on attempts to transform Royal Naval log books into standardized meteorological registers that would be of use to both science and the state. The paper begins with a discussion of Admiralty Hydrographer, Francis Beaufort, who promoted the use of standardized systems for the observation of the weather at sea. It then examines the application of ships’ logs to the science of storms. The paper focuses on the Army Engineer, William Reid, who studied hurricanes while stationed in Barbados and Bermuda. Reid was instrumental in persuading the Admiralty to implement a naval meteorological policy, something the Admiralty Hydrographer had struggled to achieve. The paper uses the reception and adoption of work on storms at sea to reflect on the means and ends of maritime meteorology in the mid-19th century.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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