Science At Sea

A series that explores the colourful lives and important achievements of the sea-borne scientists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Dramatised scenes written by Roy Apps, directed by Celia De Wolff..




Joseph Banks: A Voyage of Discovery

It was a passion for exploring the natural world that led Joseph Banks to sea, rather than any particular love of seafaring.

Boarding Captain Cook's ship Endeavour in 1768 with a team of colleagues and servants, and a bureau packed with gentlemanly accoutrements, his seafaring lifestyle contrasted sharply with that of the other crew members in their cramped accommodation.

The aim of the journey, for both Banks and Cook, was exploration - scientific and geographical.

Cook went down in history as the first European discoverer of Australia, while Banks and his team collected, recorded and investigated the natural history of every region in which they set foot, including the celebrated Botany Bay in Australia.

The journey was at times perilous, but Banks managed to bring back to Britain a vast archive of exotic plants and animal material from around the world.

On his return, he was the toast of Europe, enjoying the rewards of his exotic celebrity status to the full and returning to his aristocratic life with zest.

But his aim from then on was to advance scientific knowledge, and to further the British Empire through his discoveries and he influenced greatly the practice of scientific exploration from then onwards.



Francis Beaufort's career as a sailor was a swashbuckling one, including shipwreck, pirates, being marooned - and several near-death incidents.

He was a talented seaman but from the beginning he was also fascinated with observing and recording the movements of the sea and the weather, once writing in his journal, "Everyone has his hobby or his insanity.

Mine I believe is taking bearings for charts and plans".

This interest earned him great praise even during his seafaring days as he contributed precise surveys of areas that had previously been poorly recorded.

At the age of 55 he might have been expected to retire for a life of well-deserved leisure, but instead he took his love for scientific records and charts and put them to use at the Hydrographic Board.

His aim was to assist the Navy by improving the existing charts of all the world's oceans and to encourage all ships to play their part in adding to the available knowledge of the sea and its movements.

He was highly effective in this, and countless sailors will have owed their life to Beaufort's work at this time.

But the legacy for which he remains best known, is Beaufort Wind Scale, a standardised register by which one sailor can understand exactly the weather conditions another sailor - or weather forecaster - is referring to without ambiguity.

In the 19th century, when ships were powered only by the wind, this information was crucial, and remain little changed to this day.

Listen to the Radio 4 shipping news and you can hear it in action every night.

03 LAST20050923

Robert Fitzroy is often mistakenly sidelined in the history of scientific discovery as simply being 'Darwin's Captain', the man in charge of the Beagle voyage during which Charles Darwin collected the information that led to The Origin of Species.

But not only was Fitzroy an accomplished sailor, he was a dedicated and driven scientist himself, whose work led to the creation of an effective storm warning system, and the concept of 'weather forecasting'.

His life was not an easy one, however.

From early on, he was acquainted with human tragedy and dogged by depression and bad temper.

But his motivation was always to serve others, and his need for achievement drove him on relentlessly.

His work saved many lives at sea, but his attempts at weather forecasting laid him open to endless ridicule.

Furthermore, Darwin's fame overshadowed his own - and his very thesis distressed Fitzroy greatly for religious reasons.

Eventually the pressure he was putting himself under and factors in his personal life combined with his tendency towards depression, and in 1865 he took his own life.

His work lives on however, and has gone from strength to strength in the form of the Met Office and its weather forecasts and shipping reports.

0101Joseph Banks - A Voyage Of Discovery20031017

A series that explores the colourful lives and important achievements of the sea-borne scientists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Dramatised scenes written by Roy Apps, directed by Celia De Wolff..When naturalist Joseph Banks secured a place onboard Captain Cook's ship, HM Endeavour, he had no idea what to expect - except the unknown.

On the journey, he discovered animals and plants of all sorts, and on his return to Britain three years later, he put this knowledge to use in powerful ways.

0102Francis Beaufort - Sailor And Visionary20031024

Francis Beaufort's marine career was packed with incident, injury, and several near-death experiences,.

His inventive mind raced with new ideas throughout.

And when retired to land, he was determined to put these into practice.

0103 LASTRobert Fitzroy: Inventor Of The Weather Forecast20031031

Robert Fitzroy's achievements were overshadowed by those of his famous passenger, Charles Darwin.

But his storm warning system saved thousands of lives at sea.

And, years ahead of his time, he laid the groundwork for today's weather reports and shipping forecasts.