The history of the British Meteorological Office to 1905

Burton, James Michael Crowther (1989). The history of the British Meteorological Office to 1905. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis covers the first half century of the British Metorological Office and events leading to its foundation. After an introductory chapter the narrative describes how growth of marine transportation led to awareness of possible benefits from knowledge of wind patterns. Moves to collect marine weather statistics worldwide were supported with reluctance by Britain, but eventually resulted in the foundation of a new Department of the Board of Trade devoted to collection of marine observations. Robert FitzRoy, its first head, later transformed this work into provision of the world's first operational weather forecasting system.

After FitzRoy's death an investigation into the Department was followed by a complete re-organization that replaced it by a Meteorological Office under the control of an unpaid supervisory Committee (later a paid Council) financed by an annual grant. The subsequent evolution of the Office is described. Its relationships with other bodies were not always smooth, nor was its development rapid, but it laid a foundation for what was to follow.

The Office's story impinges upon many aspects of the contemporary scene and is set within their context. The reaction of Treasury to its financing is dealt with at some length. The gradual growth of' public services is recounted and it is noted that, at a time of' supposed laissez-faire, there was no attempt to turn the Office into a revenue raising organization, the primacy of public service always being evident. A characteristic of science has been the division arising from the dichotomy between "pure" and "applied" approaches to problems, and this is highlighted within the narrative.

Despite its disappointing role at the turn of the century, the Meteorological Office is seen as a prime force in the emergence of meteorology as a science within this country. The thesis closes with a glance to the future.

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