Just read Richard Carter’s great article about the 1859 ‘Storm of the Century’. In it, he cites Charles Dickens’s piece on the tragic wreck of a cargo ship in the Irish Sea, where nearly 460 lives were lost.
Dickens’s The Uncommercial Traveller, where the account appeared, is one of my all-time favourite travel books – I can’t recommend this slim volume highly enough, and think it’s best read as a well-thumbed second-hand item, rather than as an e-book or on Kindle. Just sayin’. In London, browse this list of second-hand bookshops for a bookseller near you, dig through your local shop, or track it down online.
Carter makes a deft connection from Dickens and the killer storm to Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, Captain of HMS Beagle when Charles Darwin made his five-year journey. FitzRoy was a passionate advocate of trying to forecast the weather and avert disaster, rather than simply reporting it after the fact. Obviously this is still an imperfect science, but FitzRoy’s efforts enabled the creation of the Met Office, wunderground et al, and, to some degree, our growing understanding of climate change.
The HMS Beagle Project is working to build a new Beagle, to retrace FitzRoy’s and Darwin’s voyage, update some of their findings, and bring the adventure of science to life for young people around the world. If you support the idea, I hope you’ll link to the website or blog and help spread the world. Profile helps with fundraising, and it will take £5M to build the ship – a lot more than the £7K it cost at the time, but a drop in the bucket compared to the proposed ‘royal yacht’, tagged at £60-80M…
If you’d like to keep up on developments, you can register for updates here.