Anyone familiar with the story of ‘FitzRoy of the Beagle’ and his association with Charles Darwin, who as a young man took passage in HMS Beagle on his appointment as official biologist on the historic voyages, will be gratified to know that a commemorative stone has recently been installed at the foot of the grave of Admiral FitzRoy in All Saints’ Churchyard, Upper Norwood. This stone replaces the original footstone placed there by former colleagues of Admiral FitzRoy, who served with him in 1865 in the newly-created Meteorological Office. It is a family grave and the headstone is still quite legible.
In his latter years Admiral FitzRoy worked for the Board of Trade and was appointed Head of the Meteorological Office. He also devoted much work to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The passage of time had caused the lettering on the old footstone to become almost indecipherable but the original wording read as follows:-
‘The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.’ (Ecclesiastes 1.6).
A meteorological storm warning cone was also depicted on the stone.
The new stone which has been erected by members of the present Meteorological Office, following a contact made by the FitzRoy family, is the work of the War Graves Commission and reads as follows:-
‘Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy
First Head of the Meteorological Office 1854’
And the same verse from Ecclesiastes and a storm warning symbol in the form of a cone are inscribed on the stone.
It has taken roughly ten years since information about the existence of the grave was conveyed to the present head of the FitzRoy family, the Duke of Grafton, who is also the Chairman of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It was largely due to the TV documentary film ‘The Voyage of Charles Darwin’ that a further communication was sent expressing the hope that someone or some organisation would feel moved to stop the disintegration of this interesting memorial to a man who did so much in his lifetime to aid seamen and fishermen by his system of weather forecasting. A FitzRoy barometer can still be seen in certain coastal areas of Great Britain and the Isle of Man.
The Church Authorities have maintained the grave over the years and repaired the railings surrounding it, repainting when necessary, but time has inevitably left its mark.
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