Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865) was a naval officer, captain of HMS Beagle for Darwin’s voyage to the southern hemisphere, and later an MP. He was also Governor of New Zealand and, later still, the “founding director of the Meteorological Office – the world’s first full-time professional weather forecaster”. That quote comes from the fly-leaf of my hardback copy of “FitzRoy: the remarkable story of Darwin’s captain and the invention of the weather forecast” by John and Mary Gribbin. I read it during my last major reading binge which began in September 2019 and ended the following summer.
I thought about making FitzRoy a “Word of the week” back then, drafted something along the lines of the opening paragraph, and never finalized it. I return to it now because of a TV quiz show from last weekend. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” on Saturday night (10 September) featured the following question, for £125,000.
“In 1854, which meteorologist founded what became the Met Office, having previously been captain of Darwin’s HMS Beagle voyage?”
The options: Robert FitzRoy / Francis Beaufort / Joseph Henry / Gustave Gaspard Coriolis
I was watching the show live, with my wife and son, and dug out my copy of the Gribbins’ book to show them why I knew the answer to this. Much of my general knowledge has come from watching quiz shows, but for this one I literally read it in a book. The contestant had been doing well up to this point, had got past the £64,000 question without using any lifelines, and decided to set his safety net at £125,000. He had an idea about the answer but, sensibly, didn’t share it, so when he used the Ask the Audience lifeline the studio audience hadn’t been influenced by his speculation. Unfortunately the majority of them went for a wrong answer: 51% chose Beaufort and only 23% went for FitzRoy. The contestant thought it was Beaufort too, and didn’t use any of his other lifelines. He went home with £1,000, £63,000 short of where he had been. If he, or a majority of the audience, had known about Robert FitzRoy he would have gone home with at least £125,000. We didn’t learn whether host Jeremy Clarkson knew the answer but even if he had it wouldn’t have been much consolation.
The word FitzRoy appears in two earlier pieces on this Blog. The first, here, lists scores of questions from earlier editions of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” On 4 November 2006 a £32,000 question was about the Shipping Forecast area formerly known as Finisterre, renamed Fitzroy in 2002 in honour of the “the world’s first full-time professional weather forecaster”. It’s the only Shipping Forecast area named after a person.
The other previous appearance of the name on this Blog was in this piece about ITV quiz show “Tenable”, which asked for “The 10 wives and children of Henry VIII”. It specified that they were looking for his six wives and four known surviving children. They included the one illegitimate child who was recognized by Henry VIII: Henry FitzRoy. I didn’t know about him at the time, and wouldn’t have remembered his name if asked the same question last week, but a quick look at this Wikipedia page reveals that his mother was Elizabeth Blount, lady-in-waiting to Catherine Aragon, and his full title was Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. He died aged 17, probably of “consumption”, and had no children.
The team on that episode of “Tenable” won £7,000 for all the answers that they gave on the show. If they had known about Henry FitzRoy they would have added an extra £5,000 to their jackpot. It’s a decent amount, but for one unlucky quiz show contestant this week an awareness of Robert FitzRoy, naval captain and weather forecaster, would have been worth so much more.