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Barometer and Weather Guide

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Many persons have advocated placing barometers at exposed fishing villages; and the Board of Trade has sanctioned the principle of some assistance by Government to a limited extent, depending on the necessity of each case, and other contingencies, such as the care, publicity, and setting of the barometers.

It was thought advisable to substitute a few words on the scales of these instruments in place of those usually engraved (which are not the most suitable), and to compile brief and plain information respecting the use of weather-glasses.

The following pages were prepared; but only the first few were intended particularly for this purpose.

After writing these, it was suggested that some remarks might be added for the benefit of many persons, especially young officers at sea, and the suggestion was complied with; yet not so as to diminish the portability of this compilation, or increase its price.

These remarks, derived from the combined observation, study, and personal experience of various individuals, are in accordance, generally, with the results obtained by eminent philosophers.

The works of Humboldt, Herschel, Dové, Sabine, Reid, Redfield, Espy, and others, are appealed to in confirmation of this statement.

To obviate any charge of undue haste, or an insufficiently considered plan—which may be fairly brought against many novelties—the following testimony to the first published suggestion of such a measure is submitted.

In the First Report of the Committee on Shipwrecks (1843), at pages 1, 2, 3, the following evidence was printed by order of the House of Commons.

"I think that the neglect of the use of the barometer has led to the loss of many ships. From a want of attention to the barometer, they have either closed the land (if at sea), or have put to sea (being in harbour in safety) at improper times; and in consequence of such want of precaution the ships have been lost, owing to bad weather coming on suddenly, which might have been avoided had proper attention been paid to that very simple instrument. While alluding to the use of barometers, I may remark, that if such weather-glasses were put in charge of the Coast-guard, at the principal stations round the coast, so placed as to allow any one passing by to look at them, they might be the means, not only of preventing ships from going to sea just before bad weather was coming on, but of preventing the great losses of life which take place every year on our coasts (particularly in the Orkney Islands and on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland), owing to fishing vessels and boats going to sea when bad weather is impending. No bad weather ever comes on our coasts without timely warning being given by the barometer. The oldest seaman are often deceived by the look of the weather, but there is no instance on record of very bad weather, such as would have involved loss of life to the extent we have heard of in several years, having come on without the barometer having given timely warning. By the very small expense of an establishment of barometers, so placed as to be accessible to any fishermen, boatmen, or others on the coasts, much loss of life, as well as loss of boats, and even shipping, might be prevented.

"What state of the barometer indicates danger?—It varies in different climates according to the range. The range is small between the tropics, but very large in the higher latitudes. In our climate the range is usually about two inches. The barometer falling considerably below its average height is at once an indication that some considerable change is going to take place, and when it falls low, as for instance (in our climate) to near 29 inches, or below 29 inches, a gale is certain to follow.

"Are the Committee to understand that you are of opinion that every ship ought to have a barometer on board?—I think that every ship ought to have either a barometer or sympiesometer, which is an efficient substitute for a barometer.

"Does the barometer show a sudden change of wind as well as the coming on of bad weather? Supposing a gale of wind is blowing, and you are sailing with a fair wind, does the barometer show any change of wind?—Decidedly.

"Supposing the wind was at West-north-west and it shifted suddenly to West-south-west, would the barometer indicate that?—It requires some practice to be able to say exactly what is likely to take place after a change in the barometer; but the principal point for a seaman is, that no violent wind will blow without the barometer giving warning. He may not know exactly from what quarter the wind will come, but no strong wind will come on without warning being given.

"You recommend that at the Coast-guard stations there should be a barometer, by means of which people would know when a violent wind was coming on; but as it would not indicate the quarter from which it was coming, would you have the merchant ship always remain in port till the barometer showed fine weather?—Being accustomed to the barometer on our coast, one could tell from what quarter the wind would probably come by the height of the barometer, taken in connexion with its previous height, and the state of the weather, and the strength of winds that had prevailed before....