2018 Volume 127 Issue 4 Pages 483-501
During the second half of the 1850s, Louis Furet (1816-1900), a French priest sent by the Paris Foreign Missions Society, undertook the first extended scientific meteorological observations on Okinawa, the main island of the kingdom of Ryukyu, today's Okinawa Prefecture. Using instruments borrowed from the French Navy Depot, he collected data five times a day according to the then recently standardized protocols. These data were all addressed to Charles Sainte-Claire Deville, the founder, in 1852, of the French Meteorological Society. In November 2015, Gaston Demarée, a historian of meteorology, and the author, a historian of Okinawa, had the good fortune to unearth the totality of Furet's meteorological material, which consists of observation sheets and letters, in the archives of Météo-France, the French national meteorological service and a distant heir to the French Meteorological Society. The present article is not directly concerned with data analysis proper (see the article by Demarée, Mailier et al.). It nevertheless closely examines the variables recorded in the different tables—daily, monthly, yearly—used by Furet and the additional information contained in the margins. It also aims at presenting the course of Furet's life and scientific education, which singled him out among fellow missionaries, and the social context of his observations. His research interests on Okinawa were actually far from being limited to meteorology, even to the point of earning him criticism from his superior for an excessive commitment to science. They ranged in scope from the natural sciences to the description of the inhabitants' lives. During his six-year stay on Okinawa, Furet corresponded with several important scientific institutions and learned societies. The ten or so articles he published in their journals deal with the geology, fossils—for the study of which he is also recognized as a pioneer—and natural resources of Okinawa, as well as with its culture, history and language. The present article also provides a full list of the typhoons or tropical storms, along with elements of description, that have been recorded by the missionaries who resided on Okinawa between May 1844, when the first missionary set foot on the island, and October 1862, when Furet's departure for Japan put an end to the missionary presence for decades.