William Spottiswoode

William Spottiswoode

Birth
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Death 27 Jun 1883 (aged 58)
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Burial Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Plot Poets Corner
Memorial ID 6177 · View Source
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Mathematician, Physicist, Author. He gained world acclaim for his research in advanced mathematics and teaching others what he had learned. In 1847, he issued five pamphlets entitled “Meditationes Analyticae.” These were the first publications of his original mathematical research, and from that time, he yearly published more new finds. He attended both Eton College and Harrow School, before studying mathematics at Balliol College, Oxford on a Lyon Scholarship. At Eton he was expelled from school for a scientific experiment explosion, thus transferred to Harrow School where he received better mathematical training graduating first in his class in this subject. He began lecturing on mathematics while still in college. While in school, he participated in the rowing team. In 1846 he succeeded his father, Andrew Spottiswoode, at the firm of George Eyre and Spottiswoode, which was the Queen's Printer, but continued to do mathematics and experimental physics. His father was a member of British Parliament, and his mother Mary Longmann was the daughter of a publisher. Unlike his father, Spottiswoode was a very successful businessman. In 1851 he published his textbook “Elementary Theorems Relating to Determinants,” which is the first text on determinants to be printed. In 1856 he was asked to submit a paper to the “Crelle's Journal” developing his approach to determinants further. On June 2, 1853, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was appointed president of the mathematical section of the British Association in 1865. He also served on the council of the Royal Geographical Society from 1862 to 1864. An expert traveler, he visited several countries documenting each adventure. After his trip to eastern Russia, he published in 1857 “A Tarantasse Journey Through Eastern Russia in the Autumn of 1856.” After his trip to Croatia and Hungary, in 1861 he published “On Typical Mountain Ranges: An Application of the Calculus of Probabilities to Physical Geography.” In 1864, he became one of the nine members of Thomas H. Huxley's, X-Club, a group of scientists that met monthly to share ideas for 29 years in Victorian England. He was the ninth member to join before the membership closed. Huxley and Charles Lyell were patrons of his print shop. From 1870 to 1872, he was the president of the London Mathematical Society. He was the treasurer from 1871 to 1878 of the Royal Society and from 1865 to 1873 the Royal Institution. He was elected president of the Royal Society on November 30, 1878 and remain president until his death in 1883; Huxley succeeded him as president of the Royal Society comparing him in character to Chaucer's “very pefight gentil knight.” At the Dublin, Ireland 1878 meeting, he, as president of the British Association, gave an address on the growth of mechanized invention applied to mathematics. Anxious to teach others, he was said to be a remarkable lecturer full of excitement and clarity of his subject. From 1871 he studied polarization and electrical discharge in rarefied gases and published over 100 papers in professional journals and several books on this subject. Besides mathematics, he was also a leading expert on European and oriental languages and researched the history of mathematics and astronomy in India, translating from original Indian sources to be published by the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1860, his article in the “Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland” discussed the fact that most of the principle of the differential calculus were in ancient Indian mathematics before the period of Bhaskara II in the 12th century; thus changing what was thought as a historical fact.He married Eliza Taylor Arbuthnot on April 27, 1861; she was born in India as her father was employed there by the British government. In 1864 their first son was born, William Hugh Spottiswoode and in 1867 a second son, Cyril Andrew Spottiswoode. He formed a significant collection of scientific instruments, which he left to his son Hugh, who in turn presented them to the Royal Institution on the occasion of the centenary of its founding 1899. He was elected to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, France and awarded with honorary degrees by the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin, and Edinburgh, Scotland. His workaholic personality took a toll on his health. After a short trip to Italy to recuperate from overwork and the after-effects of a tricycle accident, he returned home to contact typhoid fever and he died within three weeks. As a professional supporter and a personal friend of Charles Darwin, he arranged the burial of Darwin in Westminster Abby, while unaware that his own burial would be there within 14 months. He and Huxley, along with two other members of the X-Club, Joseph Dexter Hooker and John Lubbock, served as Darwin's pall bearers. Spottiswoode was buried in the south transpet of Westminster Abbey, near his ancestor John Spottiswood, Archbishop of St. Andrews. He was a descendant of an ancient Scottish line with many members being successful in Great Britain and other parts of the world including British Colonial Lt. Governor of Virginia, Alexandra Spotswood, who changed the spelling of the surname for the American branch of the family.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 22 Aug 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 6177
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Spottiswoode (11 Jan 1825–27 Jun 1883), Find A Grave Memorial no. 6177, citing Westminster Abbey, Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .