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Authority record

Selwyn, William (1806-1875) Church of England clergyman

  • GB 275 000156
  • Person
  • 1806-1875

Professor of Divinity. William Selwyn was born in Witham, Essex in 1806. After schooling at Eton he was admitted to St John's College in 1824. Selwyn graduated in 1828 and was made a Fellow of the College in 1829. He was ordained in 1831 and was presented to the rectory of Branstone. He exchanged this for the vicarage at Melbourne, Cambridgeshire in 1846. In 1855 Selwyn was elected Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity. He put aside part of his income from this post to help improve the study of theology at Cambridge, and he saw the building of the new Divinity School as a result of his beneficence. He was also the moving force behind the rebuilding of the chapel at St John's. Selwyn was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1866 and died in 1875.

Sylvester, James Joseph (1814-1897) mathematician

  • GB 275 000157
  • Person
  • 1814-1897

Mathematician. Sylvester was born in Liverpool in 1814. Originally admitted at St John's in 1831, he secured second wrangler in the mathematical tripos of 1837. Being a Jew he could not take a degree at Cambridge but he gained a BA in 1841 from Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1837 he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at University College, London and in 1839 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1844 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics in the University of Virginia, USA, but he resigned after a few months. A student who had been reading a newspaper in one of Sylvester's lectures insulted him and Sylvester struck him with a sword stick. The student collapsed in shock and Sylvester believed (wrongly) that he had killed him. He fled to New York boarding the first available ship back to England.

He worked as an actuary and lawyer for the next ten years, though still giving mathematical tuition, one of his pupils being Florence Nightingale. Whilst working at Lincoln's Inn in London he also met Arthur Cayley and they became lifelong friends. He also continued his mathematical research, publishing a number of important papers.

In 1855 Sylvester was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and he held the post until he retired in 1870. During this time the Royal Society awarded him the Royal Medal in 1861 and he was president of the London Mathematical Society in 1866.

In 1870 he published his first book and it was on poetry, entitled The Laws of Verse.

In 1877, on the foundation of the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, USA, Sylvester was made Professor of Mathematics and held that chair until 1883. During his time in Baltimore he founded the American 'Journal of Mathematics'. He was awarded the Royal Society Copley Medal in 1880. In 1883 he returned to the United Kingdom to take up the post of Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University. He was awarded the De Morgan Medal by the London Mathematical Society in 1887. With his general health failing he was finally relieved of his duties at Oxford in 1894. Sylvester died in 1897.

His mathematical researches covered a wide area but mostly he was interested in pure analysis, in particular with the theories of algebraical form and of numbers, and he is credited with the foundation of invariant algebra.

Parkinson, Stephen (1823-1889) mathematician

  • GB 275 000159
  • Person
  • 1823-1889

Mathematician. Born in Keighley in 1823, Parkinson entered St John's College as a sizar in 1841. He graduated as Senior Wrangler in 1845, famously beating William Thomson into second place, and was elected to a Fellowship at St John's in the same year. Parkinson was the author of two mathematical textbooks, 'Elementary Treatise on Mechanics' (1855) and 'A Treatise on Optics' (1859), both of which went through several editions and remained in use for 25 years. He served his College as lecturer in mathematics, tutor (1864-82) and President (1865-71). Parkinson also served on the committee of the University Senate (1866-1878), and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1870. He was ordained in 1851, received his BD in 1855 and his DD in 1869.

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