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Bromhead, Sir Edward Thomas Ffrench, second baronetlocked

(1789–1855)

Bromhead, Sir Edward Thomas Ffrench, second baronet (1789–1855), mathematician and landowner, was born in Dublin on 26 March 1789, the eldest of three sons (there were no daughters) of General Gonville Bromhead (1758–1822) of Thurlby, Lincolnshire, who was created baronet in 1806, and his wife, Jane (d. 1837), youngest daughter of Sir Charles Ffrench, baronet. After schooling in Halifax and two years at Glasgow University he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in June 1808.

Bromhead won the college mathematical prize in 1809 and graduated BA in 1812. He left Cambridge the following year, not having sat the mathematical tripos because of his delicate health, and became a barrister of the Inner Temple. In 1817 he was elected to a fellowship of the Royal Society, in whose Philosophical Transactions his sole mathematical paper, 'On the fluents of irrational functions', had appeared in 1816. He succeeded to the baronetcy in 1822 and spent the remainder of his life as a leading public figure in Lincoln, of which he became high steward, and its county.

Bromhead was a key figure in the renaissance of English mathematics brought about by the efforts of a generation of Cambridge mathematicians which included Sir John Herschel, George Peacock, and Charles Babbage. The Analytical Society, their pressure group for reform, was Bromhead's suggestion, mooted at a gathering in his lodgings in 1812, and he read a paper, 'On notation', at its first meeting. The prime object of the society was to secure the adoption of the continental, or Leibnizian, notation for the calculus, in preference to the Newtonian notation then used in England, and thereby to open English mathematics to the eighteenth-century continental developments. Bromhead was the link between the society and Robert Woodhouse, a fellow of Caius who in 1803 had published the first book in England employing the continental notation, Principles of Analytical Calculation. When Bromhead contributed the article 'Differential calculus' to the 1819 supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica he emphasized Woodhouse's influence.

Bromhead rendered further service to mathematics through his support of two outstanding self-taught mathematicians from the east midlands, George Green and George Boole. Bromhead was a subscriber to Green's first memoir, published in 1828, and the contact led to Green's visiting Thurlby Hall and eventually to his career as a Caius undergraduate and fellow. Bromhead was active in communicating Green's later memoirs to the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (of which Bromhead had been elected a fellow in 1823). George Boole's father had been curator of the Lincoln Mechanics' Institute when Bromhead was president, and the connection led to the latter's support and encouragement for the younger Boole, to whom he lent mathematical books.

Bromhead was shrewd in his advice and generous in his support. Kindness and humour shine through his letters. He combined the best English traditions of amateur science and patronage by the landed gentry, to the great benefit of mathematics. Always of weak constitution, he suffered progressively from blindness in his last years, and died, a bachelor, on 14 March 1855 at Thurlby Hall, Thurlby. His brother, Sir Edmund de Gonville Bromhead (1791–1870), succeeded as third baronet.

Sources

  • D. Phillips, George Green: his academic career (1976)
  • D. MacHale, George Boole, his life and work (1985)
  • D. M. Cannell, George Green: mathematician and physicist, 1793–1841 (1993)
  • J. Venn and others, eds., Biographical history of Gonville and Caius College, 8 vols. (1897–1998)
  • private information (1993)
  • d. cert.
  • M. Cannell, ‘Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead, 1789–1855’, The Caian (1995–6), 126–35

Archives

  • BL, letters to Charles Babbage, Add. MSS 37182–37185, passim
  • U. Edin. L., letters to James Halliwell-Phillipps