Miles Bland

Quick Info

11 October 1786
Sedbergh, Yorkshire, England
27 December 1867
Ramsgate, Kent, England

Miles Bland was a 19th century mathematician, a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, then later vicar of Lilley in Hertfordshire. He wrote a number of mathematical textbooks which proved very popular, one running to nine editions over nearly forty years. He also wrote some religious texts.


Miles Bland was the son of Thomas Bland and Esther Siddal. The Bland family is an ancient one [3]:-
The family of Bland is purely English, and of high antiquity ... Their surname is derived from Bland, or Bland's-Gill, a hamlet in the chapelry of Howgill, and Parish of Sedbergh.
We were slightly surprised that obituaries of Miles Bland mention much about the Bland family but little or nothing about his parents. For example over a third of the Royal Astronomical Society obituary [8] concerns the Bland family, yet Miles' parents are not mentioned. We believe that the details we give below are accurate and most are contained in [12].

Thomas Bland was baptised on 10 April 1728 in the Parish Church of Sedbergh, the son of Myles Bland. Thomas married his first wife Margaret Thompson (born 1726) on 3 June 1750 in Bampton, Westmoreland, England. They had at least 5 sons and 2 daughters. Margaret died in Sedbergh and was buried in the Parish Church on 12 January 1785 at the age of 59. Thomas married Esther Siddal (born 1760) on 29 June 1786; their son Miles Bland, the subject of this biography, was born on 11 October 1786 and baptised on 12 November 1786. Their daughter, Margaret Bland, was baptised on 9 January 1788. Thomas Bland, Miles' father, was buried in the Parish Church on 18 July 1790 at the age of 62. Esther Bland, Miles' mother, died at the age of 38 and was buried in the Parish Church on 3 February 1799.

Miles was educated at Sedbergh School. This school was founded Roger Lupton (1456-1540), who served as chaplain to both Henry VII and Henry VIII, around 1525. Lupton endowed [11]:-
... his new School with a liberal supply of scholarships and fellowships; six of the former, augmented a few years afterwards to eight, and two of the latter. These were all to be held at St John's College, Cambridge, by scholars chosen "only of Sedbergh School and no other." From this date the close, almost parental, relation, in which the College has, until quite recently, stood to the School.
The headmaster of Sedbergh School, who arrived in 1799 in the middle of Bland's time at the school, was William Stevens. He was an excellent scholar but the School did not flourish under his leadership [11]:-
The utmost liberty was allowed in the time and place of preparing lessons - they might be learnt on the fells, or by the riverside; but if not known, there remained no alternative but the severest flogging. As time were on, severity deepened into cruelty, which, added to his growing remissness, gradually emptied the School ...
We do not know what Bland's opinion was of Stevens but, after the death of both Stevens and his wife in 1819 leaving a large family in financial difficulty, Bland succeeded in raising a large sum from former pupils of the school to support the Stevens family.

Bland was in the same class at Sedbergh School as Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) and both went up to Cambridge in 1804. Sedgwick studied the mathematical tripos at Trinity College and went on to become Professor of Geology at Cambridge. Bland was admitted to St John's College as a sizar on 11 June 1804, and matriculated in October of that year at the start of the Michaelmas term. The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics was Isaac Milner (1750-1820) who had been appointed to the chair in 1798, and the Professor of Astronomy was Samuel Vince (1749-1821) who wrote many mathematics papers. An important person in Bland's highly successful undergraduate career was John Dawson (1734-1820) [6]:-
Private tuition at Cambridge was in those days little known, but he had the advantage of instruction from a tutor of whom he always spoke with affection as Johnnie Dawson. Dawson was a retired surgeon of Sedburgh, known to his poorer neighbours by many a gratuitous service which he would do to them, but known to Cambridge men as the great private tutor of his day. Men went to read with him in the Vacations, and sent problems to him from Cambridge for his solutions. Bland was wont to say that Dawson had had eleven Senior Wranglers for pupils, and intended him to be the twelfth; but he was second to Bickersteth, afterwards Lord Langdale; Blomfield, afterwards Bishop of London, being third.
Bland was Second Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos examinations of 1808 and was the Second Smith's Prizeman. His friend and fellow student from Sedbergh School, Adam Sedgwick, was Fifth Wrangler. Bland was elected a Fellow at St John's College on 5 April 1808 and, in addition to teaching mathematics, worked towards being ordained, a necessary career path for fellows until the mid 19th century. He took orders in the church, being ordained Deacon in Norwich on 21 December 1809 and ordained Priest in Salisbury on 20 December of the following year with permission for ordination being granted by Thomas Dampier, the Bishop of Ely.

In his role as a tutor, which he began in 1809, Bland was very successful [6]:-
There were those who owed everything in life to the counsel and care which they received from him at College. During his residence at Cambridge he had been active in the University as well as in his College.
In [5] similar information is given:-
In College Bland was highly esteemed as a lecturer and not less as an adviser and personal friend to his pupils.
In 1814, 1815 and in 1816 Miles Bland was a Moderator of the Mathematical Tripos. He was Second Moderator in 1814 with George Macfarlan of Trinity College, Chief Moderator in 1815 with William Hustler of Jesus College and again Chief Moderator in 1816, this time with assistance from William French of Pembroke College.

He was also a highly successful author of mathematics textbooks, some of which ran to many editions. He published Algebraical Problems producing Simple and Quadratic Equations with their Solutions. Designed as an introduction to the higher branches of analytics (1812), The Elements of Hydrostatics: with their application to the Solution of Problems. Designed for the use of students in the university (1824), Geometrical problems deducible from the First Six Books of Euclid arranged and solved: to which is added an Appendix containing the elements of Plane Trigonometry (1827), Mechanical Problems adapted to the course of reading pursued in the University of Cambridge collected and arranged for the use of students (1828), and Problems in the different branches of philosophy, adapted to the course of reading pursued in the University of Cambridge collected and arranged for the use of students (1830). His Algebraical Problems book ran to at least nine editions, the ninth being in 1849. This book had an Appendix added from the Sixth Edition onwards, the Appendix containing "a collection of problems of the nature and solution of equations of higher dimensions."

For more information about these books, see our collection of their Prefaces at THIS LINK.

Bland continued as a Tutor, first as Assistant Tutor, and afterwards as joint Tutor with Thomas Waldron Hornbuckle (1775-1848), till 1823, when he took the College living of Lilley, in Hertfordshire. St John's College had various livings, consisting of land, property and churches, from which they had an income and fellows, after being ordained, were provided with a career path enabling them to marry by accepting a living. We note that Hornbuckle was a fellow until 1828 when he became rector of Staplehurst, Sevenoaks, Kent. Bland married soon after taking up the living of Lilley, a small village north of Luton. On 22 July 1823 he married Ann Templeman, the daughter of Thomas Templeman (1754-1782) and his wife Catherine Winter (1762-1856). Thomas and Catherine Templeman were married in Row, Cornwell on 18 May 1782. Ann Templeman was born on 2 November 1795 and baptised at St Stephen, Walbrook, City of London on 7 November 1795. Miles and Ann Bland had two sons, Miles Bland baptised 17 September 1828 in Lilley, Hertfordfordshire (died 1881) and George Templeman Bland baptised 30 April 1830 in Ramsgate, Kent (died 1856). They also had a daughter Catherine Henrietta Law Bland, baptised on 15 July 1824 in Lilley, Hertford (married Thomas De Freyne French on 20 August 1867 and died in 1888).

Let us continue the story of Bland's family life. His wife, Ann Bland, died and was buried on 2 September 1831. Bland married Emma Russell on 14 June 1836 in Christ Church, St Marylebone, Westminster, England. Emma had been born in India in 1794, the daughter of Claud Russell (1732-1820) and Leonora Pigot (1762-1829). At the time of the 1851 UK Census the family, consisting of Miles and Emma Bland and Miles' daughter Catherine Henrietta Law Bland, are living at Lilley. They have living with them a cook, a housemaid, a kitchen maid and a house servant [6]:-
Bland resided at Lilley, till failing health obliged him to seek change of climate at Ramsgate. After some years he returned to Lilley, but was obliged again to leave it, and resided ever after at Ramsgate till his death, which took place at the age of 81 years. He never held any other preferment than his living, except a prebend at Wells, little more than honorary, to which he was presented by Bishop Law.
After he left his position as a fellow and tutor at St John's College, Bland continued to publish new mathematical texts and also bring out new editions of all these works. He also began to publish religious texts, the first being Annotations on the Historical Books of the New Testament, designed for the Use of Students at the University and Candidates for Holy Orders Vol I. containing St Mathew's Gospel. The second volume in this series was Annotations on the Historical Books of the New Testament, designed for the Use of Students at the University and Candidates for Holy Orders Vol II. containing St Mark's Gospel (1829). This work has a long Preface which would be out of place in this collection of biographies of mathematicians but let us indicate the scope of the work by giving the publisher's information:-
This work has been particularly designed for Students preparing for Examination and will be found to contain Answers to most of the Questions which are usually proposed. It has met with the approbation of some of the Prelates and Dignitaries of the Church, who have examined its contents. It has been arranged on the plan of giving what appeared to be the correct interpretation, and not leaving the Student bewildered rather than enlightened by a multitude of criticisms and opinions. The explanations are such as confirm the interpretations put upon them by the Articles, Liturgy, and Formularies of the Established Church.
Clearly Bland must have intended to write two further volumes on St Luke's Gospel and St John's Gospel. These, however, were never published and we have no idea why he did not continue with this series. His health certainly deteriorated and this may have been the reason although he did continue with his mathematical texts. He did publish one further religious work, namely Confession. A sermon preached in the Parish Church of St Lawrence, in Thanet. November 21st, 1858. Clearly he had been associated with the Church of St Lawrence-in-Thanet in Ramsgate when he was living in that town so his address to the Rev George Wilson Sicklemore, Vicar of St Lawrence-in-Thanet at the beginning of the work is interesting. It begins:-
It is now fast approaching to a quarter of a century since I resigned into your hands the charge of the Parish with which I had been entrusted during the latter part of the life of your Predecessor. I still look back with pleasure upon the kindness I then received almost universally from every class, rich and poor, more especially the latter: And on the few occasions on which I have since had an opportunity of meeting them again in the Church, I have been gratified to find a similar good feeling towards the Pastor appointed to feed that portion of Christ's flock, which is now under your care.

That same feeling and interest in whatever is connected with the welfare of the Church, has led you and those of your Parishioners who coincided in your views, in very flattering terms to request the publication of the Discourse which I lately addressed to them, after a very long silence caused by illness, which at an advanced age has withdrawn me of necessity from all parochial duty ...
We should note Bland was one of the first fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society. The Society, at that stage called the Astronomical Society of London, had been founded at the meeting on Wednesday 12 January 1820 having present fourteen founder members including John Herschel and Charles Babbage. Bland was one of thirteen proposed for membership at the meeting of 14 April 1820, all being elected at the meeting of 9 June 1820. Miles was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 12 April 1821. In the following year he was elected to the Antiquarian Society and he was also a member of the Royal Society of Literature, elected in 1831.

Bland died at the age of 81 in Ramsgate where his address was 5 Royal Crescent, Ramsgate [6]:-
He died of old age, without suffering, and in unclouded mental vigour, on a day which to a man of his strong affection for his College and for Cambridge, had brought always recollections of old friends, December 27th ...
We note that the date was a significant one for 27 December is the Saint's Day of St John the Evangelist. The formal name of St John's College, Cambridge, is "College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge."

References (show)

  1. Anon (rev. J Thompson), Bland, Miles (1786-1867), mathematician, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  2. Bland, Miles (1786-1867) mathematician, St John's College Personal Collections, St John's College, University of Cambridge.
  3. N Carlisle, Collections for a history of the ancient family of Bland (London, 1826).
  4. Miles Bland (1786-1867), St John's College, University of Cambridge.
  5. Miles Bland, The Eagle 15-16 (1889), 82-83.
  6. Miles Bland, The Eagle 6 (1868), 73-74.
  7. Necrology 1867, The Hertfordshire almanac and general miscellany (James Austin, Hertford, 1869).
  8. Obituary. Rev Miles Bland, D.D., F.R.S., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 28 (1868), 75-76.
  9. A E Platt, The history of the parish and grammar school of Sedbergh (Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1876).
  10. W W Rouse Ball, A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1889).
  11. B Wilson, The Sedbergh School Register, 1546 to 1895 (Richard Jackson, Leeds, 1895).
  12. A T Winn, The Registers of the in the Parish Church of Sedbergh 1594-1800 (Jackson and Son, Sedbergh, 1911).
  13. J Venn and J A Venn (eds.), Bland, Miles, in Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900 Volume 2: From 1752 to 1900. Part 1: Abbey-Challis (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Miles Bland:

  1. Miles Bland's books

Other websites about Miles Bland:

  1. Dictionary of National Biography

Honours (show)

Honours awarded to Miles Bland

  1. Fellow of the Royal Society 1821

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update June 2021