Thomas Henry Havelock

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24 June 1877
Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England
1 August 1968
Gosforth, Northumberland, England

Thomas Havelock was an English applied mathematician, hydrodynamicist and mathematical physicist. He became a professor at the Armstrong College in Durham. He had close contacts with the Department of Naval Architecture for many years.


Thomas Henry Havelock was the son of Michael Havelock (1843-1913) and Elizabeth Burn Bell (1843-1900). Michael Havelock, the son of the engine smith William Havelock, had been born in Newcastle upon Tyne and had become an engine fitter and then a marine engineer. He married Elizabeth Burn Bell in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1870 and at the time of the 1871 census they were living at 172 Gloucester Road, Newcastle upon Tyne. Michael and Elizabeth Havelock had six children two of whom died as infants. The other four were Mary Elizabeth Havelock (1871-1956), William John Havelock (1873-1956), Thomas Henry Havelock (1877-1968), the subject of this biography, and Alice Michaelina Havelock (1882-1968).

Thomas was a pupil at Singleton House School on Clayton Road, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. At the time the headmaster of this private school was Benjamin Shaw. Havelock was placed first in mathematics in 1890 and presented with the book 'The Young Carthaginian' by G A Henty, as his prize. Havelock sat the Cambridge University Junior Local Examinations in 1891 and was awarded a distinction in botany, French and mathematics. He remained at Singleton House School for another two years, specialising in science, before leaving the school in 1893. Michael Havelock attempted to find an apprenticeship for his son and corresponded with the Neptune Works of Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Newcastle upon Tyne during 1893-94 trying to persuade the shipbuilding firm to take on his son as an apprentice draftsman. There was no vacancy and Benjamin Shaw persuaded Michael Havelock to allow his son to continue his education, at least while waiting for an opening at the Neptune Works. So, in 1893, at the age of sixteen, Havelock entered Durham College of Physical Science.

Durham College of Physical Science was founded in 1871 as the College of Physical Science, becoming the Durham College of Physical Science in 1883. This College, with a site in Newcastle and a site in Durham, taught mathematics, physics, chemistry and geology and, although it did not teach mining it had been set up to support the local mining industry. Havelock, who studied in Newcastle, was particularly attracted to mathematics and physics so when a vacancy occurred at the Neptune Works and he was offered a place there in March 1894, he turned it down. At this stage he was reading the book Physics: Advanced Course by George F Baker which received a review in the Journal of Education in 1892 stating:-
Professor Baker, of the department of physics in the University of Pennsylvania, has prepared this book to cover the work usually taken in the advanced courses in physics in the leading universities and technological institutes.
Part way through Havelock's time at the Durham College of Physical Science, Henry Palin Gurney became its principal in 1894. Gurney had studied both the mathematical tripos, in which he was 14th wrangler in 1870, and the natural sciences tripos at Clare College, Cambridge. Havelock was awarded an Associateship in Physical Science in 1894 and, in the following year, he graduated with a B.Sc. with distinction in physics. He continued undertaking postgraduate work at Durham College of Physical Science and he won a scholarship to continue his studies at the University of Cambridge.

Havelock was admitted as a pensioner to St John's College, Cambridge on 17 March 1897. He matriculated at the beginning of the Easter Term 1897 and began his studies of the mathematical tripos. At the beginning of his second year he became a scholar but disaster struck towards the end of 1898. Lord Kitchener, Commander of the Egyptian army, had won victories in the Sudan and came to Cambridge on 24 November 1898 to be awarded an honorary degree and the freedom of the city. Kitchener's title as commander of the Egyptian army was "Sirdar" and he was known as Sirdar throughout his visit to Cambridge [8]:-
Honorary degree ceremonies were notoriously rowdy occasions, with students packing the gallery to heckle the dignitaries below; on this occasion students suspended the figure of a Dervish above the heads of the assembled academics and their guests while spraying them with water from a hose. Kitchener himself seemed more amused than offended by the rowdiness until it began to detract too much from the solemnity of the occasion, when his "smile grew fainter, and ultimately vanished as the interruptions continued." He submitted with a good grace to having his horses unhitched and his open carriage pulled through the streets by the undergraduates, but there was general disapproval of attempts to break into the Vice Chancellor's garden while he was entertaining the Sirdar to lunch and into an evening function at Christ's College, where Kitchener was staying. The day was marred by an unfortunate incident in which the press of the crowd outside the Senate House caused the railings to collapse, injuring some people quite badly.
Havelock was the most seriously injured in the incident which is described fully in [9] and [10]:-
... a general scramble to get upon the railings ostensibly for a good view of the Sirdar ensued. Some of the bolder spirits among the undergraduates attempted to climb over ... Just as the Sirdar's carriage was moving off, the mouldings of the railings with a loud crack gave way. Instantly everyone clinging to them jumped down, and those persons in the near vicinity quickly moved away. Hardly had the last person reached the ground ere over sixty yards of the iron palings began to fall. Involuntarily every person within reach grasped them, with the result that the force was broken. So great was the number of people underneath that by much exertion they were enable to safely lower the ponderous weight of iron that threatened to crush them, but a few persons were hurt, one or two badly... Mr H Havelock, of St John's, fared very badly. He fell under the stonework and railings. His injuries are not exactly known, but it is feared that he was badly crushed.
The injury that he received caused permanent damage and his health suffered throughout the rest of his life. The immediate effect meant that he was unable to work for two terms although he still managed the occasional game of billiards with his friend Ebenezer Cunningham. Despite this major disruption to his studies, Havelock still took the examinations of Part I of the mathematical tripos in 1900 and was ranked 15th Wrangler. In the examinations for Part II in the following year he was ranked First Class, Division 2, being ranked second overall with only one candidate in each of Divisions 1 and 2 of the First Class. In March 1902 he was a Smith Prizeman and elected to an Isaac Newton Studentship for three years. In November 1903 he was elected to a six year Gregson Fellowship which was reported in the St John's College journal The Eagle as follows [4]:-
At the annual Fellowship Election on November 2, Mr Thomas Henry Havelock (B.A. 1900), fifteenth wrangler 1900; First Class, Division 2, Mathematical Tripos, Part II, 1901; Smith's Prizeman 1902; Isaac Newton (University) Student 1902; was elected to a Fellowship. Mr Havelock submitted dissertations entitled: (1) On the continuous spectrum; (2) On the pressure of radiation; (3) On the general equations of wave propagation.
The Durham College of Physical Science in Newcastle, where Havelock had studied before going to Cambridge, had been renamed Armstrong College in 1904 after the engineer, industrialist and philanthropist William George Armstrong (1810-1900). Havelock returned to study there and was awarded a D.Sc. in 1905. The Eagle reported [5]:-
At a Convocation of the University of Durham, held on June 27, the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa, was conferred on Dr Donald MacAlister, Fellow of the College, and the degree of Doctor of Science on Mr T H Havelock, Fellow of the College.
In the following year he became a lecturer. The Eagle reported [6]:-
Mr T H Havelock (B.A. 1900), Fellow of the College, has been appointed Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics at the Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
'Fellow of the College' in these quotes refers to the fact that Havelock was a fellow of St John's College at the time of these reports.

In 1907 Thomas I'Anson Bromwich resigned the chair of mathematics at Queen's College, Galway (now the National University of Ireland, Galway) to return to St John's College, Cambridge as a lecturer. Havelock was a candidate to fill the vacant chair at Galway and he had an impressive list of referees supporting him: Joseph Larmor, Henry Baker, Edmund Whittaker, and the Principal of Armstrong College, Isambard Owen (1850-1927). Given the quality of Havelock's supporters, it seems a little strange that the chair was offered to William A Houston (1871-1953). Huston had been born 18 January 1871, educated at Queen's College Belfast (BA 1892, MA 1896) and at St John's College, Cambridge (5th wrangler 1896, part II 1897). Houston was appointed to Galway in 1908 after holding a fellowship at St John's College but only held the post for four years, leaving to take up an appointment as Assistant Commissioner for Education in Northern Ireland. Let us list Havelock's publication list up to 1907 when he submitted his application for the Galway chair: On the continuous spectrum (1903), On the pressure of radiation (1903), Mathematical analysis of wave propagation in isotropic space (1904), Wave fronts considered as the characteristics of partial differential (1904), Surfaces of discontinuity in a rotationally elastic medium (1905), The pressure of radiation on a clear glass vane (1905), Artificial double refraction due to aeolotropic distribution with application to colloidal solutions and magnetic fields (1906), The electrical theory of mass (1907), The electric or magnetic polarization of a thin cylinder by a uniform field of force (1907), and The dispersion of double refraction in relation to crystal structure (1907).

Havelock was now living in Newcastle, his address in 1908 being given as Rockliffe, Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne but he continued to spent the vacations at St John's College in Cambridge; The Eagle reports that he was present at various special celebration dinners throughout the six years in which he held the fellowship. In fact in 1914, after his fellowship had ended, he was made examiner for Part II of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos. In the same year The Eagle reported [7]:-
Mr T H Havelock (B.A. 1900), formerly Fellow of the College, elected to the Royal Society.
In 1915 Armstrong College founded a second chair of applied mathematics so that Havelock could continue at the College as a professor. Of course, World War I took place from 1914 to 1918 but Havelock, because of his injuries from the railing accident, was not medically fit for active military service. He did, however, serve as a lieutenant in the Officers' Training Corps. James Fitzjames Duff (1898-1970), who was appointed as a lecturer in education at Armstrong College in 1922, described Havelock as a colleague (see for example [2]):-
I first knew him when I joined the staff of Armstrong College in 1922 as a junior lecturer. Then, as always, Havelock had a somewhat formal, even austere, outward demeanour. But in his quiet way he was completely sociable. He regularly attended the coffee-sessions in the small underground staff tea-room, not saying much but showing by a twinkle in his eye that he enjoyed the normally frivolous talk and chaff of the junior members. Quite early on I realised his physical disability, when a roof-light in the tea-room broke and fell with a bang and a flash. Havelock fainted, recovering consciousness quickly but so white-faced and shaken that he had to be taken home.
George Dixon Rochester (1908-2001) was an undergraduate at Armstrong College in 1927 and was taught by Havelock. Rochester described attending Havelock's lectures in 1927 (see for example [2]):-
In appearance Havelock was bald, rather slightly built, gentle in voice and movement. He did not "lecture" in the usual sense of the word, but stood at the end of the lecture bench and talked, occasionally moving up to the blackboard. He never used a note, whatever the topic. Havelock was well organised, quietly logical in speech and in his blackboard work, undemonstrative and completely free from any sign of pomp or showmanship. Only when something came out well, a proof, the solution of a problem, some new insight, would he show his feelings and then smile quite charmingly. His style contrasted sharply with that of his distinguished colleague Goldsbrough, who had a rather fussy and bustling manner. Havelock impressed by his thoroughness and his devotion to his subject. He had the knack of making things seem obvious and simple. Indeed, I still remember after forty years his proof of the 46° angle bow wave made by a ship as the interference pattern of the waves produced by a point intermittently breaking the surface of the water as it moves forward.
In 1928 Pure and Applied Mathematics at Armstrong College were merged into a single department with Havelock as head of department. He continued in this role for seventeen years which, in fact, was three more than his retirement age should have allowed. When he reached retirement age in 1942 his professorship was extended for three years, something which was quite exceptional. In fact he had an additional chair during these years. Westcott Stile Abell (1877-1961) was a naval architect who, after working at Lloyds Register of Shipping, had been appointed to the chair of Naval Architecture at Armstrong College in 1928. He retired in 1941 and Havelock acted as Honorary Head of the Department of Naval Architecture for the following three years. This was quite a natural task since Havelock had had close contacts with the Department of Naval Architecture for many years.

We quote from the overview of Havelock's research activities given in [11]:-
Havelock's scientific work lay in two main areas: the passage of light through materials and naval hydrodynamics. Although he wrote some twenty papers on the first of these, they did not attract lasting attention, and Havelock himself appears to have lost interest in optics by 1930. He did, however, do pioneering work on the wave resistance of ships and related problems, topics which interested him into his eighties. His most significant contributions started in 1923 after he had discovered a much neglected, but fundamental, paper by J H Michell (1898). In following years he applied and generalised its methods with conspicuous success. He discovered much about the way a ship's resistance to motion depends on the form of its hull. Later in his life he answered sophisticated questions about the trim and the heaving and pitching of a ship. He constantly compared his theory with experiment, and sought to improve the extent of the agreement between the two.
Paul H Roberts gives the following summary in [2]:-
In his opening address to the international seminar on theoretical wave- resistance held at Ann Arbor, Michigan, Georg Weinblum remarked that "The principal trends in the development of our subject could be followed until recently by studying Havelock's work." This is nothing more than a simple statement of fact. One has only to refer to a book, such as that written by Kostyukov (1968), or to the proceedings of a conference, such as that mentioned above, to appreciate that Havelock stood at the very heart of the subject, and has left an imperishable legacy behind him. His work in naval architecture, unlike his studies on the propagation of light, made significant demands in mathematical analysis; demands which he was seldom unable to meet. This, in combination with an enviable physical intuition, an admirable thoroughness, and an impressive single-mindedness led to scientific papers which are object lessons to all who came after him.
Havelock received much recognition for his outstanding contributions. He was knighted in 1951 for his work on naval hydrodynamics. The Royal Institution of Naval Architects awarded him their William Froude Gold Medal in 1956 having made him an honorary member of the Institution in 1943. We note that Lord Kelvin and Lord Rayleigh are the only others to have been given this honorary membership. He served as a member of the Council of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and, in 1967, a volume of their Transactions was dedicated to him. He was awarded honorary degrees by Durham University (1958) and Hamburg University (1960). He was elected a corresponding member of the French Académie des sciences in 1947 and was awarded their Médaille 3eme centenaire in 1966. He was a special guest at a meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers in the United States in 1950 and gave the lecture Wave resistance theory and its application to ship problems. In 1963 the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Department of the Navy published his collected papers on hydrodynamics [20]. The Foreword by Ralph D Cooper, Head of the Fluid Dynamic Branch Office of the U.S. Office of Naval Research, begins:-
The interests of the Office of Naval Research in arranging for the publication of the collected hydrodynamical papers of Sir Thomas Havelock have a dual nature. First, we take great pleasure at this opportunity to express our respect and admiration for Sir Thomas, whose intellectual and scientific achievements in hydrodynamics have served as a source of inspiration and guidance for those researchers following him. Second, we feel that the increased accessibility of these important contributions of Sir Thomas which bear directly on many of today's urgent problems will prove to be of great value to the hydrodynamic research community.
The Preface by C Wigley begins:-
The editor was very honoured and delighted to receive the invitation of the Office of Naval Research to edit the collected edition of Sir Thomas Havelock's hydrodynamical papers. Since the first introduction of hydrodynamical research many years ago, the editor has always regarded Professor Havelock's work with the greatest admiration and respect. And, for nearly forty years, after making personal acquaintance with Professor Havelock, the editor has received much very kind advice and assistance from him, which he is very glad to acknowledge here.
Throughout his life, Cambridge was the only place that Havelock lived other than Newcastle upon Tyne where he lived in Gosforth with his brother William John Havelock and his younger sister Alice Michaelina Havelock. For example, in 1939 they were living at 8 Westfield Drive, Gosforth: William Havelock was a shipping company director, Thomas Havelock was a University Professor of Mathematics, and Alice Havelock's occupation is given as 'Unpaid Domestic Duties'. They had two servants, a cook and a housemaid. After William died in 1956, Havelock continued to live with his sister who cared for him. Havelock died on 1 August 1968 and his sister Alice Michaelina died only a few weeks later on 22 September.

References (show)

  1. Anon, Review: Elementary Mechanics, by C M Jessop and T H Havelock, The Mathematical Gazette 5 (81) (1909), 136-137.
  2. A M Binnie and P H Roberts, Thomas Henry Havelock. 1877-1968, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 17 (1971), 327-377.
  3. Havelock (Professor Thomas) Archive, Archives Hub.
  4. T H Havelock, The Eagle (October Term 1903), 81.
  5. T H Havelock, The Eagle (Michaelmas Term 1905), 117.
  6. T H Havelock, The Eagle (Michaelmas Term 1906), 92.
  7. T H Havelock, The Eagle (Easter Term 1914), 349.
  8. S Lang, International Journal of Local and Regional History 9:2, Anglia Ruskin University (2014)
  9. Lord Kitchener visits Cambridge, Cambridge Express (26 November 1898).
  10. Lord Kitchener visits Cambridge, Cambridge Weekly News (25 November 1898).
  11. P H Roberts, Havelock, Sir Thomas Henry (1877-1968), mathematician, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004).
  12. P H Roberts, Thomas Henry Havelock, Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society 2 (2) (1970), 221-232
  13. J Venn and J A Venn (eds.), Havelock, Thomas Henry, 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 (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  14. C Wigley (ed.), The Collected Papers of Sir Thomas Havelock on Hydrodynamics (Office of Naval Research, Department of the Navy, 1963).

Additional Resources (show)

Honours (show)

Honours awarded to Thomas Havelock

  1. Fellow of the Royal Society 1914

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