George Frederick James Temple

Quick Info

1 September 1901
Kensington, London, England
30 January 1992
Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight, England

George Temple was an English mathematician who worked on a wide variety of topics including analysis, relativity, aerodynamics and quantum mechanics.


George Temple's father was James Temple (born in Somerton, Oxfordshire in 1845) who was a railway inspector working for the Great Western Railway. George's mother was Frances Compton (born in Broadwell, Oxfordshire in 1857) who was always known as Fanny. James Temple, who was baptised on 4 August 1845, was the second child of his parents, the shepherd John Temple and his wife Ann, having an older brother George, and younger siblings Sarah and Joseph. Fanny Compton, baptised on 8 March 1857, was the daughter of George Compton, a tailor and Clerk of the Parish, and his wife Elizabeth. Fanny was a late child, her parents being 49 and 39 when she was born, and she had two brothers Frederick and William, 10 and 8 years older than her respectively. James Temple married Fanny Compton on 26 December 1896 at St Luke's, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, England. George Frederick James Temple, the subject of this biography, was their only child, born at 134 Wornington Road, North Kensington, London and baptised on 6 October 1901 at Notting Hill, Christ Church, Kensington and Chelsea, England. The family were living in London because James Temple was working at Paddington Station. At the 1911 UK Census, James Temple was 65 years old and had retired, and the family were living at 15 Altenburg Avenue, Ealing. George was nine years old and attending school.

George Temple was educated in London, attending first Northfields Elementary School which was his local school in Northfields, the area of Ealing in which he lived. There he was taught by Ray Gilbert who was the first of three teachers we mention whom Temple often spoke about later in life, stressing his good fortune at having such outstanding people to begin his mathematical education. Temple began his secondary education at Ealing County School, later known as Ealing Grammar School for Boys, in the year it opened in 1913. There he was taught mathematics by P G Goodall, the second of the three teachers praised by Temple. James Temple, George Temple's father, died in February 1914 and was buried on 24 February. This meant that George could not continue in full time education after his secondary schooling, so he left school in 1917, when fifteen years old, to seek employment to provide financial support for himself and his mother. He began working for the Prudential Assurance Company.

In 1918, less than a year after leaving school, he entered Birkbeck College as an evening student (the College had previously been known as London Mechanic's Institution and in 1920 was recognised as a school of the University of London for evening and part-time students). At this stage Temple continued to work for the Prudential Assurance Company as his day job and studied mathematics as an evening student. In fact he had not been sure whether to study science or classics, both of which he loved, but decided on science. He was taught mathematics at Birkbeck College by Charles Victor Coates, the third teacher whom he later praised. C V Coates (1853-1944) had been born in Belfast and educated at Queen's College Belfast before studying the mathematical tripos at Cambridge, being 5th wrangler in 1877.

During the year 1918-19, Temple studied mathematics and physics. He was taught physics by Albert Griffiths (1867-1937) who quickly saw Temple's outstanding potential. Griffiths had been one of the first students to obtain an honours degree in physics from Owens College, Manchester, and had undertaken research at Freiburg, Germany, before becoming a lecturer in physics at the University of Sheffield. By the time Temple was studying at Birkbeck College, Griffiths was head of physics there and he saw that Temple was struggling with a full time job as well as his part-time study so, in 1919, he offered him a part-time research assistant position in physics at Birkbeck College. It was not an easy decision for Temple since giving up his full-time position at the Prudential Assurance Company for a part-time assistant position meant a big drop in salary. Another life changing event, also in 1919, was being received into the Roman Catholic Church. Clive Kilmister writes [14]:-
... he was received into the Roman Catholic church. His faith formed his life. He had close friendships with a number of Dominicans and Benedictines, loving liturgy and theology, especially Aquinas.
Temple published his first paper in 1922. On 23 May of that year he submitted the paper The Homographic Treatment of the Symmetrical Optical Instrument to the Physical Society of London. Published in 1922, the paper begins:-
This Paper gives a homographic treatment of the perfect, symmetrical optical instrument; discusses its focal planes, principal planes and nodal points; and shows that these latter are sufficient to define uniquely the optical properties of the instrument.

The object of this Paper is to replace the rather cumbrous algebra of Abbe's theory of the symmetrical optical instrument by the more elegant methods of modern geometry.
The paper was communicated by David Owen, a founder member of the Institute of Physics. Owen had studied the natural sciences tripos at Cambridge being a wrangler in 1897. He taught at Birkbeck College and had been awarded a D.Sc. by the University of London in 1916. Kilmister, writing about Temple's first paper, explains [13]:-
It was inspired by Smart's lectures on projective geometry and by Whittaker's Cambridge Tract on the classical theory of the same abstract instrument. In Temple's words: "Apart from von Staudt's theory of the metrization of projective geometry and Klein's proof that the only perfect optical instrument is the plane mirror, my paper provides the only application of projective geometry to physics." It may come as a surprise to readers unaccustomed to Temple's cast of thought to see von Staudt's work quoted as a physical application, but this was characteristic of Temple; to him, mathematics was simply the language of physics.
He received his B.Sc. in 1922, then began to study the theory of relativity while working as a Steward in the Physics Department of Birkbeck College. In October 1923 he submitted the paper A generalisation of Professor Whitehead's theory of relativity to the Physical Society of London. The Abstract states:-
This Paper gives the generalisation of Prof Whitehead's theory of relativity appropriate to the case of a space-time manifold of uniform and isotropic curvature. The general equations of the gravitational and electromagnetic fields are obtained. and these are applied to the discussion of the problems of planetary motion and of the deviation of light rays in the solar field.
At the end of the paper, a discussion is presented which begins:-
Prof A N Whitehead congratulated the Society on publishing the first Paper on this subject from the pen of a young scientist whose work augurs a very distinguished career. The mathematics in the Paper was handled in a way that showed the author to be the master and not the slave of his symbols.
Also in 1924 Temple published Central orbits in relativistic dynamics treated by the Hamilton-Jacobi method in the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine. The paper, communicated by A N Whitehead, had the following Introduction:-
The first part of this paper is devoted to am exposition of a process of integration applicable in particle dynamics on any relativistic theory, and forming the appropriate generalisation of the methods of Hamilton and Jacobi in classical mechanics. In the second part, this method is applied to the problems of planetary motion and of the deviation of rays of light in the solar field according to the theories of Einstein and Whitehead.
Kilmister writes [13]:-
Already a common feature of Temple's work was apparent. His approach was to seek out some important problem before it had become popular, to write a few papers laying the foundations for a solution, and to move on elsewhere before the field became overworked.
Temple was appointed Demonstrator in Mathematics at the City and Guilds College (now Imperial College), London in 1924. Alfred N Whitehead had been the main reason for Temple's move to Imperial and we have already seen that he had been impressed by the papers on relativity which Temple had published. However Whitehead left the chair at Imperial as Temple arrived and Sydney Chapman was appointed to fill the chair. Temple never wrote a Ph.D. thesis but rather submitted the three papers A theory of relativity in which the dynamical manifold can be conformally represented upon the metrical manifold (1925), On mass and energy (1925), Static and isotropic gravitational fields (1926) as his dissertation and was awarded the degree (in 1924, according to the student records). In 1928 Chapman obtained an 1851 Exhibition for Temple to undertake further research and he spent a year at Imperial working on quantum theory before going to Cambridge where he worked with Arthur Eddington. His original intention was to undertake research at Cambridge for a second Ph.D. advised by Eddington but, after a year, in 1930 he returned to Imperial College when offered a position there as a Reader. He decided that the Readership was a sufficiently secure post to allow him to marry, so accepted.

He married Dorothy Lydia Carson (1899-1979) on 2 September 1930 in the Church of St Agnes, West Kirby, Cheshire. Known by all as "Goggy", she was born on 26 April 1899 in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, Lancashire, the daughter of the clerk Thomas Ellis Carson (1870-1926) who worked for a ship provisions firm in Liverpool, and Rhoda Hignett (1875-1909).

Back working at Imperial College, Temple's first book An introduction to quantum theory was published in 1931. He now turned to working on Rayleigh's Principle and, in 1933, his second book Rayleigh's principle and its applications to engineering. The theory and practice of the energy method for the approximate determination of critical loads and speeds, written jointly with William G Bickley was published.

You can read extracts from the Prefaces of these books, and extracts from some reviews of them at THIS LINK.

Let us note that William Gee Bickley (1893-1969), Temple's co-author, had been awarded an external University of London first class degree in mathematics in 1913 after studying at University College, Reading. He became a mathematics teacher at secondary schools, then taught at Battersea Polytechnic before being awarded a D.Sc. from Imperial College London where he taught mathematics to engineers from 1929. He struggled with poor eyesight all his life, going blind completely in 1949.

After two years working at Imperial College, in 1932 Temple was appointed to a chair of mathematics at King's College London. To understand something about this appointment, we need to introduce two people. William Reginald Halliday (1886-1966), historian and archaeologist, was Principal of King's College, having been appointed in 1928. The Head of Mathematics at King's College was Arthur Ernest Jolliffe (1871-1944) who had been awarded a First in Mathematics from the University of Oxford in 1891 and tutored at Jesus College, Cambridge from 1903 to 1920. After four years as a professor of mathematics at Royal Holloway College, he became professor and head of mathematics at King's College in 1924. Both Halliday and Jolliffe opposed Temple's appointment, having another candidate as their preferred choice. Temple, however, had strong support from Arthur Eddington and Andrew Forsyth who had held the chair of mathematics at Imperial College London from 1913 until he had retired in 1923. Temple was eventually chosen, but Jolliffe's opposition made his first years at King's College difficult ones [13]:-
Temple was elected. He was now 31. His aim was to raise the very low standards to which the department had then sunk. It had come to see its main purpose in terms of its heavy service teaching load and, in agreement with some of the other colleges in the university, a secondary purpose was to teach the existing curriculum in honours mathematics, a course that was some 50 years out of date. In Temple's own words: "I had to proceed with care and caution until Jolliffe retired in 1936 and was succeeded by Professor J G Semple. Jolliffe and his colleague S A White hated research and all my work in changing the character of the department." The first step was to initiate discussions with Louis Filon (and later George Jeffery) at University College. Eventually, an alternative syllabus was agreed between the two colleges and then operated by them but it was a number of years before all the other colleges joined in.
Temple's second book on quantum theory, The general principles of the quantum theory, appeared in 1934. An extract from a review is given at THIS LINK.

Rather surprisingly, none of Temple's biographies we have found mention his enthusiasm for the Mathematical Association. He was elected president of the London Branch of the Mathematical Association and, on 12 December 1936, gave his Presidential Address entitled The theory of complex numbers. The lecture began [25]:-
The object of this address is to pass in review various theories of complex numbers and to scrutinise them from the standpoint of the teacher engaged in initiating his pupils into this subject. The material of the address is therefore very elementary and well known and roughly a century old, but it is arranged and combined in a way which may perhaps throw some new light on an old problem. It is important to realise at the outset the fundamental issues which involved; and, although it is undesirable to intrude explicit philosophy into a first lesson on complex numbers, it is well for the teacher to have these metamathematical considerations clear in his own mind. Broadly speaking, theories of complex numbers fall into two sets - those in which the complex numbers are 'described', and those in which they are 'constructed'.
During World War II he worked at RAE Farnborough where his work earned him a CBE awarded in 1955. During his time in Farnborough he worked on supersonic fluid flow de-icing of bomber's wings and the serious problem of landing wheel wobble [13]:-
It was for this investigation that Temple learnt to ride a bicycle, in order to get round the airfield quickly. His inexperience and the unsuitability of his figure for the activity combined to amuse his colleagues. It was during his stay in Farnborough that Temple was elected to the Royal Society in 1943, principally for the work on Dirac's equation.
In the '1939 England and Wales Register', Temple is shown as living at 8 Hill Close, Hendon, Middlesex, England. His occupation is given as 'University professor of mathematics. Emergency appointment (Structured) R.A.E. Farnborough'. His wife Dorothy has occupation 'Unpaid domestic duties'. Also living in the same house is George C McVittie with occupation 'University reader in mathematics. Emergency appointment - Air Ministry'. Before the war, McVittie and Temple were colleagues in mathematics at King's College, London. There was also a domestic servant living at the same address.

After 1945 Temple returned to King's College. Clive Kilmister writes [13]:-
Temple's return to King's in 1945 was a little reluctant, as he correctly anticipated pressure to serve in many administrative capacities both in college and university. He was able to avoid the worst dangers, to continue with his mathematics and to make the department a very happy place with a strong emphasis on research. I recall the very happy atmosphere in the early 1950s. Temple's undergraduate lectures were said to fall into two categories, both of which were delivered without notes. The first happened on days when he had crossed Waterloo Bridge on the way to college by himself; they enlightened and inspired every member of the class. The second occurred when he had crossed the bridge with a colleague; then the better undergraduates had the chance of seeing a first-rate mathematician at work re-creating the subject as the lecture progressed. Aerodynamics still dominated the applied research. The numerous postgraduate students in that field spent much time with the primitive mechanical calculators of the day. Yet each understood very well the importance of his problem and its general structure. The breadth of Temple's mathematical knowledge was a constant surprise and every member of the staff benefited from informed comment on his work. My own interest in Eddington's work made his comments particularly valuable. The overwhelming aspects of his character were courtesy, kindness and wit, so that he was much loved by all.
He advised the Minister of Civil Aviation on air traffic control during 1948-50.

Temple worked on a wide variety of topics. Relativity theory, aerodynamics and quantum mechanics have been mentioned above but he also worked on analysis contributing to the study of the Lebesgue integral.

In 1953 Temple moved to the Sedleian chair at Oxford to succeed Sydney Chapman. He delivered his Inaugural Lecture as Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy before the University of Oxford on 2 March 1954. You can read the lecture, entitled The Classic and Romantic in Natural Philosophy, at THIS LINK.

He made many visits to the United States. He sailed on the Aquitania from Southampton to Halifax, Canada in January 1947, on business associated with the Ministry of Civil Aviation. His other trips were all made with his wife Dorothy, first in 1949 and again in 1950. They sailed on the Queen Mary, arriving in New York on 15 September 1959, when making a visit to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from September 1959 to January 1960. They returned, again on the Queen Mary, sailing from New York to Southampton, arriving on 12 April 1960. Later in 1960 they were again on the Queen Mary, going to the University of Western Ontario where Temple had been appointed as a special advisor on the Applied Mathematics programme. They returned in February 1961.

We have already mentioned three of Temple's books but he wrote several others: An introduction to fluid dynamics (1958), Cartesian tensors: An introduction (1960), and The structure of the Lebesgue integration theory (1971). In 1981 (at the age of 80) he published a book on the history of mathematics. This book 100 years of mathematics. A personal viewpoint (1981) took him ten years to write and deals with, in his own words:-
... those branches of mathematics in which I had been personally involved.
You can read extracts from reviews of these books at THIS LINK.

He declared that it was his last mathematics book, and entered the Benedictine Order as a monk. He was ordained in November 1983 having entered the Benedictine community at Quarr Abbey in Ryde on the Isle of Wight and made his Solemn Profession as a monk in 1982. However he could not stop doing mathematics and when he died he left a manuscript on the foundations of mathematics. He claims:-
The purpose of this investigation is to carry out the primary part of Hilbert's programme, i.e. to establish the consistency of set theory, abstract arithmetic and propositional logic and the method used is to construct a new and fundamental theory from which these theories can be deduced.
Temple was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943 and, in 1970, he was awarded the Sylvester Medal of the Society:-
... in recognition of his many distinguished contributions to applied mathematics, especially in his work on distribution theory.
He was President of the London Mathematical Society during the period 1951-53. He was also elected President of the Mathematical Association, and gave his Presidential Address entitled The Growth of Mathematics in January 1957.

You can read this address at THIS LINK.

He was awarded honorary degrees from Dublin University (1961), Louvain University (1966) and the University of Western Ontario (1969). He received this last mentioned honour, a Doctor of Laws degree, on Thursday 29 May 1969 [27]:-
Professor George Temple, C.B.E., F.R.S., is one of the world's most distinguished mathematicians in both applied and pure mathematics. He is the author of many papers and several books which are classics in their field. He is particularly noted for his contributions to a number of branches of fluid dynamics and to the theory of distributions. Recently he retired from the Sedleian Chair of Natural Philosophy at Oxford and is currently visiting a number of U.S. universities. Prior to becoming Sedleian Professor he was Professor of Mathematics for 21 years at King's College, University of London, England. Professor Temple has been associated with Western since 1961 when he was special advisor on the Applied Mathematics program.
Temple died at Kite Hill Nursing Home, Wootton Bridge, Isle of Wight, from prostate cancer and was buried at Quarr Abbey.

References (show)

  1. Lord Adrian, Review: Turning points in physics, by R J Blin-Stoyle, D ter Haar, K Mendelssohn, G Temple, F Waismann, and D H Wilkinson, with an Introduction by A C Crombie
  2. I H Anellis, In memoriam - George Frederick James Temple, Modern Logic 3 (1993), 161-163.
  3. Anon, Review: Rayleigh's principle and its applications to engineering. The theory and practice of the energy method for the approximate determination of critical loads and speeds, by George Temple and William G Bickley, The Military Engineer 49 (330) (1957), 329.
  4. L B, Review: The Classic and Romantic in Natural Philosophy: An Inaugural Lecture, by George Temple, Blackfriars 35 (411) (1954), 276-277.
  5. T A A Broadbent, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, The Mathematical Gazette 45 (354) (Dec., 1961), 357-358.
  6. J Dieudonné, Review: 100 years of mathematics. A personal viewpoint, by George Temple, Revue d'histoire des sciences 36 (3/4) (1983), 361-364.
  7. T M Flett, Review: The structure of Lebesgue integration theory, by George Temple, The Mathematical Gazette 56 (397) (1972), 264-265.
  8. W K C Guthrie, Review: The Classic and Romantic in Natural Philosophy: An Inaugural Lecture, by George Temple, Philosophy 30 (114) (1955), 282-283.
  9. J Hargreves, Review: An introduction to quantum theory, by George Temple, The Mathematical Gazette 16 (220) (1932), 285-287.
  10. D M Johnson, Review: 100 years of mathematics. A personal viewpoint, by George Temple, The British Journal for the History of Science 16 (3) (1983), 293-294.
  11. R P Kanwal, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, Technometrics 3 (4) (1961), 570.
  12. C W Kilmister, George Frederick James Temple, Bull. London Math. Soc. 27 (1995), 281-287.
  13. C W Kilmister, George Frederick James Temple, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London 40 (1994), 383-400.
  14. C W Kilmister, Temple, George Frederick James, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (23 September 2004).
  15. L M Milne-Thomson, Review: An introduction to fluid dynamics, by George Temple, Quarterly of Applied Mathematics 17 (3) (1959), 329.
  16. F D Murnaghan, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, Mathematics of Computation 15 (75) (1961), 303-304.
  17. F H C Oates, Review: 100 years of mathematics. A personal viewpoint, by George Temple, The Mathematical Gazette 66 (436) (1982), 161-162.
  18. Obituary: George Frederick James Temple, The Independent (4 February 1992).
  19. Obituary: George Frederick James Temple, The Times (5 February 1992).
  20. A Pipkin, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, Quarterly of Applied Mathematics 20 (2) (1962), 120.
  21. J Prescott, Review: Rayleigh's principle and its applications to engineering. The theory and practice of the energy method for the approximate determination of critical loads and speeds, by George Temple and William G Bickley, The Mathematical Gazette 17 (226 (1933), 339-340.
  22. J R Ravetz, Review: Turning points in physics, by R J Blin-Stoyle, D ter Haar, K Mendelssohn, G Temple, F Waismann, and D H Wilkinson, with an Introduction by A C Crombie
  23. C E Springer, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, Amer. Math. Monthly 68 (8) (1961), 821.
  24. G Temple, Fundamental Mathematical Theories, Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 354 (1714) (1996), 1941-1967.
  25. G Temple, Presidential Address: The Theory of Complex Numbers, The Mathematical Gazette 21 (244) (1937), 220-225.
  26. G Temple, The Growth of Mathematics: Presidential Address to the Mathematical Association, January 1957, The Mathematical Gazette 41 (337) (1957), 161-168.
  27. George Temple, University of Western Ontario News 4 (33) (1969), 3-5.
  28. R Tiffen, Review: An introduction to fluid dynamics, by George Temple, Science Progress (1933-) 48 (189) (1960), 120.
  29. R Tiffen, Review: Cartesian tensors: An introduction, by George Temple, Science Progress (1933-) 49 (195) (1961), 518-519.
  30. W W, Review: The general principles of the quantum theory, by George Temple, Science Progress (1933-) 31 (121) (1936), 161-162.

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