Gibson, William

(1719/20-1791), mathematician

by [Anon.], rev. Ruth Wallis

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Gibson, William (1719/20-1791), mathematician, was born at Bolton, near Appleby, Westmorland. He was orphaned early in life. Although his father was an agricultural labourer, the family was related to that of Edmund Gibson (1669-1748), bishop of London. After experience of farm work, Gibson rented a farm at Hollins, near Cartmel, Lancashire. Lacking all education, he taught himself to read an arithmetic book, and developed an extraordinary power of mental calculation, including computation of roots. He likewise taught himself to write, and studied all branches of mathematics, encompassing fluxions, spherical projection, astronomy, and navigation, becoming expert in all.

For many years Gibson sent in answers to all problems set in the Gentleman's Diary, the Ladies' Diary, and The Palladium; few were published, and then usually under other names. Even so, his fame spread, and he was consulted by mathematicians from various parts of the country and even from overseas. After living at a farm at Tarngreen for fifteen years Gibson finally settled at Blawith, east of Cartmel. He married probably some time in the early 1740s. In 1750 he opened a boarding-school for eight or ten pupils, also practising as a land surveyor and acting as inclosure commissioner. His many pupils studied accounting, surveying, and navigation, besides pure mathematics. John Barrow (1764-1848) was assisted by Gibson in his study of mathematics as a boy.

Gibson died as the result of a fall on 4 October 1791, aged seventy-one. His wife of nearly fifty years' standing and ten children survived him. A son of the same name, employed at the Bank of England, died at Pentonville on 13 February 1817.


GM, 1st ser., 61 (1791), 1062-4
F. W. Steer and others, Dictionary of land surveyors and local map-makers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1530-1850, ed. P. Eden, 2nd edn, ed. S. Bendall, 2 vols. (1997)
J. Barrow, An auto-biographical memoir of Sir John Barrow (1847)
A. Chalmers, ed., The general biographical dictionary, new edn, 15 (1814), 485-8

Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved


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