Francis Bashforth obituaries in The Eagle

There is quite a lot of information about Francis Bashforth in The Eagle, the annual record of St John's College, Cambridge. We give below versions of two obituaries of Bashforth which appeared in The Eagle (1912-1913).

1. George Greenhill's obituary of Francis Bashforth.

We give a version of G Greenhill, The Reverend Francis Bashforth, B.D., The Eagle 34 (1912-13), 109-111.

The Reverend Francis Bashforth, B.D.

It is a matter of surprise to all interested in Ballistic Science, here and abroad, to learn that Bashforth, a name familiar to Artillerists all over the world, should have been a parish priest, dug out of a College living at the age of 42, to take up the first appointment to the newly-created post of Professor of Mathematics to the Advanced Class of Artillery Officers, in 1864, and to act as Scientific Adviser in the ballistics of the rifled gun, then in course of introduction into our service.

The Government of the day was fortunate in securing in its initial choice an occupant qualified so well to fill the new chair; and we must trace their selection to the influence of Professor J C Adams, Bashforth's life-long friend, and contemporary in the Mathematical Tripos of 1843.

Bashforth's previous life history was of the usual routine; coming up to the University from a country Grammar School, Doncaster, he graduated as Second Wrangler, and was elected a Fellow of the College in due course.

During his residence as a B.A. Fellow, the railway mania of 1845 broke out, and Bashforth was engaged on the survey of projected lines; and it is here he must have gained the practical experience in careful measurement he was to make useful afterwards in gunnery.

Herbert Spencer's Autobiography gives interesting collateral evidence of these days. Spencer was practically of the same age as Bashforth, and engaged in the same railway work at the same time; although Spencer went straight into it as a young man in 1838, instead of proceeding like Bashforth to the University; and it is interesting to trace the value of the influence on Spencer's philosophy of the physical impressions of his outdoor life; as well too as on Bashforth.

After the collapse of the railway mania, Bashforth must have returned to residence in College; and there is evidence he was anxious to obtain a mathematical post elsewhere, but such appointments were scarce in those days.

As time was running on, he followed the normal procedure of a College Fellow, became ordained, proceeded to B.D. in the usual seven years' course; and when the College living came round, he argued that it was his vocation to accept it; and so, in 1857, he is inducted as Rector of the College living of Minting.

Here he started at once on the restoration of his church, considered at that time the most meritorious action.

We do not know if he was engaged for the next seven years on any other ideas of a scientific nature outside his parochial duties, except perhaps his collaboration with Professor Adams on the theory of Capillary Attraction.

But when the Government decided to create the Advanced Class of Artillery Officers, no candidate could be found more suitable than Bashforth; and so pressure was brought to bear on the Archbishop for leave to appoint a locum tenens of the living, while Bashforth was engaged on his official work at Woolwich, on which he entered in February, 1864.

He set to work at once on the experimental side of his appointment, and was ready with an electro-ballistic chronograph in April, 1864; the first trial was successful and encouraging, and the sequel is well-known history, described at length in his own writings and books.

His duty was the determination of the resistance of the air, on which to base the calculation of his Ballistic Tables, to be used with the rifled gun of every calibre, then being introduced into military use. These Tables have been adopted ever where for the purpose, abroad as well as in our own Army and Navy.

The Naval Gunner was most enthusiastic on the value of Bashforth's work, and at his instigation Bashforth was requested to undertake some further experiments, principally to determine the air resistance at a velocity going as low as possible.

This was about 1879; and Bashforth was not very anxious to undertake the work, knowing the increase in the experimental difficulty, which diminishes as the velocity is raised.

More than 20 years later the same difficulty was found, notwithstanding the advantage of the development of electrical science; and no material advance could be recorded over the results obtained by the simple appliances Bashforth had employed, constructed mostly with his own hand.

After ten years useful work in his appointment, Bashforth found that, under a new Scheme of Army Reorganisation, the scope and importance of his post were to be reduced, and so he asked to be allowed to retire.

He saw no prospect of any development, to any such extent as has since been imitated in the Berlin Militärtechnische Akademie, the ideal he would have hoped to see.

Reduction all round was the order of the clay, and the standard of his work was to be crippled and mutilated, and so he was not sorry to resign and resume the duties of his College living, as no further glory or interest was to be anticipated.

This Scheme of Army Reorganisation was the celebrated Cardwell Scheme, which had thirty years to ripen, and then the fruit of it was seen in South Africa, with a result so familiar to us all.

2. Main obituary of Francis Bashforth in The Eagle.

We give a version of Obituary. Rev Francis Bashforth (1843), The Eagle 34 (1912-13), 257-260.

Rev Francis Bashforth (1843).

Mr Bashforth came of an old Yorkshire family, and was the eldest son of John Bashforth, who farmed the glebe at Thurnscoe, Yorkshire; he was born 8 January 1819 at Thurnscoe Rectory. He was educated, first at Brampton Bierlow, where the late Dr Gregory, Dean of St Paul's, was a schoolfellow, and afterwards at Doncaster Grammar School, from whence he entered the College. He was Second Wrangler in the year 1843, the late Professor John Couch Adams being Senior Wrangler. Tradition states that Adams' superiority was so great that there was more difference in marks between the Senior and Second Wrangler than between the Second Wrangler and the Wooden Spoon. Though these two mathematicians were not very intimate in their undergraduate days they became firm friends in after life and many letters passed between them. One of Adams' letters, dated 19 February 1847, runs as follows: "My dear Bashforth, Will you accept the accompanying copy of my paper on Uranus ... We are now very hard at work electioneering for the vacant Chancellorship of the University. Our College, to a man, supports Lord Powis, and I hope, if you can do so at all conveniently, you will come up to Cambridge to give your vote for him on Thursday morning next the 25th inst. There is a very strong feeling in the University in Lord Powis's favour, though most of the Heads tried to get Members of the Senate to request Prince Albert to allow himself to be nominated for the vacant office ... Come up if you can, we shall be delighted to see you. No doubt there will be a good many old friends present on the occasion. Believe me, my dear Bashforth, yours very truly, J C ADAMS." Prof Adams and Mr Bashforth wrote a joint work on "Capillary Attraction," which was printed at the expense of the Syndics of the Press.

Mr Bashforth was admitted a Fellow of the College 26 March 1844; he was ordained Deacon in 1850 and Priest in 1851 by the Bishop of Ely. In 1857 be was presented to the Rectory and Vicarage of Minting in Lincolnshire. Minting was originally a Vicarage, but Dr John Newcome, Master of the College, acquired the Rectorial property and the Advowson of the Vicarage. He attached the impropriate Rectory to the Vicarage and bequeathed the Advowson to the College.

When Mr Bashforth arrived at Minting he found the Church in a dilapidated condition. It was rebuilt at a cost of £816, some of which was raised locally, and help also came from College friends.

In 1864 Mr Bashforth was appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics to the Advanced Class of Royal Artillery Officers, the appointment being made by the Council of Military Education. It then appeared to him to be possible to obtain a satisfactory solution of the problem of determining the resistance of the air to the motion of projectiles by the use of the Chronograph, and to complete the work in two years. He did not, however, meet with very great encouragement. The President and Vice-President of the Ordnance Select Committee were opposed to any new Chronograph. They were quite satisfied with things as they were, and Mr Bashforth found that if anything was to be done he must do it himself. He determined to set about the construction of a new Chronograph if the Select Committee would afford an opportunity of trying the new instrument when completed. An account of his experiments will be found in his pamphlet "Ballistic Experiments, from 1864 to 1880," Cambridge University Press 1907. In the "Engineer" of 15 November 1867 some notice was taken of the Bashforth Chronograph in the following words: "Among the recent experiments made in this country for the purpose of ascertaining the laws which govern the resistance of the air to projectiles in motion, we may mention those carried out at Woolwich and Shoeburyness, under the direction of the Ordnance Select Committee, by the Rev F Bashforth, B.D., the Professor of Applied Mathematics to the Advanced Class of Artillery Officers. These experiments were made with a most ingenious electric Chronograph proposed by Mr Bashforth, an instrument which, for this special purpose, is probably unequalled. Mr Bashforth's experiments are still in progress. His preliminary trials, however, have given ρ=βν3\rho = \beta \nu^{3} or the resistance is proportional to the cube of the velocity." "The Times" of 12 November 1870 also had an article on the Bashforth Chronograph. After describing the experiments up to that time, and quoting the reports of some of the referees appointed by the Government, it proceeds: "With such opinions as these expressed by men so eminently qualified to judge of the merits of the instrument, there can be little doubt as to its value and to the service Professor Bashforth has rendered not only to the Advanced Class of Artillery Officers, but also to Science and to his country. He has solved a most difficult question, which has occupied the attention not only of Newton, Robins, Hutton, and others in our own country for 200 years with a considerable expenditure of public money, but also of the most eminent artillerists on the Continent in later years. It is impossible to foresee all the advantages to the Artillery Service which may accrue from these labours."

The experiments extended over a considerable period. A preliminary trial was made in July 1863 to test the working of the instrument. A second trial was made in September 1866, when 43 shots were fired from a 40 pounder; and further experiments were made in October 1867 and May 1868. The War Office then appointed a Committee of Reference, consisting of Sir G B Airy, Professor J C Adams, Professor G G Stokes, and Captain A Noble. Their Report will be found in the Tract "Ballistic Experiments" mentioned above. In connexion with this the late Professor Challis wrote: "Dear Professor Bashforth ... it seems to me that you have not only succeeded in making the experiments, but also have succeeded in getting them published in a form whereby the details and value of the results may become known. I have been particularly interested by reading No. 6 of the Report of the Committee of Reference. Professors Adams and Stokes and Captain Noble have gone very carefully into comparisons of the performances of your Chronograph with those of other inventors, and the opinion they have expressed of the relative merits of yours must I think must be very satisfactory to you ... Yours truly J Challis.

Mr Bashforth returned to Minting in 1872, though he had intended to do so at an earlier date when he wrote: "Sometime ago I intimated to the Council of Military Education that I should feel it to be my duty to avail myself of the first convenient opportunity to make a definite choice between my Living and Professorship; for my Living being distant, I am seldom able to visit it, and I have a decided objection to become the permanent non-resident incumbent of a Living. In many respects I regret that circumstances compel me to give up Woolwich, and I suggest that the spring of 1868 (when the members of the Advanced Class disperse) will be a convenient time for my retirement. By that time I hope that the experiments at present authorised will have been completed."

The Chronograph was offered to and accepted by the South Kensington Museum. From there it was borrowed in 1878 for further experiments and the records sent down to Mr Bashforth at Minting for reduction. These experiments extended the coefficients of resistance to all velocities between 430 and 2250 f.s. Further experiments in 1880 extended the coefficients of resistance to elongated projectiles for all velocities between 100 and 2800 f.s.

Mr Bashforth notices in some of his publications the opposition which he met with, e.g., when he suggested the construction of a Chronograph, General Lefroy informed him that instruments with rotating cylinders had been tried and failed. It is unnecessary to enter into details of these disputes, but perhaps a letter written to Mr Bashforth by J S, and elated 21 March 1883, is not without interest: "I am sorry I did not get your letter before I returned to Town or I would have made enquiries at Elliott's respecting your instrument. I am quite sure that what you say is correct, that the know-nothings are triumphant. It is a pity that leading men in her Majesty's Government have not more discernment than to appoint men who cannot see beyond their noses, for it is a very expensive arrangement. I have quite washed my hands of all Government officials and have given up gunnery matters entirely ... I quite think with you, it is useless to go to expense and trouble in writing anything for the know-nothings, for they make use of the information to further their own ends ... If I could be of any help as a referee to the French Government I am not far from Paris and should not object to do anything lo help on the instrument"

Soon after, however, it was thought meet that Mr Bashforth should receive some reward or acknowledgment for his ballistic services; £500 had indeed been given, and he was in receipt of a pension, which, however, had nothing to do with his invention, and was granted to him on his retirement from the Professorship at Woolwich in 1874. He received the following letter:
Arsenal, Woolwich, 2 August 1884.
Dear Mr Bashforth, it is now some years since our correspondence ceased, it was on the conclusion of our trials of resistance of air to high velocity projectiles. I am now asked to write to you on the subject of your present correspondence with the War Office as to some public recognition of your services. You will remember that at the termination of the last trials you received the thanks of the Surveyor General of the Ordnance for your services and the modest sum of £30 for travelling expenses, which sum was all that you would take at that time. The War Office I know highly esteem the work you have done for them but are rather at a loss to know what shape you wish the public recognition to take. I mean pecuniary or otherwise. E Bainbridge, Major, RA.
In 1885 the Government granted Mr Bashforth £2000, and the Marquis of Harlington wrote:
It affords his Lordship pleasure to state, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that you are considered to have established a fair claim to substantial acknowledgment for these services, which have undoubtedly and in a considerable degree advanced the science of gunnery.
In 1904 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of St John's. He then received the following letter from the late Professor Mayor: 18 November 1904, 5 Jordan's Yard, Cambridge. My Dear Bashforth, At last I am able to congratulate the College on your election, by the unanimous vote of the Council, to an honorary fellowship. Again and again, for many years past, I have tried to bring this about, but for want of professional backing up, I could not carry my point. Now Greenhill has borne testimony and all were heartily glad to do you justice. Thus Adams, Gifford and you, three B.A.'s of 1843, have received the highest honour which the College can confer. I hope you enjoy and may long enjoy good health. I am sure Mrs Adams will rejoice when she hears the news, ever yours John E B Mayor."

Mr Bashforth was Vicar of Minting for 51 years and resident for 43 years. He resigned in June 1908 and went to live at Woodhall Spa. When he left the parishioners of Minting presented him with a testimonial; an account of the ceremony will be found in The Eagle, Vol. xxx. 95-98. Mr Bashforth died 12 February at Woodball Spa, aged 93.

After taking his degree, Mr Bashforth originally intended to adopt civil engineering as a profession, and devoted several years to the practical study of that profession. This, with his profound mathematical knowledge, a natural taste for practical problems, and great mechanical ingenuity, was a great advantage to him in his researches. In 1870 he was a candidate for election to the Royal Society, but owing to some oversight on the part of his friends was not successful; he never came forward again.

Mr Bashforth married 17 September 1869, at Bredgar, in Kent, Elizabeth Jane, daughter of the Rev Samuel Rotton Piggott, Vicar of Bredgar.

In his younger days he spent his vacations in walking tours, visiting Germany, Switzerland, the Tyrol, and other places. In 1866 he visited Scotland with the late Professor J C Adams.

Last Updated June 2021