Babbage, Charles

MATHEMATICIAN (ENGLAND)
BORN 26 Dec 1791, Teignmouth, Devonshire - DIED 18 Oct 1871, London
GRAVE LOCATION London: Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green (084 PS (23003))

Born in Devonshire as the son of the banker Benjamin Babbage. As a child he suffered ill health. The young Babbage clearly had a passion for mathematics and a disdlike for the classics. He was educated by private tutors and then at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received his M.A. in 1817.

In 1830 he designed an analytical engine (on paper), which operated in a way similar to computers. Another of his designs was a difference engine, meant to produce tables. In 1827 he produced a table of logarithms from 1 to 108000; Babbage wanted to quantify everything.

1827 had been a year full of disaster. His father, his wife and two of his children died and he went abroad for his own health. Back in England he obtained the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge in 1828, but he never presented a single lecture.

Babbage was one of the founders of the Astronomical Society (1820) as well as the Statistical Society (1834). In 1834 work on the Difference Engine came to an end. The government granted no more money and Babbage had already invested a huge sum of his own.

In 1840 he visited Turin, where he discussed his work with mathematicians like Menabrea. Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace - Lord Byron's daughter - translated Menabrea's description of the analytical engine and extended it significantly by herself. She assisted Babbage on some of his projects and he was very fond of her.

Among his numerous other inventions were a dynamometer, uniform postal rates and Greenwich time signals. Apart from this he investigated many other things, like biblical miracles. He was also twice a candidate to Parliament for the Whigs, but never elected.

Babbage was a strange man who disliked Plato, but really hated street musicians. He was pestered by neighbours who hired musicians to play outside his house and when he went out he was often followed by children who abused him.

On the moon a crater is named after Babbage, but when he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London only the carriage of the Duchess of Somerset was there and he was ridiculed by the Times. His brain was preserved in alcohol and finally dissected in 1908 by Victor Horsley of the Royal Society.

Related persons
• cooperated with Byron, Augusta Ada, Lady Lovelace
• knew Menabrea, Luigi Federico, Marquis of Valdora

Events
1835/7/8: Ada Byron attends a conference where Babbage's Analytical Machine is presented
She soon befriends Babbage.
1843/8/0: Ada Byron publishes her translation and notes on Menebrae's description of the Analytical Engine
It was a translation of a description that was written and published by L.F. Menebrae. Ada added lots of notes to the translation. The Analytical Engine was designed by her friend Charles Babbage.

Sources
• Greenwood, Peter, Who's buried where in England, Constable, London, 1982
Charles Babbage
Babbage summary

Images

The grave of Charles Babbage at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Picture by Androom (26 Jun 2009)

 


Bach, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 26 Feb 2011