Person: Davies, Griffith
Griffith Davies was Welsh, born of poor parents, and began life as a slate quarry worker. He set up as a teacher of mathematics in London and became the first Actuary of the Guardian Assurance Company.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- We note that Griffith Davies is the English form of his name but he was known by the Welsh form Gruffyd Dafydd for the first part of his life in Wales.
- Only when he reached London at the age of twenty did he become known as Griffith Davies.
- Note that the mix of Owen and Davies as surnames is due to the Welsh patronymic naming system still being sometimes used at this time.
- Griffith, however, was always grateful to William Evans for teaching him to read Welsh and also to write a little Welsh.
- When he was seven years old, Griffith began to learn English.
- Griffith had an aunt who was in service at a house where the school master boarded.
- He ran a newly opened English school in an adjacent parish and one day he asked Griffith to run an errand for him.
- Rewarding Griffith with a penny, he told him to buy a book and attend his school.
- This delighted Griffith who was happy to walk two miles to the school each day over rugged ground.
- When Griffith was twelve he began attending an English school which had opened in Llandwrog.
- Mr Birt showed his faith in Davies as a teacher by having his own two sons attend the school Davies opened in James Street.
- Davies wanted to improve his knowledge of mathematics so he joined the Spitalfields Mathematical Society which was, at this time, situated in Crispin Street.
- Davies made extensive use of the Society's library and found many members keen to help him increase his mathematical expertise.
- In 1814 Davies published his Key which had the full title A Key to Bonnycastle's Trigonometry, plane and spherical, containing Solutions to al the Problems, with references, as they stand in the second Edition of the work; the whole rendered as plain as the subject would admit.
- The accuracy and industry which Mr Davies has here manifested entitle him to a very considerable share of praise.
- Although this book did little to improve Davies' financial position, it did bring his name to the fore as a good mathematician and this led to several private pupils coming to get lessons from him.
- He was still President in 1814 when he was approached by James John Davies seeking lessons on life assurance.
- Crossley advised him to ask Griffith Davies for help and, although he knew nothing about life assurance at this time, Davies took him on and began teaching him algebra.
- While James John Davies was learning to solve equations, Griffith Davies sought out books to learn for himself about life assurance and by the time his pupil had sufficient background in pure mathematics, Davies was ready to teach him about life assurance.
- He clearly did well, since James John Davies later became an actuary to the Economic Life Office.
- By 1816 Davies had moved to a school in Cannon Street.
- Davies applied for a number of positions as an actuary, but was unsuccessful.
- Benjamin Gompertz, who was a fellow of the Royal Society, also applied for the position but it went to Davies, possibly because of discrimination against Gompertz who was a Jew.
- Davies again competed against Gompertz when they both applied for the position of actuary with the Reversionary Interest Society and again Davis was appointed.
- Davies was now firmly into actuarial work and, in 1822, he gave up his school.
- Charles Babbage was about to publish a book entitled A Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives and, in early 1825, Davies learnt about this.
- Babbage's book was not published until 1826 while, in 1825, Davies published Tables of Life Continencies.
- Davies was now acknowledged to be a leading actuary and was asked to report on many funds.
- Griffith and Mary had one son, also named Griffith Davies (1841-1927), who went on to work for the Alliance Office.
- We see from this quote that Davies' health was poor in 1848.
- Davies was deeply religious and for many years had attended a chapel in Jewin Street for Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, a body of Dissenters, where the services were conducted in Welsh.
- In the last few years of his life Davies had only left his house to either attend Jewin Chapel or his office.
Born 5 December 1788, Llandwrog, Caernarvonshire (now Gwynedd), Wales. Died 25 March 1855, Islington, London, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive