Person: Whish, Charles Matthew
Charles Whish was an English civil servant who worked for the East India Company. He was the first to bring to the notice of the western mathematical scholarship the achievements of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Charles Whish studied at the East India College at Hertford, north of London.
- The College taught mathematics and natural philosophy, with William Dealtry (1775-1847) and Bewick Bridge (1767-1833) being the professors of mathematics at the time when Whish studied there.
- A third important topic taught at the College was law and since Whish had a legal career in India we must assume that he also studied law at the College at Hertford.
- In 1810 Whish passed the College examinations 'with credit'.
- Whish arrived at the College in 1812 when he was register to the Zillah Court of south Malabar.
- We have given some evidence to show that Whish was a skilled linguist but so far we have given little evidence that he would make a major contribution to mathematics.
- Now our story involves, in addition to Whish, two others in the Honourable East India Company, namely John Warren (1769-1830) and George Hyne.
- Whish discovered that certain Hindu texts contained approximations to π which had been found using series expansions.
- Whish sent an early version of a paper he had written on this topic to the Madras Literary Society some time before 1825.
- The pre-1825 paper was discussed by Whish, John Warren and George Hyne.
- It is worth noting that Warren and Hyne were considerably senior to Whish who, in 1825, was only 30.
- It must have taken a lot of courage from Whish to persevere with his work in the face of comments of this type from his older colleagues.
- Although Whish believed at first that these series had been found by the Hindus, his two colleagues made him change his opinion.
- In Mr Hyne's opinion the Hindus never invented the series referring in the Quadrature of the Circle which were found in their possession in various parts of India; and that Mr Whish, from whom he had obtained some of those which were communicated to the Madras Literary Society, after having first expressed a belief that they were indigenous, had subsequently reasons for thinking them entirely modern, and derived from the Europeans; observing that not one of the Jyautish Sastras who used these Rules, were capable of demonstrating them.
- So at this stage Whish, Warren and Hyne believed that the series must have been communicated to the Hindus by Europeans because the Hindus who told them about the series were not able to prove that the results were correct.
- Whish had been convinced by his older colleagues to change his view and believe that the series had been given to the Hindus by Europeans, but he reverted to his earlier opinion when he discovered proofs of the results in the Yuktibhasa.
- Whish never had the opportunity to write that paper since he died in 1833, before his important work was published.
- We noted above that Whish started his career as register to the Zillah Court of south Malabar.
- Although we have reached the end of Whish's life, we are only at the beginning of the story of his remarkable paper.
- Whish's paper was not completely forgotten over the following 100 years - it would be more fair to say that it was largely ignored.
- The article of Whish has come to be accepted as one of our chief sources of information concerning Hindu achievements in "circle squaring", but the questions it raises with regard to the date of these achievements have still to be answered.
- It would be fair to say that Cadambathur Tiruvenkatacharlu Rajagopal (1903-1978) was the first person to continue Whish's work.
- The person who sighted the unknown coast was, by an odd trick of time, an English civilian of the Hon East India Company, Charles M Whish by name.
- Whish's paper carrying the abbreviated title "On the Hindu Quadrature of the Circle", submitted to the 'Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland' on 15th December 1832, did not advertise his importance as the discoverer of a strange hinterland.
- It seems that these findings first came to light in 1834 when Charles Whish published a paper in the 'Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society' entitled "On the Hindu quadrature of the circle and the infinite series of the proportion of the circumference to the diameter exhibited in the four sastras, the Tantrasangraham, Yukti Bhasha, Caruna Paddhati, and Sadratnamala".
- Moreover, Whish's paper appears at the height of colonial rule and consistent with the phenomenon of "orientalism" (as noted by the historian Edward Said), any contribution from a "subject nation" was deliberately ignored or undervalued.
- When this was first described in English by Charles Matthew Whish, in the 1830s, it was heralded as the Indians' discovery of the calculus.
- This claim and Madhava's achievements were ignored by Western historians, presumably at first because they could not admit that an Indian discovered the calculus, but later because no one read anymore the 'Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society', in which Whish's article was published.
- If it has not been completely achieved in nearly 200 years, we get some idea of how significant it was that Whish started the process.
- We make this point to emphasise how remarkable it was that Whish was able to gain the trust and help of the local Hindu.
Born 9 January 1795, Marylebone, London, England. Died 14 April 1833, Cuddapah, India.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Ancient Indian, Origin England
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive