Person: Barker, Thomas
Thomas Barker had an outstanding undergraduate career, being Senior Wrangler in the mathematical tripos at Cambridge and 1st Smith's Prizeman in 1862. He went on to play an important role in Owens College, Manchester where he was professor of pure mathematics for twenty years.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- At the time of the 1841 census, Thomas Barker Sr (aged 68), Margaret Barker (aged 42) and Thomas Barker (aged 2) are the only Barkers recorded living at their home but William Knowles (aged 76) is also living with them.
- Thomas attended Aberdeen Grammar School, one of the oldest grammar schools in the country founded in the 1250s.
- Barker graduated from the Grammar School and continued his education at King's College, Aberdeen.
- We should make it clear that at the time Barker entered King's College, it was a separate university from Marischal College.
- Marischal College was founded almost exactly 100 years later and the two only merged to form the University of Aberdeen in 1860, three years after Barker graduated from King's College.
- Barker was admitted as a sizar to Trinity College, Cambridge on 22 March 1858 and began his studies of the mathematical tripos at the start of the Michaelmas term in October.
- Barker was studying the mathematical tripos coached by Edward Routh.
- Routh became the most famous of the Cambridge coaches but when he began coaching Barker he was near the beginning of his career.
- It was the group of students studying for the mathematical tripos along with Barker, with Barker as the best, who established Routh's reputation as the best Cambridge coach.
- Barker was the Senior Wrangler in 1862, meaning he was ranked first among the First Class students.
- Already in 1861 Barker had been appointed as an Assistant Tutor, a position he held until 1865.
- It was a remarkable achievement but Barker was not at all happy with the system which operated at Cambridge at the time despite having been so successful as a student in that system.
- This, of course, meant that Barker was the type of professor they were looking for with his vision of mathematical rigour and building the subject on firm foundations.
- While doing his share of committee work, Barker kept a low profile within the university administration.
- Barker also taught a number of students who went on to have distinguished careers including John Hopkinson, Horace Lamb, Joseph John Thomson, and John Henry Poynting.
- Another of Barker's students was John Walton Capstick who entered Owens College in 1880, won the senior Dalton mathematical scholarship in 1882 and took first class honours in mathematics at the examination for the B.A. degree at the University of London in 1883.
- Franz Arthur Friedrich Schuster (1851-1934) studied mathematics under Barker and physics under Balfour Stewart and then returned as the Beyer Professor of Applied Mathematics at Owens College in 1881.
- Although Barker had shown outstanding ability as a mathematician, we can find no publications by him either at research level or at the level of a teaching text.
- An area in which Barker excelled was in making good financial investments.
- The plants which he was most interested in were mosses and A Census Catalogue of British Mosses was compiled under the direction of the Moss Exchange Club by Barker and W Ingham.
- After he retired, Barker lived first at Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, and afterwards at Buxton.
- Under the bequest of the late Thomas Barker, M.A., formerly Professor of Mathematics in the Owens College, a Chair of Cryptogamic Botany has been founded in the University, Mr W H Lang, M.B., D.Sc. Lecturer in Botany in the University of Glasgow, has been appointed to the Chair.
- Latterly Dr Lang has specialised on the Bryophyta, which includes the mosses, the group of plants in which the late Professor Barker was specially interested, and has contributed publications embodying the results of his researches.
- Barker also endowed bursaries at the University of Manchester for poor students in both mathematics and botany.
Born 9 September 1838, Murcar, Old Machar, Aberdeen, Scotland. Died 20 November 1907, Woodlea, Lightwood Road, Fairfield, Buxton, England.
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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