Person: Colenso, John William
John William Colenso was an English mathematician, theologian, Biblical scholar and social activist, who was the first Church of England Bishop of Natal.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The fifteen year old Colenso had two burning ambitions, and he had the necessary determination to achieve them despite the problems.
- His efforts to achieve these aims led him to hard study and, on 22 May 1832, he matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge.
- In the following year he was elected to a fellowship at St John's College.
- In 1838 Colenso was appointed as a mathematics tutor at Harrow school.
- At this time the school was not in a good financial state and Colenso's salary was low.
- He stood no chance of paying off his debt as a mathematics tutor at Harrow so he decided to return to St John's College, Cambridge, and try to make some money through his mathematical talents.
- During his four years back at St John's he published a number of mathematics books including one on Euclid, one on algebra and one on arithmetic.
- Although Colenso felt that his books were not particularly good, they proved very popular and Colenso's Arithmetic, in particular, sold widely and brought in a considerable income for its author.
- She had an immediate profound affect on Colenso's life for she introduced him to the eminent theologian Frederick Denison Maurice.
- In 1853 Colenso was offered the bishopric of Natal in South Africa, a position which fitted perfectly with his missionary interests.
- In 1861 Colenso published his St Paul's Epistle to the Romans which he subtitled Newly translated and explained from a Missionary Point of View.
- Also in 1861 Colenso published The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined.
- The Anglican church in South Africa charged Colenso with heresy and, after a hearing, he was dismissed from office on 16 December 1863.
- Colenso had not appeared before the hearing, merely sending them a note to say that it had no authority to dismiss him.
- The Church in South Africa, angered by the judgement that they did not have complete control over their own affairs, went ahead and appointed a new bishop to take over from Colenso, and this led to a schism in the Anglican Church in Natal.
- At this point Colenso had the support of the majority of the white colonists although most English bishops opposed his position.
- Guy rejects the liberal view that treats Colenso as "a great tribune of African freedom" and "a twentieth-century liberal who somehow wandered into the wrong century".
- Colenso was a product of his times - he regarded colonialism as a positive good "and saw it as his God-given duty to subordinate the lives of Africans to the demands made by his perception of the world".
- Instead, he interprets Colenso as a courageous and principled man who was unable to see that injustice was the essence of imperialism.
Born 24 January 1814, St Austell, Cornwall, England. Died 20 July 1883, Bishopstowe, Natal, South Africa.
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