Inman, James (DNB00)
|←Inman, George Ellis||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 29
INMAN, JAMES (1776–1859), professor of navigation and nautical science, born in 1776, was younger son of Richard Inman of Garsdale Foot, Sedbergh, Yorkshire. The family of substantial statesmen had owned property in the neighbourhood from the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. James received his early education at Sedbergh grammar school, and subsequently became a pupil of John Dawson [q. v.] (see also J. W. Clark, Life and Letters of Adam Sedgwick, i. 70), and although entered at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1794, did not go into residence till 1796. Inman graduated B.A. in 1800 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman, and was elected to a fellowship. Though with no immediate intention of taking orders, Inman now turned his thoughts towards mission work in the East, and set out for Syria. The course of the war rendered it impossible for him to proceed further than Malta, where he devoted some time to the study of Arabic. On his return to England he was recommended to the board of longitude for the post of astronomer on board the Investigator discovery-ship, and joined her on her return to Port Jackson in June 1803 [see Flinders, Matthew]. When the Investigator's officers and men were turned over to the Porpoise, Inman was left at Port Jackson in charge of the instruments; but after the wreck and the return of Flinders, Inman accompanied him in the Rolla, and assisted him in determining the position of the reef on which the Porpoise had struck. With the greater part of the crew he then returned to England, viâ China, being assigned a passage in the company's ship Warley, in which he was present in the celebrated engagement with Linois off Pulo Aor on 15 Feb. 1804 [see Dance, Sir Nathaniel; Franklin, Sir John]. In 1805 he proceeded M.A., and about the same time was ordained, though he does not appear to have held any cure; he proceeded to the degree of B.D. in 1815, and of D.D. in 1820.
On the conversion of the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth in 1808 into the Royal Naval College, Inman was appointed professor of mathematics, and virtually principal, and here he remained for thirty years. In this office Inman turned to good account the knowledge of navigation and naval gunnery which he had acquired at sea. In 1821 appeared his well-known book, ‘Navigation and Nautical Astronomy for the use of British Seamen,’ with accompanying tables. In the third edition (1835) he introduced a new trigonometrical function, the half-versine, or haversine, the logarithms of which were added to the tables, and enormously simplified the practical solution of spherical triangles. After long remaining the recognised text-book in the navy, the ‘Navigation’ has been gradually superseded, but the tables, with some additions, still continue in use.
It is said that Inman suggested to Captain Broke [see Broke, Sir Philip Bowes Vere] some of the improvements in naval gunnery which were introduced on board the Shannon. He published in 1828 ‘An Introduction to Naval Gunnery,’ designed strictly as an ‘introduction’ to the course of scientific teaching. It was during this period also that he produced for the use of his classes short treatises on ‘Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry,’ 1810, and ‘Plane and Spherical Trigonometry,’ 1826. These, however, have long been out of use, and are now extremely rare. No copy of either can be found in any of the principal libraries in London.
At his suggestion the admiralty established a school of naval architecture in 1810, and Inman was appointed principal. To supply the want of a text-book, he published in 1820 ‘A Treatise on Shipbuilding, with Explanations and Demonstrations respecting the Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, by Frederick Henry de Chapman, … translated into English, with explanatory Notes, and a few Remarks on the Construction of Ships of War,’ Cambridge, 4to. The translation was made from a French version, though compared with the Swedish. It has of course long been obsolete; but to Inman's labours was largely due the improvement in English ship-building during the first half of the present century. In 1839 the college was again reorganised, and Inman retired. For the next twenty years he continued to reside in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, and died at Southsea on 2 Feb. 1859.
Inman married Mary, daughter of Richard Williams, vicar of Oakham, Rutlandshire, a direct descendant of the mother of Sir Isaac Newton [q. v.] by her second husband, and left issue. In addition to the works already named, he was also the author of ‘The Scriptural Doctrine of Divine Grace: a Sermon preached before the University,’ Cambridge, 8vo, 1820, and ‘Formulæ and Rules for making Calculations on Plans of Ships,’ London, 8vo, 1849.[Information from the Rev. H. T. Inman, Inman's grandson.]