Wolstenholme, Joseph (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62
Wolstenholme, Joseph

no contributor recorded

WOLSTENHOLME, JOSEPH (1829–1891), mathematician, born on 30 Sept. 1829 at Eccles, Lancashire, was the son of Joseph Wolstenholme by his wife Elizabeth (Clarke). His father was a minister in one of the methodist churches. Wolstenholme was educated at Wesley College, Sheffield, and on 1 July 1846 was entered at St. John's College, Cambridge. He graduated as third wrangler in 1850, and was elected fellow of his college on 29 March 1852. On 26 Nov. 1852 he was elected to a fellowship at Christ's College, to which, under the statutes of that time, Lancashire men had a preferential claim. A protest was made against the election of a member of another college, but was soon withdrawn. Wolstenholme became assistant tutor of Christ's, and served as moderator in 1862, 1869, and 1874, and as examiner for the mathematical tripos in 1854, 1856, 1863, and 1870. He vacated his fellowship upon his marriage (27 July 1869) to Thérèse, daughter of Johann Kraus of Zürich. He took pupils at Cambridge till his appointment in 1871 to the mathematical professorship at the Royal Indian Engineering Col- lege, Cooper's Hill. He was superannuated in 1889, and died on 18 Nov. 1891, leaving a widow and four sons. A pension on the civil list was granted to his widow in 1893, in consideration of his eminence as a mathematician, a petition having been signed by a great number of members of the Cambridge senate.

Wolstenholme was part author with the Rev. Percival Frost of a ‘Treatise on Solid Geometry,’ 1863 (later editions omit his name). He also published ‘A Book of Mathematical Problems on Subjects included in the Cambridge Course,’ 1867 (2nd edit. much enlarged, in 1878); and ‘Examples for Practice in the Use of Seven-figure Logarithms,’ 1888.

‘Wolstenholme,’ says Dr. Forsyth, Sadlerian professor of pure mathematics at Cambridge, ‘was the author of a number of mathematical papers, most of which were published in the “Proceedings” of the London Mathematical Society. They usually were concerned with questions of analytical geometry, and they were marked by a peculiar analytical skill and ingenuity. But, considerable as were the merits of some of these papers, his fame rests chiefly upon the wonderful series of original mathematical problems which he constructed upon practically all the subjects that entered into the course of training of students of twenty-five or thirty years ago. They are a product characteristic of Cambridge, and particularly of Cambridge examinations; he was their most conspicuous producer at a time when their vogue was greatest. When gathered together from many examination papers so as to form a volume, which was considerably amplified in its later edition, they exercised a very real influence upon successive generations of undergraduates; and “Wolstenholme's Problems” have proved a help and a stimulus to many students. A collection of some three thousand problems naturally varies widely in value, but many of them contain important results, which in other places or at other times would not infrequently have been embodied in original papers. As they stand they form a curious and almost unique monument of ability and industry, active within a restricted range of investigation.’

[Information from his sister, Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy; the registers of St. John's and Christ's Colleges, Cambridge.]