Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wales, William

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WALES, WILLIAM (1734?–1798), mathematician, was born about 1734. He first distinguished himself as a contributor to the ‘Ladies' Diary,’ a magazine containing mathematical problems of an advanced nature [see Tipper, John]. In 1769 he was sent by the Royal Society to the Prince of Wales fort on the north-west coast of Hudson's Bay to observe the transit of Venus. The results of his investigations were communicated to the society (Transactions, lix. 467, 480, lx. 100, 137), and were published in 1772 under the title ‘General Observations made at Hudson's Bay,’ London, 4to. During his stay at Hudson's Bay he employed his leisure in computing tables of the equations to equal altitudes for facilitating the determination of time. They appeared in the ‘Nautical Almanac’ for 1773, and were republished in 1794 in his treatise on ‘The Method of finding the Longitude by Timekeepers,’ London, 8vo.

Wales returned to England in 1770, and in 1772 he published ‘The Two Books of Apollonius concerning Determinate Sections,’ London, 4to, an attempt to restore the fragmentary treatise of Apollonius of Perga. The task had been more successfully carried out by Robert Simson [q. v.] at an earlier date, but the results of his labours were not published until 1776 in his posthumous works. In 1772 Wales was engaged, with William Bayly [q. v.], by the board of longitude to accompany Cook in the Resolution on his second voyage round the world, and to make astronomical observations. He returned to England in 1774, and on 7 Nov. 1776 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1777 the astronomical observations made during the voyage were published, with an introduction by Wales, at the expense of the board of longitude, in a quarto volume with charts and plates. In the same year appeared his ‘Observations on a Voyage with Captain Cook;’ and in 1778 his ‘Remarks on Mr. Forster's Account of Captain Cook's Last Voyage’ (London, 8vo); a reply to Johann Georg Adam Forster [q. v.], who, with his father, had accompanied the expedition as naturalist, and had published an unauthorised account of the voyage a few weeks before Cook's narrative appeared, in which he made serious reflections on Cook and his officers. Wales's pamphlet satisfactorily refuted these aspersions, and drew from Forster in the same year a ‘Reply to Mr. Wales's Remarks’ (London, 4to).

In 1776 Wales sailed with Cook in the Resolution on his last voyage. They cleared the Channel on 14 July 1776. Cook was slain at Hawaii in 1779, and the expedition returned in 1780. On the death of Daniel Harris, Wales was appointed mathematical master at Christ's Hospital, a post which he retained till his death. At the commencement of his mastership he found discipline in a very bad state, but by a judicious severity he soon brought affairs to a better pass. He was a man of a kindly disposition, and his pupils became much attached to him.

Wales took great interest in questions of population, and instituted a series of inquiries both in person and by letter into the condition of the country. He found, however, that many people had a strong dislike to any ‘numbering of the people’ from the belief that it was contrary to the injunctions of scripture, and he encountered so much opposition that he became convinced of the impossibility of carrying his researches very far. He published the result of his labours in 1781, under the title ‘An Inquiry into the Present State of the Population in England and Wales’ (London, 8vo), in which he combated the belief then prevalent that population was decreasing. Wales died in London on 29 Dec. 1798. His daughter married Arthur William Trollope [q. v.], who became headmaster of Christ's Hospital in 1799.

Besides the works mentioned, he was author of an ‘Ode to William Pitt,’ London, 1762, fol.; edited ‘Astronomical Observations made during the Voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Cook,’ London, 1788, 4to; aided John Douglas (1721–1807) [q. v.] in editing Cook's ‘Journals’ (Egerton MS. 2180, passim); wrote a dissertation on the ‘Achronical Rising of the Pleiades,’ appended to William Vincent's ‘Voyage of Nearchus;’ and assisted Constantine John Phipps, second baron Mulgrave [q. v.], in preparing his account of ‘A Voyage towards the North Pole,’ London, 1774, 4to.

[Gent. Mag. 1798, ii. 1155; Trollope's Hist. of Christ's Hospital, 1834, pp. 95–6; Hutton's Philosophical and Mathematical Dict. 1815; English Cyclopædia, 1857; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 242; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Soc. App. p. lvi; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 90; Vincent's Periplus of the Erythræan Sea, 1800, i. 83; Watt's Bibliotheca Brit.]

E. I. C.