Smith, James Hamblin (DNB12)

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SMITH, JAMES HAMBLIN (1829–1901), mathematician, born on 2 Dec. 1829 at Rickinghall, Suffolk, was only surviving child of James Hamblin Smith by his wife Mary Finch. He was cousin of Barnard Smith, fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge (B.A. 1839, M.A. 1842), rector of Glaston, Rutland, and a writer of popular mathematical textbooks. After school education at Botesdale, Suffolk, he entered as a 'pensioner' at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in July 1846. On Lady Day 1847 he was elected to a scholarship. At the quincentenary of the foundation of the college, in 1848, he was selected to write the 'Latin Commemoration Ode,' a copy of which is preserved in the 'University Registry' (lxxxvi. 27). In 1850 he graduated B.A. as thirty-second wrangler in the mathematical tripos and in the second class of the classical tripos. He proceeded M.A. in 1853. After graduating, Hamblin Smith became a private tutor at Cambridge in mathematics, classics and theology. He was lecturer in classics at Peterhouse from 1868 to 1872. The career of private 'coach' he pursued with success till near his death. He had the power of simplifying mathematical reasoning, and produced to that end the unitary method in arithmetic and a simple and ingenious plan for the conversion into l.s.d. of money expressed in decimals, a development of which simplifies the process of long division in a large class of cases (Brit. Assoc. Report, 1902, p. 529; Caius College Magazine, Michs. Term, 1902).

He published many handbooks for his pupils' use in preparing for examination in mathematics, classics and theology. He also published 'Rudiments of English Grammar' (1876; 2nd edit. 1882), as well as a Latin and a Greek grammar. His elementary mathematical treatises enjoyed a wide circulation.

Hamblin Smith found time for public work at Cambridge, in which his strong yet conciliatory personality gave him much influence. He was one of the Cambridge improvement commissioners from 1875 until the Local Government Act abolished that body in 1889. He was a member of the council of the senate from 1876 to 1880, and for many years chairman of the Board of Examinations (Cambridge). He was one of the earliest members of the London Mathematical Society.

He died at Cambridge on 10 July 1901, and was buried at Mill Road cemetery. He married on 16 April 1857 Ellen Hales (d. June 1912), daughter of Samuel Chilton Gross of Alderton, Suffolk, and sister of Edward John Gross, M.A., Cambridge secretary of the Oxford and Cambridge schools examinations board. Three sons and one daughter (wife of John Clay, M.A., of the Cambridge University Press) survived him. A process portrait hangs in the combination room of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

Hamblin Smith's mathematical handbooks are:

  1. 'Elementary Statics,' 1868; 10th edit. 1890.
  2. 'Elementary Hydrostatics,' 1868; new edit. 1887.
  3. 'Elementary Trigonometry,' 1868; 8th edit. 1890.
  4. 'Elementary Algebra,' part i. 1869; 13th edit. 1894 (pt. ii. by E. J. Gross).
  5. 'Elements of Geometry,' 1872; 7th edit. 1890.
  6. 'A Treatise on Arithmetic,' 1872; 15th edit. 1898; adapted to Canadian schools by William Scott and R. Fletcher, revised edit. 1907.
  7. 'An Introduction to the Study of Heat,' 4th edit. 1877; 9th edit. 1890.
  8. 'An Introduction to the Study of Geometrical Conic Sections,' 1887; 2nd edit. 1889.

[Private information.]

J. D. H. D.