Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brancker, Thomas

BRANCKER or BRANKER, THOMAS (1633–1676), mathematician, born at Barnstaple in August 1633, was the son of another Thomas Brancker, a graduate of Exeter College, Oxford, who was in 1626 a schoolmaster near Ilchester, and about 1630 head-master of the Barnstaple High School. The family originally bore the name of Brouncker [see Brouncker, Sir William]. Young Brancker matriculated at his father's college 8 Nov. 1652; proceeded B.A. 15 June 1655, and was elected a probationer fellow of Exeter 30 June 1655, and full fellow 10 July 1656. After taking his master's degree (22 April 1658), he took to preaching, but he refused to conform to the ceremonies of the church of England, and was deprived of his fellowship 4 June 1663. He then retired to Cheshire, changed his views, and applied for and obtained episcopal ordination. He became a 'minister' at Whitegate, Cheshire, but his fame as a mathematician reached William, lord Brereton, who gave him the rectory of Tilston, near Malpas, in 1668. He resigned the benefice (after a very few months' occupation) and became head-master of the grammar school at Macclesfield, where he died in November 1676. He was buried in Macclesfield church, and the inscription on his monument states that he was a linguist as well as a mathematician, chemist, and natural philosopher, and that he pursued his studies 'under the auspices of the Hon. Robert Boyle.'

Brancker gained his first knowledge of mathematics and chemistry from Peter Sthael of Strasburg, 'a noted chimist and Rosicrucian,' who before 1660 settled in Oxford as a private tutor, at the suggestion of Robert Boyle, and numbered Ralph Bathurst, Christopher Wren, with Brancker, Wood, and other less eminent men, among his pupils (Wood's Autobiog. in Athenæ, Bliss, i. liii). Brancker's earliest publication was 'Doctrinæ Sphæricæ Adumbratio unà cum usu Globorum Artificialium,' Oxford, 1662. In 1668 he published a translation of an introduction to algebra from the High Dutch of Rhenanus, and added a 'Table of odd numbers less than one hundred thousand, shewing those that are incomposit, and resolving the rest into their factors or coefficients.' The book was licensed 18 May 1665, but the publication was delayed to enable Dr. John Peel to add notes and corrections. John Collins, another mathematician, also gave Brancker some assistance over the book, and praised it highly in a letter to James Gregory in 1668. The value of the table and translation is acknowledged in an early paper in the 'Philosophical Transactions' (No. 35, pp. 688-9), and the table and preface were reprinted by Francis Maseres in a volume of mathematical tracts (1795), together with James Bernouilli's 'Doctrine of Permutations' and other papers. Maseres states that Dr. Wallis thought well of Brancker's table, and corrected a few errors in it. In the Rawlinson MSS. (A 45, f. 9) there is 'A Breviat and relation of Thomas Branker against Dame Appollin Hall, alias Appolin Potter, of London, once marryed to William Churchey' (July 1656). A curious manuscript key to an elaborate cipher in the possession of J. H. Cooke, F.S.A., is attributed to Brancker and is fully described in the 'Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries' for 1877.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 1086; Fasti (Bliss), ii. 186, 214; Boase's Registrum Coll. Exon. 72, 74, 229; Button's Mathematical Dictionary; Correspondence of Scientific Men (1841), ii. 177; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 41, 170, 345, where Mr. J. E. Bailey's notes are of especial value.]

S. L. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.35
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
211 ii 15f.e. Brancker, Thomas: for Rhenanus read Rhonius
9f.e. for Peel read Pell