Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Barker, Thomas

BARKER, THOMAS (1838–1907), professor of mathematics, born on 9 Sept. 1838, was son of Thomas Barker, farmer, of Murcar, Balgonie, near Aberdeen, and of his wife Margaret. Three other children died in infancy. He was educated at the grammar school, Aberdeen, and at King's College in the same town, where he graduated in 1857 with great distinction in mathematics. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as minor scholar and subsizar in 1858, became foundation scholar in 1860, Sheepshanks astronomical exhibitioner in 1861, and came out in the mathematical tripos of 1862 as senior wrangler; he was also first Smith's prizeman. He was elected to a fellowship in the autumn of 1862, and was assistant tutor of Trinity till 1865, when he was appointed professor of pure mathematics in the Owens College, Manchester. He held this post for twenty years, during which the college advanced greatly both in resources and in public estimation. To this progress Barker's high repute as a teacher greatly contributed.

Barker's ideals as a mathematician differed much from those that were current in most colleges and universities of the country at the time. He was a follower of De Morgan and Boole; like them he was interested in the logical basis rather than in the applications of mathematics, and he endeavoured to set forth the processes of mathematical reasoning as a connected system from their foundation. His presentment of the subject was consequently not attractive to ordinary students, but on the more gifted minds which came under his influence it made a deep impression. His severely critical habit made him diffident of publication, but his success as a teacher is attested by the number of distinguished pupils on whom he exercised a great and possibly a determining influence. These include John Hopkinson, [q. v. Suppl. I], J. H. Poynting, A. Schuster, and Sir Joseph John Thomson.

After resignation of his chair in 1885 he lived in tranquil retirement, first at Whaley Bridge and afterwards at Buxton. His mathematical interests were varied by an almost passionate study of cryptogamic botany. He died unmarried at Buxton on 20 Nov. 1907, and was buried in the Manchester southern cemetery. By his will he provided for the foundation in the University of Manchester of a professorship of cryptogamic botany, and for the endowment of bursaries for poor students in mathematics and botany.

[The Times, 22 Nov. 1907, 7 Dec. (will); Manchester Guardian, 23 Nov. 1907; Manchester Univ. Mag., Doc. 1907.]

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