Parkinson, Stephen (DNB00)

PARKINSON, STEPHEN, D.D. (1823–1889), mathematician and college tutor, was born in 1823 at Keighley in Yorkshire, the youngest but one of a family of eight children. His father, a land agent, died in Stephen's infancy; and his mother, whose maiden name was Mary Ogden, brought up her family on a narrow income.

In October 1841 he entered St. John's College, Cambridge. With Hymers for his college tutor, he became sizar and scholar of the college, and in the mathematical tripos of 1845 he was senior wrangler, while William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin) was second wrangler (see Bristed, Five Years in an English University). The order of the two competitors was reversed in the examination for the Smith's prizes. In the same year Parkinson became fellow of his college, and began to take private pupils. Among these were the senior wranglers of 1850, 1853, and 1857 (Besant, Sprague, and Finch), and L. H. Courtney, second wrangler in 1855. He was also college lecturer on mathematics, and in 1864 succeeded J. B. Mayor as college tutor. The duties of this office he discharged with such success that when, in 1871, he vacated it by marriage, he was re-elected, and remained tutor till 1882, when he resigned. In the eighteen years of his tutorship nearly a thousand pupils passed under his care, and ‘Parkinson's side’ was an important factor in the prosperity of the college. He became president of the college in 1865, but declined to be a candidate for the mastership in 1881.

He took a leading part in university affairs, and was one of the most vigorous and powerful opponents of reform and innovation. He took the degrees of M.A. in 1848, B.D. in 1855, and D.D. in 1868; and examined for the mathematical tripos in 1849 and 1852. He was senior proctor in 1864, and was elected thrice in succession to the council of the senate, on which he accordingly served from 1866 to 1878. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society. He died on 2 Jan. 1889, without surviving issue.

He had married, in 1871, Elizabeth Lucy, daughter of John Welchman Whateley of Birmingham. His widow was married in 1893 to Mr. G. F. Cobb, fellow and junior bursar of Trinity College.

He was the author of two mathematical text-books: (1) ‘Elementary Treatise on Mechanics’ (1855; 6th edit. 1881) and (2) ‘Treatise on Optics’ (1859; 4th edit. 1884), which were for about a quarter of a century the standard books on these subjects in use at Cambridge.

[Obituary notices, viz. E. W. Bowling in The Eagle, March 1889, E. J. Routh in Phil. Mag. vol. xlv., Cambridge Review, vol. x. No. 242, Guardian 9 Jan. 1889; supplemented by information kindly supplied by his widow, who placed a memorial cross and tablet and superaltar to his memory in the chapel of St. John's College.]

C. P.