Powell, Baden (DNB00)

POWELL, BADEN (1796–1860), Savilian professor of geometry, born at Stamford Hill on 22 Aug. 1796, was eldest son of Baden Powell of Langton, Kent, and Stamford Hill. The father was at one time high sheriff of Kent. The son matriculated from Oriel College, Oxford, in the spring of 1814, and graduated B.A. in 1817, with first-class honours in mathematics. He proceeded M.A. in 1820, was ordained to the curacy of Midhurst, and in 1821 obtained the vicarage of Plumstead in Kent. While holding this living he was occupied in researches on optics and radiation, and was a fellow-worker with Herschel, Babbage, and Airy. His ability was recognised by his election as F.R.S. in 1824, and by his appointment in 1827 to the Savilian chair of geometry at Oxford, which he held till his death.

On becoming professor he resigned his living and devoted much time to literary work. He had already, in 1825 and 1826, contributed to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ two papers on radiant heat; he now wrote two elementary books on curves and differential calculus, 1828–9. In 1832 he made a report to the British Association on radiant heat, and drew up other reports on the same subject in 1841 and 1854. In 1835–7 he prepared a series of four papers on dispersion of light for the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ He was a frequent contributor to scientific periodicals, chiefly on optical questions, but also on questions connected with the general history and study of science. He wrote a ‘History of Natural Philosophy’ for the ‘Cabinet Cyclopædia,’ 1834. But theological controversy also interested Powell. He was strongly opposed to the tractarians, and treated doctrinal questions from a latitudinarian point of view in ‘Tradition Unveiled’ (1839), followed by a supplement in 1840. An essay (1838) on ‘The Connexion of Natural and Divine Truth’ was succeeded, after many years, by an important series of essays on kindred topics—‘The Unity of Worlds’ (1855, 2nd edit. 1856), ‘The Study of Natural Theology’ (1856), and ‘The Order of Nature’ (1859). Among his other theological essays may be mentioned ‘Christianity without Judaism’ (1857, 2nd edit. 1866), and an essay on the study of the evidences of Christianity, which he contributed to ‘Essays and Reviews,’ 1860. The last-named essay provoked many replies.

Powell was active in university reform, was a member of the commission of 1851, and held advanced views on state education, about which he published a pamphlet in 1840. He died on 11 June 1860, at Stanhope Street, Hyde Park Gardens, and is buried at Kensal Green. Powell was twice married: first, on 27 Sept. 1837, to Charlotte Pope, who died on 14 Oct. 1844; secondly, on 10 March 1846, to Henrietta Grace Smyth, daughter of Vice-admiral William Henry Smyth [q. v.], and sister of Mr. Charles Piazzi Smyth. By his first wife he had three daughters and a son, Baden Henry Powell (b. 1841), judge of the chief court of Lahore, and a writer on Indian law and land tenure. Of the professor's family by his second wife, five sons, of whom the second is Sir George Baden Powell K.C.M.G., M.P., and one daughter survived infancy.

Besides the physical papers referred to above may be named the following contributions to the ‘Philosophical Transactions:’

  1. ‘On Certain Cases of Elliptic Polarization,’ 1842.
  2. ‘On Metallic Reflexion,’ 1845.
  3. ‘On Prismatic Interference,’ 1848.

He also contributed some important mathematical papers to the Ashmolean Society's ‘Memoirs’ for 1832. In addition to the above-named reports to the British Association, he reported in 1839 on refractive indices, and in 1848–59 on luminous meteors. His contributions to the ‘Memoirs’ of the Astronomical Society are dated 1845, 1847, 1849, 1853, and 1858. In 1857 he published translations, with notes, of Arago's autobiography and lives of Young, Malus, and Fresnel.

[ Morning Chronicle, 14 June 1860; Aberdeen Herald, 21 July 1860; Gent. Mag. 1860, pt. ii. p. 204; Liddon's Life of Pusey; information kindly supplied by Mrs. Powell.]

C. P.