After leaving school
aged 13 John Barrow's very first job was to make a survey of
the extensive grounds of Conishead Priory, then belonging to
a Colonel Braddyll
"...very useful to me, from the practical knowledge
acquired of the theodolite .... in fact I so far availed myself
of the several applications of these instruments that on arriving
in London some years afterwards ... I drew up and published a
small treatise to explain the practical uses of a case of mathematical
instruments, being my first introduction to the press, for which
I obtained twenty pounds; and was not a little delighted to send
my first fruits to my mother".
| Barrow's next job
(now aged all of 14!) was as the bookkeeper and overseer - in
other words, the manager - of an iron foundry in Liverpool.
These 4 pictures are also from WH Pyne's Microcosm of 1804, showing
an iron foundry; it's a sort of revolving image. The barrel-ish
thing is a smelter and the chaps appear to be casting cannon-balls.
The forge would have been heated by charcoal. probably from the
coppice woods of Cumbria
| Still in Liverpool, he had an extra
job, as Maths tutor to a Midshipman in the Navy ( who was older
than him). From this person he also learnt a lot about navigation.
Here are some pictures of LIverpool at that time, and one of
an actual Midshipman, by Rowlandson, drawn in 1799. You can learn
a lot more about the Navy in Georgian times by watching
"Master and Commander".
"When we arrived at the ice ... the appearance
of Nature was new to me; every side of us being an unlimited
plain of ice, on which were innumerable herds of seals strewed
upon the surface like so many sheep scattered upon the downs
... The multitude of morses [walruses] that were found heaped
together on the shores ... is almost incredible ...
We had not advanced far along the coast of Spitzberegen
before the lookout man clled out with a stentorian voice, Fall!
Fall! - the notice of a whale being within chase distance....
eager to partake in the chase I asked my friend the captain to
allow me to go and pull an oar ... The harpooner, standing in
the prow of the first boat. darted his harpoon ... immediately,
up went the broad and dangerous tail and down the monster plunged
into the depths, making one side of the boat smoke with the rapidity
with which it drew out the line ..
... it arose and received a second harpoon, and in plunging
down threw up its enormous tail just under one of the boats,
which it cast upon the field of ice, with six persons in it,
of whom I was one: we none of us received much harm, but the
side of the boat was shattered. ...
I preserved, with some little trouble, a couple of jawbones,
which were sent to Ulverstone and set up as gate-posts to the
entrance of a small croft close to our cottage ....
A different Whale-jaw gateway, somewhere else, but you get
This picture, titled " Dangers of the Greenland Fishery"
is by William Scoresby, an Arctic explorer, scientist and captain
of a whaling ship. (More about him on the "Arctic"
Next? Off in a whaling
ship to Spitzbergen and Greenland!
| As these pictures show, whaling was a
nasty and very dangerous business.
But we must bear in mind that in the days before electricity,
there were few ways of getting light in the long dark winter
apart from oil-lamps, and the oil mostly came from whales. The
men who went hunting them didn't do so for fun - thousands died
and hundreds of ships were lost. Read more about it here
"I lost no time in setting out by the coach
- railways had not then entered into the head of man - arrived
in London - [long description of teaching duties] - in this way
I passed between two and three years in London, going down to
Lancashire each year to visit my family."
(The Royal Observatory,
After his whaling adventure (which gave him enormously useful
experience towards his future career) he returned to Ulverston
briefly, spending his time fishing, digging the garden, and visiting
"Gibson, the Wise Man" who taught him more maths. Handy,
because, by another string of coincidences, his next job was
as a Maths tutor in a school in Greenwich :
He then describes how he comes to meet Sir George Staunton,
and is invited to be tutor to his son, young George, who is a
mathematical prodigy and already speaks Chinese. The Stauntons
become Barrow's life-long friends and it's thanks to them he
not only goes to China but eventually gets the Admiralty job.
This magnificent painting of Greenwich is by Canaletto, 1752,
so only about 30 years before Barrow's arrival.
The buildings are stupendous, and still very little changed.
You can still get there by boat along the Thames; for istance
there's a jetty at Tate Modern. The journey is much more fun
than looking at their second-rate art.
More to the point, these buildings are part of the Royal Navy
/ Admiralty "kingdom" of which Barrow would soon become
the chief administrator. Of course, as a fairly humble young
schoolmaster, he had no idea such a thing would happen. So here's
a bit of Pythagoras, to keep you busy till the next page
comes along. Which is CHINA