William Wallace ~ Mathematician

William Wallace (1768- 1843) was born in Dysart in Fife. He attended a small private school before joining a public seminary. His father tutored him in arithmetic and after his father’s business failed, he was sent to Edinburgh as an apprentice bookbinder. Thereafter self-taught he spent hours on mathematics and general learning. His talent for mathematics brought him to the notice of a scientist, Dr. Robison (and subsequently Professor John Playfair) and this opened up a world of lectures on physics and mathematics.

In order to gain more study time Wallace took up the post of a warehouseman and proceeded to study Latin and French as well as tutoring in mathematics. In 1794, he became assistant mathematics master at Perth Academy and settled in the town for nine years – he married in Perth. In addition, to his teaching duties, Wallace wrote mathematical papers that were published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and made contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannia.

In 1803, he joined the Royal Military College soon after its establishment at Great Marlow, in Bucks and moved with the college to Sandhurst. At the college, he lectured on mathematics and astronomy. After the death of Playfair in 1819, and a shuffle of academics, Wallace became Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh University; a post he held until poor health prevented him from discharging his duties any further (1838). He died at the age of 75 in Edinburgh on 28 April 1843. He mainly worked in the field of geometry and in 1799 became the first to publish the concept of the Simson line, which erroneously was attributed to Robert Simson.

His most important contribution to British mathematics however was, that he was one of the first mathematicians introducing and promoting the advancement of calculus in continental Europe to Britain. He published two books, Conic Sections(1837) and Geometrical Theorems and Analytical Formulae (1839). Wallace’s Theorem, states ‘if four lines intersect each other to form four triangles by omitting one line in turn, the circumcircles of these triangles have a point in common’