Oliver Byrne (mathematician)

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Oliver Byrne (1810? – 9 December 1890?) was a civil engineer and prolific author of works on subjects including mathematics, geometry, and engineering. He is best known for his 'coloured' book of Euclid's Elements. He was a large contributor to Spon's Dictionary of Engineering. Augustus de Morgan described him as a minor, rather eccentric British mathematician.

Family and early life[edit]

The 1871 English census lists Byrne's place of birth as Leyden, Holland.

He may have been related to Austin Byrne, who was another Irish Protestant civil engineer and author, and who named his second son Oliver Thomas. Another relative was William Byrne, of whom Oliver is said to have been an "eccentric clansman" who publicised William's "heroic reputation". [1]

At age 20 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics in the College of Civil Engineers at Putney. His wife Eleanor (née Rugg), was 12 years younger than he was.

Proof of the Pythagorean theorem in Byrne's The Elements of Euclid.

Byrne's Euclid[edit]

His most innovative educational work was a version of the first six books of Euclid's Elements that used coloured graphic explanations of each geometric principle. It was published by Pickering (publishers) in 1847.

The book has become the subject of renewed interest in recent years for its innovative graphic conception and its style which prefigures the modernist experiments of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. Information design writer Edward Tufte refers to the book in his work on graphic design and McLean in his Victorian book design of 1963. In 2010 Taschen republished the work in a facsimile edition.

Byrne listed himself as a Mathematician, Civil Engineer, Military Engineer, and Mechanical Engineer and indicates on the title pages of one of his books that he was Surveyor of Queen Victoria's settlement in the Falkland Islands.

The U.S. Library of Congress has a steel-engraved portrait of Oliver Byrne.

A book of the collected works was published. He lists himself as a Professor in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A.

Engineering and inventions[edit]

He invented the following mechanical devices:

  • The Byrnegraph
  • The Gauger's Patent Calculating Instruments.

Oliver Byrne and Henry William Hull (BA, CE) made a proposal for a School of Mathematics, Engineering, Classics, and General Literature at Surrey Villa, near Lambeth Palace.

He was an anti-phrenologist, and wrote a book on the fallacy of phrenology.

Irish independence[edit]

In 1853 he wrote a book titled Freedom To Ireland published in Boston, advocating Irish revolt against British rule and outlining house and street fighting, handling of small arms, etc. In fact, he toured the U.S. in the 1850s. (See 1860 census record). Oliver toured the United States in the 1850s and published his "Freedom to Ireland'"" advocated revolt from Britain and provided lessons in the use of small arms, field fortifications, pike exercises and street fighting It was dedicated 'To the memory of William Byrne, Esq., of Ballymanus, County Wicklow, Ireland', and to the fulsome list of qualities attributed to the dedicatee was the rather dubious claim that Billy 'by the dextrous use of the Pike destroyed two thousand of his country's enemy; and out of twenty-seven engagements in the open field, won twenty-one.[2] In the preface to one of his books, Oliver Byrne has the following dedication:

TO THE MEMORY OF WILLIAM BYRNE, ESQ;, OF BALLYMANUS, COUNTY WICKLOW, IRELAND, WHO WAS EXECUTED FOR FIDELITY AND LOYALTY TO HIS COUNTRY IN 1798 THIS WORK IS DEDICATED. BYRNE WAS A MAN OF LARGE FORTUNE AND ESTATES, OF RARE COURAGE, AND GREAT MILITARY SKILL, AND OF MUCH PERSONAL STRENGTH AND BEAUTY; HE DID NOT LOSE HIS LIFE AND ESTATES, OR BETRAY HIS COUNTRY, BY MAKING LONG SPEECHES TO TEACH THE ENEMY. HE WAS NOT ONE OF THE BEGARRLY BRIEFLASS SPOUTING POLITICAL TRICKSTER HUMBUGS; NO, BUT ONE WHO IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIS BROTHER GARRET BYRNE AND COUSIN MICHAEL DWYER, LED ON HIS COUNTRYMEN, AND BY THE DEXTERIOUS USE OF THE PIKE, DESTROYED 2000 OF HIS COUNTRY'S ENEMY; AND OUT OF 27 ENGAGEMENTS IN THE OPEN FIELD, WON TWENTY ONE....etc.3

The United Irishmen (who consisted of Protestants and Catholics alike) declared their belief in a peaceful future for Ireland in which Protestants and Catholics could live together in peace and with equality.

In 1871 Byrne lived at 14 Fransfield Grove, Upper Sydenham, in the Parish of Lewisham, in the Count of Kent.

Byrne died at 46 Grecian Street, East Maidstone, England.

Works[edit]

  • The Apprentice or First Book for Mechanics, Machinists, and Engineers A. J. Fisher (New York) 1874
  • The Practical, complete and correct Gager, containing a description of Parker and Byrne's patent Calculating Instruments; with their use and application, Bailey (London), 1840
  • The Fifth Book of Euclid simplified, 1841.
  • The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners, 1847
  • The Miscellaneous Mathematical Papers of OB, L. Maynard, ed. John Byrne, 1848.
  • The Calculus of Form, circa 1848.[1]
  • OB (ed) Appleton's Dictionary of machines, Mechanics, Engine work and Engineering, 2 vols, Daniel Appleton and Co., 1852.
  • The Calculator's Constant Companion, J. W. Moore (Philadelphia), 1854.
  • The Creed of Saint Athanasius proved by a Mathematical parallel (a satire), 1859.
  • Description and Use of the Byrnegraph, an instrument for multiplying, dividing and comparing lines, angles, surfaces and solids, Allard (London), 1846.
  • Dual Arithmetic, A New Art, Bell & Daldy (London), 1865. (ISBN 978-1-141-92119-5)
  • The Essential Elements of Practical Mechanics, based on the principal of work, designed for engineering students, Spon (London), 1868.
  • General Method of Solving Equations of all degrees, applied particularly to equations of the second, third, fourth and fifth, Spon (London), 1868.
  • The Geometry of Compasses: Or Problems Resolved by the Mere Description Of Circles, Lockwood (London), 1877. (ISBN 978-1-104-05805-0)
  • The Handbook for the Artisan, Mechanic, and Engineer, Collins (Philadelphia), 1853.
  • How to Measure the Earth with the Assistance of Railroads, Currie and Bowman (Newcastle), 1838.
  • Lectures on the Art and Science of War, Donahoe (Boston), 1853.
  • New and Improved Systems of Logarithms, Day (London), 1838.
  • Pocketbook for Railroad and Civil Engineers, Shepherd (New York), 1851.
  • The Practical Metal-Worker's assistant, Baird (Philadelphia), 1851. (ISBN 978-1-151-79618-9)
  • The Practical Model Calculator, Baird (Philadelphia), 1852. (ISBN 978-1-145-93075-9)
  • A Short Practical Treatise on Spherical trigonometry, Valpy, 1835. (ISBN 978-1-110-89691-2)
  • Spon's Dictionary of Engineering, Spon, 1869–1874.
  • Tables of Dual Logarithms, Dual Numbers, and corresponding Natural Numbers, Bell & Daldy, 1867
  • Byrne's Treatise on navigation and nautical Astronomy, the author, 1875.
  • The Young Dual Arithmetician, Bell & Daldy, 1865
  • The Young Geometrician, or Practical geometry without compasses, Chapman and Hall (London), 1865. (ISBN 978-1-143-82512-5) (online edition from Google books)

References[edit]

  1. ^ According to WorldCat, this is held in the British Library, but "The whole edition was cancelled except two copies."

External sources[edit]