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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Calculating Boy

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas DECEMBER. 14, 2020


[131-365] 14th. December 2020- No ladies this is not about that terrible boyfriend you once had who cheated on you, this is about mathematics. George Parker Bidder was marketed as The Calculating Boy by his father, and he was an English engineer and calculating prodigy.


This sea view is at Dartmouth and was a view he would have known, living just around the corner.


He displayed a natural skill at calculation from an early age and in childhood, his father, William Bidder, a stonemason, exhibited him as a "calculating boy", first in local fairs up to the age of six, and later around the country. In this way his talent was turned to profitable account, but his general education was in danger of being completely neglected.


Still, many of those who saw him developed an interest in his education, a notable example being Sir John Herschel. Herschel himself was an English polymath, mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor, and experimental photographer who invented the blueprint. His interest led him to arrange it so George could be sent to school in Camberwell. There he did not remain long, being removed by his father, who wished to exhibit him again, but he was saved from this misfortune and enabled to attend classes at the University of Edinburgh, largely through the kindness of Sir Henry Jardine, to whom he subsequently showed his gratitude by founding a "Jardine Bursary" at the university.


In 1834 Robert Stephenson, whose acquaintance he had made in Edinburgh, offered him an appointment on the London & Birmingham Railway, and in the succeeding year or two he began to assist George Stephenson in his parliamentary work, which at that time included schemes for railways between London and Brighton and between Manchester and Rugby via the Potteries. In this way he was introduced to engineering and parliamentary practice at a period of great activity which saw the establishment of the main features and principles that have since governed English railway construction.


He also advised on the construction of the Belgian railways; with R. Stephenson he made the first railway in Norway, from Christiania to Eidsvold; he was engineer-in-chief of the Danish railways, and he was largely concerned with railways in India. Though he sometimes spoke of himself as a mere "railway-engineer," he was in reality very much more; there was indeed no branch of engineering in which he did not take an interest, as was shown by the assiduity with which for half a century he attended the weekly meetings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he was elected president in 1860.


Assiduity is my word of the day- Constant or close attention to what one is doing. Late Middle English: from Latin assiduitas, from assiduus ‘occupied with’.


He was one of the first to recognize the value of the electric telegraph, and he was one of the founders of the Electric Telegraph Company, which enabled the public generally to enjoy the benefits of telegraphic communication. Bidder died at his residence of Ravensbury Dartmouth, Devon, aged 72, on 20 September 1878 and was buried at Stoke Fleming in St Peters church. His son, George Parker Bidder Jr. , who inherited much of his father's calculating power, was a successful parliamentary counsel and an authority on cryptography.

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