Sign In

- Or use -
Forgot Password Create Account

William Whiston (1667-1752) was a theologian, natural philosopher, mathematician, and lecturer who worked with Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, and other savants. The son of a rector, young William was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a BA in 1689.

After a period as a chaplain, Whiston returned to Cambridge to study Newton’s theories, which had been published as the Principa mathematica in 1687. Whiston began to publish on Newton’s ideas, using them to prove that the Scriptures were compatible with the new natural philosophy. Whiston resigned his fellowship upon his marriage in 1699, but Newton invited him to Cambridge again to lecture as Newton’s deputy. Newton then oversaw Whiston’s election as the third Lucasian professor of mathematics in 1702.

Whiston published and taught widely on mathematics, physics, experimental philosophy, and astronomy. He was hailed as a popularizer of Newton’s theories, which were important and yet hard to grasp. He also, however, was interested in prophetic research and anti-trinitarianism. His outspokenness about the latter led him to be stripped of his professorship and expelled from the university for heresy in 1710.

Whiston then moved to London, where he served as a private teacher and lecturer. He also continued publishing; by his death, he had published over 120 books, pamphlets, and charts. Along with Humphrey Ditton, Whiston published a broadsheet urging for the creation of an award for solving the longitude problem, a project that led to the creation of the Board of Longitude. The duo also suggested an infamous solution to the problem, the stationing of ships at intervals which would fire shells in the air, allowing navigators to observe and calculate their location based on the flash and sound of the blast. Whiston also proposed a solution based on dipping needles.

In the 1710s, Whiston began to publish popular astronomical broadsides that included charts of eclipses and the solar system. He experimented with star shells for surveying, as an alternative to triangulation. With his dipping needle work, he produced a map of the English Channel in 1721 that was one of the earliest examples of isogonic lines on a map. In 1743, he published a new map of the Channel based on an original survey for the Board of Longitude. Even his biblical work contained maps. His translation of the Jewish historian Josephus (1737) remained popular until the twentieth century and its contained important maps of the Holy Land.