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I love this image, and used it in my book. I think the one with the numbers can be identified as JJ Thomson and the one holding up a piece of the Earth is Charles Lyell. The elderly man with tartan trousers, demonstrating his invention of the stereoscope, is David Brewster. I hadn't identified the chemist before, so thanks for the suggestion.

John F. Ptak

Thank you! I think you're right on the Brewster, and also for Lyell. Thomson though was born in 1856--I ws thinking about JJ Sylvester for the numbers guy, but I don't understand the significance of the (very Asian) fish he is holding up or why the zero is running away in the first place.

John F. Ptak

Also I think I'm probably wrong with Newlands for the chemistry guy--it was just my best guess.


Oops - wrong JJ! I did, of course, mean Sylvester. But it looks like I might be wrong - I found everyone identified in the Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical index (scroll down a bit here: http://www.sciper.org/browse/display.jsp?mode=sciper&file=PU1-49.html&reveal=issue_PU1-49-1263&section=PU1-49-12-1). They give the mathematician as Babbage and the chemist as Tyndall. I'm convinced by the beard for Tyndall, but thought this mathematician a bit too young for Babbage?

Peter Rowlett

The zero business seems strange. It seems to me we're too late for concerns about zero itself, and too early for set theory. And the fish is odd. Or perhaps we are looking at its price.

I was looking through the report of the 1865 meeting

Very hard to tell from a cartoon but Babbage was 74 and, really, doesn't appear to look like that in the pictures I've seen. Was he at the meeting? He's listed in the report as a member and former member of Council, but not as giving a talk.

Sylvester - all the pictures I've seen have him with a beard. Might he have been as pictured in 1865? His talk was on probability. There is a quote from Sylvester to do with fish (and oratory):
"An eloquent mathematician must, from the nature of things, ever remain as rare a phenomenon as a talking fish, and it is certain that the more anyone gives himself up to the study of oratorial effect, the less he will find himself in a fit state of mind to mathematicize."
Although I think this is quoted from a commencement address at Johns Hopkins in 1877:

From the report of the meeting:

H. J. Stephen Smith presented a report on the theory of numbers. Could it be that he talked about zero and its place in the number system?
Although this picture claims to be c. 1860 and has him with a beard:

Francis Galton presented on vision in amphibious animals, which is extremely tenuous to the price of fish and in any case apparently by the early 1860s he had lost his hair:

Really, I don't know.

John F. Ptak

Thanks Peter Rowlett for that response. I doubt that the amth person can be Sylvester of Babbage as well. But it must be somebody, as these sorts of things in Punch do reference living people. I just don't know enough faces to have but half of these make sense.


May I translate this article in Italian and publish it on my blog (obviously with citation and link to the original)?

John F. Ptak

Dear Popinga--please do!

Kees Popinga

And if the "beadle" was Rev. Robert Harley? In 1865 he could not have even grown a beard, but facial features and hairstyle with fringe right can in my opinion justify this hypothesis.


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