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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gurney, Theodore Thomas (1849–1918)

by I. S. Turner

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Theodore Thomas Gurney (1849-1918), mathematician, was born on 10 October 1849 at Aldersgate, London, son of Thomas William Henry Gurney and his second wife Theophila, née Hope. His grandfather, William Gurney, was rector of St Clement Danes, and his father was a scholar at St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1837; M.A., 1851), a master at Christ's Hospital in 1837-62 and vicar of Clavering with Langley, Essex, in 1862-74. Theodore was educated at home by his father and private tutors, and in 1869 entered St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1873; M.A., 1876). Successful in mathematics, he won a college scholarship and a university Bell scholarship in 1871, graduated 3rd wrangler in mathematics in 1873 and was elected a fellow at St John's in November 1874. In 1877 on the recommendation of (Sir) G. G. Stokes, Lucasian professor of mathematics, Cambridge, and Sir Charles Nicholson he was chosen from a large number of applicants to succeed Morris Pell as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in the University of Sydney.

At the University of Sydney Gurney developed new courses, organized the laboratories and won repute as a fine teacher. In 1884 he visited Europe and bought additional apparatus for the department of natural philosophy. In the University Senate he was an elected member in 1894-96 and ex officio as dean of the faculty of arts in 1894-96. In 1877 he had become a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. At St James's Church, Sydney, on 10 March 1879 he married Johanna Cornelia (b.1846), widow of Captain F. W. Wragg of Chesterton Hall, Cambridge, and daughter of J. C. Pelgrim of Leerdam, Holland.

Together the Gurneys contributed greatly to the general activities of the developing university, notably in helping to promote the Musical Society and the establishment of the Women's College of which Mrs Gurney was a member of the council in 1892-93. However, Gurney failed to fulfil the undoubted promise of his achievements at Cambridge and in 1902 a committee, appointed to seek his successor, wrote to the eminent Cambridge mathematician, (Sir) Joseph Larmor: 'There is very considerable activity in all other branches of science here, but research in mathematical matters is absolutely non-existent. The present professor, Gurney of your College, has held the chair for 25 years. Mentally equipped with every gift except ambition he has as you know never published a line'. Gurney retired from the University of Sydney and returned with his wife to England. They identified themselves closely with the Parish Church of St Andrew, Chesterton, where they are both commemorated by a marble tablet. Gurney died on 4 September 1918, and his wife on 7 September 1922, both at Chesterton Hall. Gurney Crescent in Seaforth, Sydney, and Gurney Way, Cambridge, were named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Sydney, Reports, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1877-78, 2, 418, 1885-86, 4, 351
  • Archives section (Westminster Public Library, London)
  • St John's College Archives (Cambridge).

Citation details

I. S. Turner, 'Gurney, Theodore Thomas (1849–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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