Horace Lamb

Sir Horace Lamb

Sir Horace Lamb
Born (1849-11-27)27 November 1849
Stockport, Cheshire, England
Died 4 December 1934(1934-12-04) (aged 85)
Cambridge, England
Nationality British
Fields Applied mathematics
Institutions Trinity College, Cambridge
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Academic advisors James Clerk Maxwell[1]
George Gabriel Stokes[2]
Known for Hydrodynamics
Notable awards Smith's Prize (1872)
Royal Medal (1902)
De Morgan Medal (1911)
Copley Medal (1923)

Sir Horace Lamb FRS[3] (/læm/; 27 November 1849 – 4 December 1934)[4] was an English applied mathematician and author of several influential texts on classical physics, among them Hydrodynamics (1895) and Dynamical Theory of Sound (1910).[5] Both of these books are still in print.


Early years

Lamb was born at Stockport, Cheshire, the son of John Lamb and his wife Elizabeth, née Rangeley.[4] His father John Lamb, was a foreman in a cotton mill, who had gained some distinction by an invention for the improvement of spinning machines. John Lamb died when his son was quite young. His widow married again and shortly afterwards Horace went to live with his mother's sister, Mrs Holland. He studied at Stockport Grammar School where he found a wise and kindly head master, the Rev. Charles Hamilton. To his insight and influence Lamb felt that he owed his start in life. Mr. Hamilton was an excellent teacher, both of classics and elementary mathematics, and from him we are told his pupil acquired a passing enthusiasm for Greek and Latin poets.

In 1867, when only seventeen, he gained a classical scholarship at Queens' College, Cambridge. He was very young and was advised to decline this and work for a year at the Owens College, Manchester.

Professor Barker, Professor of Mathematics, had been Senior Wrangler in 1862, and was a former Fellow of Trinity. Lamb had seen Trinity College, Cambridge when up for the Queens' scholarship examination and determined, if possible to become a member where he was Second Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos, 2nd Smith's Prizeman and elected fellow in 1872.[6] His professors included James Clerk Maxwell and George Gabriel Stokes.

For recreation he took long walks in the country about Cambridge, with an occasional visit to Switzerland. He read much in French, German, and Italian, and in his later years was fond of travel in Italy. At Trinity he gave lectures on elementary mathematics for the various pass examinations and the first part of the Mathematical Tripos ; his more advanced courses dealt with rigid dynamics, hydrodynamics, and sound.

Lamb had become engaged to Miss Elizabeth Foot, of Dublin, the sister-in-law of his former head master, Mr Hamilton. His marriage took place in 1875 and after the long voyage round the Cape, Professor and Mrs. Lamb reached Adelaide. At first they stayed with Mr. and Mrs Poole, but in June, 1876, moved into a house just beyond the green belt already planned as an open space surrounding the town. Here they lived until 1885, somewhat isolated from scientific interests; his chief friends are said to have been Nanson, Professor of Mathematics at Melbourne, Second Wrangler in 1873 and a former Fellow of Trinity; Sir James Way, Chief Justice of South Australia and Vice-Chancellor; and Professor E.C. Stirling.


In 1875 Lamb was appointed the first (Sir Thomas) Elder Professor of Mathematics at the newly founded University of Adelaide. For the next 10 years the average number of students doing the arts course at Adelaide was fewer than 12; though Lamb also did some popular lecturing, his workload was relatively light. In 1878 appeared his able and original A Treatise on the Mathematical Theory of the Motions of Fluids.

In 1883 Lamb published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society[7] applying Maxwell's equations to the problem of oscillatory current flow in spherical conductors, an early examination of what was later to be known as the skin effect.

Lamb was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at the Victoria University of Manchester in 1885 and which became the Beyer Chair in 1888, a position Lamb held until retirement in 1920. His Hydrodynamics appeared in 1895 (6th ed. 1933), and other works included An Elementary Course of Infinitesimal Calculus (1897, 3rd ed. 1919), Propagation of Tremors over the Surface of an Elastic Solid (1904), The Dynamical Theory of Sound (1910, 2nd ed. 1925), Statics (1912, 3rd ed. 1928), Dynamics (1914), Higher Mechanics (1920) and The Evolution of Mathematical Physics (1924).

In 1932 Lamb, in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, wittily expressed on the difficulty of explaining and studying turbulence in fluids. He reportedly said, "I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic."[8][9]

Lamb is also known for description of special waves in thin solid layers. Now these waves are called Lamb waves.

In 1875, Lamb married Elizabeth Foot (24 May 1845 9 March 1930) of Dublin. Lamb was survived by three sons and four daughters. The sons (who included the painter Henry Lamb) were born at Adelaide, South Australia, and all became distinguished.

He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge, with his wife.

Honours and awards

Lamb was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1884, was twice vice-president, received its Royal Medal in 1902 and, its highest honour, the Copley Medal in 1924. He was president of the London Mathematical Society 1902–1904, president of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, and president[10] of the British Association in 1925. He was knighted in 1931. A room in the Alan Turing Building at the University of Manchester is named in his honour and in 2013 the Sir Horace Lamb Chair was created at Manchester.

See also


  1. Andrew Warwick, Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics, University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 325.
  2. Horace Lamb at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. Love, A. E. H.; Glazebrook, R. T. (1935). "Sir Horace Lamb. 1849-1934". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 1 (4): 374. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1935.0003.
  4. 1 2 R. B. Potts, 'Lamb, Sir Horace (1849 - 1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, MUP, 1974, pp 54-55. Retrieved 5 Sep 2009
  5. O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Horace Lamb", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
  6. "Lamb, Horace (LM867H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  7. Lamb, H. (1883). "On Electrical Motions in a Spherical Conductor". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 174: 519–526. doi:10.1098/rstl.1883.0013.
  8. Goldstein, Sydney (1969). "Fluid Mechanics in the First Half of This Century". Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics. 1 (1): 1–29. Bibcode:1969AnRFM...1....1G. doi:10.1146/annurev.fl.01.010169.000245.
  9. "Tackling Turbulence with Supercomputers". Retrieved 2008-06-30.
  10. Presidential Address to the British Association Meeting, held in Southampton in 1925

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Arthur Schuster
Beyer Chair of Applied Mathematics at University of Manchester
1888 1920
Succeeded by
Sydney Chapman
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