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Francis Guthrie

Francis Guthrie

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Francis Guthrie was a South African mathematician and botanist who first posed the Four Colour Problem in 1852. At the time, Guthrie was a student of Augustus De Morgan
Augustus De Morgan
Augustus De Morgan was a British mathematician and logician. He formulated De Morgan's laws and introduced the term mathematical induction, making its idea rigorous. The crater De Morgan on the Moon is named after him....

 at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

. He studied under John Lindley
John Lindley
John Lindley FRS was an English botanist, gardener and orchidologist.-Early years:Born in Catton, near Norwich, England, John Lindley was one of four children of George and Mary Lindley. George Lindley was a nurseryman and pomologist and ran a commercial nursery garden...

, Professor of Botany at the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

. Guthrie obtained his B.A. in 1850, and LL.B. in 1852 with first class honors. While coloring a map of the counties of England, he noticed that at least four colors were required so that no two regions sharing a common border were the same color. He postulated that four colors would be sufficient to color any map. This became known as the Four Color Problem, and remained one of the most famous unsolved problems in topology
Topology
Topology is a major area of mathematics concerned with properties that are preserved under continuous deformations of objects, such as deformations that involve stretching, but no tearing or gluing...

 for more than a century, until it was eventually proven in 1976 using a controversial computer-aided proof which was lengthy and inelegant.

Guthrie arrived in South Africa on 10 April 1861 and was met and entertained by Dr. Dale (later Sir Langham Dale), who was instrumental in the establishing of the University of the Cape of Good Hope
University of the Cape of Good Hope
The University of the Cape of Good Hope, renamed the University of South Africa in 1916, was created by Act 16 of 1873 of the Cape of Good Hope Parliament. Modelled on the University of London, it offered examinations but not tuition, and had the power to confer degrees upon successful examination...

 in June 1873. Guthrie took up the post of mathematics master at the Graaff-Reinet College. While there he gave a course of acclaimed public lectures on botany in 1862 and thus started a lifelong friendship with local resident Harry Bolus
Harry Bolus
Harry Bolus was a South African botanist, botanical artist, businessman and philanthropist. He advanced botany in South Africa by establishing bursaries, founding the and bequeathing his library and a large part of his fortune to the South African College...

. He advised Bolus to take up the study of botany to ease his grief at the loss of his six year old son. When Bolus left for Cape Town a few years later, he persuaded Guthrie to move there as well in 1875. For a while he practised at the Bar and edited a newspaper before becoming professor of mathematics at the South African College, which later became the University of Cape Town
University of Cape Town
The University of Cape Town is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College, and is the oldest university in South Africa and the second oldest extant university in Africa.-History:The roots of...

. He remained there from 1876 until he retired in 1898, staying on his farm at Raapenberg.

When Bolus undertook to do the family of Ericaceae
Ericaceae
The Ericaceae, commonly known as the heath or heather family, is a group of mostly calcifuge flowering plants. The family is large, with roughly 4000 species spread across 126 genera, making it the 14th most speciose family of flowering plants...

 for Flora Capensis, he enlisted Guthrie's aid and they collaborated until Guthrie's death. Before his death, Guthrie had made an extensive collection of the Cape Peninsula
Cape Peninsula
The Cape Peninsula is a generally rocky peninsula that juts out for 75 km into the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western extremity of the African continent. At the southern end of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope...

 flora, which was eventually housed as the Guthrie Herbarium in the University of Cape Town Botany Department, and used for teaching and reference. Though Guthrie did not live to see the published work, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the greater part of the work on Erica had been completed. He is buried in the old cemetery attached to St. Thomas's Church in Rondebosch
Rondebosch
Rondebosch is one of the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. It is primarily a residential suburb, with a medium-size shopping area, a small business district as well as the main campus of the University of Cape Town.-History:...

.

He was described as being warm-hearted, good-humoured, patient, and unpretentious. The scope of his interests was diverse, and ranged from a lecture titled, “The Heat of the Sun in South Africa”, in which he pointed out that it must be possible to transform solar energy into mechanical power, to aeronautics, where he was involved in the development of the first aircraft. Although dubbed the inventor of the first flying machine, no documentation of his work exists.

Some fynbos
Fynbos
Fynbos is the natural shrubland or heathland vegetation occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape of South Africa, mainly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas with a Mediterranean climate...

 species from the Bredasdorp area were named after him: Gladiolous guthriei, Erica guthriei and Homoglossum guthriei, as well as the genus Guthriea Bolus. Cyrtanthus guthrieae was named after his daughter Louisa Guthrie, who was also a botanist. The new genus Guthriea was collected by Harry Bolus from Oudeberg in the Graaff-Reinet district, and also recorded from the Wittebergen in the Barkly East
Barkly East
Barkly East is a town in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, seat of the Ukhahlamba District Municipality, and 80 miles by rail E.S.E. of Aliwal North, lying in the mountainous area just south of Lesotho. The town lies at the southern tip of the Drakensberg on the Langkloofspruit, a tributary of...

 district and Mont-aux-Sources in Natal
Colony of Natal
The Colony of Natal was a British colony in south-eastern Africa. It was proclaimed a British colony on May 4, 1843 after the British government had annexed the Boer Republic of Natalia, and on 31 May 1910 combined with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa, as one of its...

. To date no other species in this genus has been found.

Guthrie was an early member of the South African Philosophical Society (later the Royal Society of South Africa), an active member of the Meteorological Commission and an Examiner of the Cape University.

External links

  • http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/The_four_colour_theorem.html