John Barrow

John Barrow (1735–1774)

Barrow was an English mathematician, naval historian and lexicographer.

Nothing is known of his family. He was initially a teacher of mathematics and navigation aboard ships of the Royal Navy. He retired before 1750 and devoted himself to writing and compiling dictionaries and other works related to his knowledge of mathematics and science.

Barrow’s best-known work was Navigatio Britannica (1750), a practical handbook of navigation and charts. It included an examination of nautical instruments and explained the recently introduced vernier scale.

In 1756, he published the New Geographical Dictionary anonymously in London. In the same year, he also published the first edition of his principal work, ‘A Chronological Abridgment or History of the Discoveries made by Europeans in the different parts of the world.’ In his introduction, Barrow shows a considerable knowledge of astronomical geography and the finding of latitude and longitude by the stars. This was an obvious tribute to his time as a teacher of navigation in the Royal Navy.

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