Jedediah Buxton (1707–1772) was a noted English mental calculator, born at Elmton, near Creswell, in Derbyshire. Mental Calculator is a term to describe a person with a prodigious ability in some area of mental calculation such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing large numbers. He was a mathematical child prodigy.
Buxton was born in 1707. Despite being the son of the schoolmaster of Elmton, and grandson of the vicar, he was so uneducated that he could not write. His knowledge, except numbers, was minimal. He did not remember how he came first to know the relative proportions of numbers and their progressive denominations. Still, on such matters, his attention constantly riveted that he frequently took no cognizance of external objects, and when he did, it only concerned their numbers.
He measured the whole lordship of Elmton, consisting of some thousand acres (4 km²), simply by striding over it and gave the area not only in acres, roods, and perches but even in square inches. After this, he reduced them into square hairs’-breadths, reckoning forty-eight to each side of the inch. His memory was so great that in resolving a question, he could leave off and resume the operation again at the same point after the lapse of a week, or even of several months. His perpetual application to figures prevented the most minor acquisition of any other knowledge. Among the many examples of Buxton’s arithmetical feats, specified in these letters, his calculation of the product of a farthing doubled 139 times. The result, expressed in pounds, extends to thirty-nine figures and is correct so far as it can be readily verified by the use of logarithms.
Buxton afterward multiplied this enormous number by itself. It appears that he had invented an original nomenclature for large numbers, a ‘ tribe ‘ being the cube of a million, and a ‘ cramp ‘.
JOURNEY TO LONDON
In 1754 by the Royal Society tested his mental acuity when he walked to London. They acknowledged their satisfaction by presenting him with a handsome gratuity. During his visit to the metropolis, he went to see the tragedy of Richard III, performed at Drury Lane theatre. He was mentally counting the words uttered by David Garrick. Similarly, he set himself to trust the dancers’ steps; and he declared that the innumerable sounds produced by the musical instruments had perplexed him beyond measure.
A memoir appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine for June 1754, to which, probably through the medium of a Mr. Holliday, of Haughton Hall, Nottinghamshire, Buxton had contributed several letters. In this memoir, his age is forty-nine, which points to his birth in 1705.
His image is available online in the New York Library. A portrait by Miss Maria Hartley in 1764 hangs in Elmton Church.
A blue plaque was erected in Jedediah’s honor in Elmton in 2011 after a public poll.