William Rowan Hamilton: From Prodigy In Language To Prodigy In Mathematics

1 min read

You must have heard about the Cayley–Hamilton theorem and quaternions. What if someone tells you that the person behind these was prominent in classical and modern European languages, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Marathi, and Malay, before 13. Sir William Rowan Hamilton is the person behind these, a child prodigy of his time that faced many rejection and defeat but always came out better than before.

The beginning of the journey

A linguist, he was the first mathematician of his age.

Born as the fourth child to Sarah Hutton and Archibald Hamilton, his dad worked as a solicitor. Lived his early life with his uncle James Hamilton. Being a linguist, his uncle saw great potential in Hamilton about learning and acquiring new languages. At the age of 7, Sir William Rowan Hamilton was fluent in Hebrew (a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel). Furthermore, before 13, he had acquired classical and modern European languages, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Marathi, and Malay. At the age of 18, Dr. John Brinkley (Bishop of Cloyne) remarked to him as “This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.”

One of the most critical and turning points for Sir William Rowan Hamilton can be stated as the September 1813’s mental arithmetic contest against American calculating prodigy Zerah Colburn. After the defeat in that contest, Sir William Rowan Hamilton chose to dedicate less time to studying languages and more time to learning mathematics, which shaped the future of Sir William Rowan Hamilton as we know it today.

Education and Personal life

Hamilton was talented from a very early age, seeing that he became a part of the School of Mathematicians Associated with Trinity College at the age of 18. He was honored by two Optimes and off-the-charts Grades by the college. He completed his studies in both Classic and Mathematics. 

As an undergraduate, he received the post of Andrews Professor for Astronomy and Royal Astronomer in Ireland. In the sequence of 1831, when he was part of Trinity College, he proposed to his friend’s sister, but she rejected him, which caused him a lot of pain and depression because he was compassionate. Ad-mist, he also tried committed suicide. Two years later, he again proposed to a girl, where he faced rejection. Later in 1833, Sir William’s proposal was accepted by Maria Bailey, which led to their marriage.

Research and Achievement

A number of theorems and principles were named after him.

As his time with mathematics and physics increased, the number of things named after Sir William Rowan Hamilton also increased some being:

  • Cayley–Hamilton theorem
  • Hamilton’s equations
  • Hamilton’s principle
  • Hamiltonian operator
  • Hamilton–Jacobi–Bellman equation, related equation in control theory
  • Hamilton–Jacobi–Einstein equation
  • Hamiltonian path, in graph theory
  • Hamilton–Jacobi–Bellman equation and many more.
  • Hamiltonian cycle, a unique case of a Hamiltonian path
  • Hamiltonian lattice gauge theory
  • Hamilton–Jacobi equation                                     

Sir William Rowan Hamilton gave various contributions to current day physics, but he regarded himself as a pure mathematician.


Sir William Rowan Hamilton dedicated his last six years of life to finishing the Elements of Quaternions. On 2 September 1865, he passed away due to inflammatory arthritis.

Also read: Marie Eline: American Child Actress Of Silent Era

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