Wishart Correspondence

Scope and Content

John Wishart's correspondence with Karl Pearson and other staff at the Galton Laboratory, 1927-1930:

Letters from Pearson to Wishart (with replies), while at University of Cambridge, 1927-1930

Letters from Professor G N Watson to Wishart, 1928.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Wishart's family moved from Montrose to Perth in Scotland when John was two years old. He attended Perth Academy and then, in 1916, entered the University of Edinburgh. There he was taught mathematics by E T Whittaker.

Wishart spent two years from 1917 to 1919 in the Black Watch regiment and served in France in 1918. He completed his university course in 1922, graduating with a First Class degree in mathematics and physics. He had taken a teacher training course at Moray House as part of his degree and, after graduating, he moved to Leeds accepting a post as mathematics teacher at West Leeds High School.

In 1924, after a recommendation from Whittaker, Wishart was offered a post in University College, London, as assistant to Pearson. Pearson had published his 'Tables of the Incomplete Gamma Function' in 1922 and now he was looking for computational help in his next 'tables' project 'Tables of the Incomplete Beta Function'.

Wishart attended Pearson's lectures and learnt how to go about statistical research. After a few months as a Mathematical Demonstrator at Imperial College, Wishart accepted an offer from R A Fisher to be his statistical assistant at Rothamsted.

A Readership in Statistics was created at Cambridge in the Faculty of Agriculture to teach courses in that Faculty and courses in Mathematics. A separate lectureship in Economic Statistics was also created. Wishart was appointed to the Readership in the Faculty of Agriculture. A laboratory was set up by Wishart at Cambridge for his postgraduate students.

Wishart worked in army Intelligence from 1940 to 1942 and then on statistical work for the Admiralty from 1942 to 1946. At Cambridge more statisticians were taken on within Mathematics and a Statistical Laboratory was set up within the Mathematics Faculty in 1949. Wishart became Head of the Statistical Laboratory in 1953.

Wishart was also much involved with the work of the Royal Statistical Society. He was one of the Fellows who formed the organising committee of the Agriculture research section in 1933. In 1945 he became chairman of the Royal Statistical Society's Research Section. He also sat on two committees of the Royal Statistical Society on the Teaching of Statistics: the reports of these committees appearing in the 'Journal of the Royal Statistical Society' in 1948 and 1955.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Dr Henry Bennett, University of Adelaide, Australia, via Professor Sir David Cox, Department of Mathematics, Imperial College, 29 Sep 1986.

Other Finding Aids

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