John Collins's father died when John was 13 years of age and he had to earn a living from that time. His first job was as an apprentice bookseller in Oxford, a job which he did for around three years. In 1641 he became a clerk at Court and in this position began to learn mathematics.
His position as a clerk was a short one and in 1642 he became a seaman. For seven years he served, and during this time he continued to study mathematics while at sea. In 1649 he became a mathematics teacher in London, a post he held until 1660.
For 1660 onwards Collins worked at a number of jobs but most often as an accountant for various different organisations. From 1667 he worked as librarian for the Royal Society in London, in addition to his other jobs.
Collins' importance is, as Barrow said, being the English Mersenne . He corresponded with Barrow, David Gregory, James Gregory, Newton, Wallis, Borelli, Huygens, Leibniz, Tschirnhaus and Sluze.
Collins published books by Barrow and Wallis and left a collection of 2000 books and an uncounted number of manuscripts.
He did publish works of his own, however. For instance he published works on sundials, trigonometry for navigation and the use of the quadrant. He had a paper on cartography published and also wrote on accounting, compound interest and annuities. In 1664 he published Doctrine of Decimal Arithmetick.
A canal was proposed to join the river Isis (the name given to the upper part of the river Thames in Oxford) and the river Avon (which flows west). Collins went to Oxford in 1683 to survey the proposed route of the canal. On this trip, however, he became ill and although he returned to London, he never recovered from the illness.
References (5 books/articles)
References elsewhere in this archive:
Tell me more about Collins' correspondence
John Collins was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1667. You can see a history of the Royal Society and a list of the members among the mathematicians in our archive.
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Rice University, USA
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