Obituary: Charles Burkill

John Charles Burkill, mathematician: born 1 February 1900; Professor of Pure Mathematics, Liverpool University 1924- 29; Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge 1929-67, Master 1968-73; FRS 1953; married 1928 Margareta Braun (died 1984; one son, and two daughters deceased); died Cambridge 6 April 1993.

WHEN Charles Burkill gave up his Professorship of Mathematics at Liverpool in 1929, he returned to a Cambridge accurately pictured by CP Snow, and now almost totally vanished, writes Professor Jacques Heyman.

His college offices at Peterhouse, and above all his tutorship, gave him a security and social standing equal to or greater than that of a university professor; indeed to be a don was to have a college fellowship, rather than the university lectureship (an office only recently established) that he also held. Certainly, Burkill's devotion was to his subject (to which he contributed significantly, leading to his election to the Royal Society) and to his college; his wife Greta's concern was with the university.

Burkill brought to the tutorship an uncompromising austerity, coupled with kindness and a deep understanding of people. In his 20-year tenure of the office he maintained rigorously the intellectual standards of the college, and he guided its intellectual life through the dark days of the Second World War. The governing body was effectively reduced to four Fellows at that time: Roy Lubbock, an engineer, as Senior Bursar, looking after its material needs; Brian Wormald, a historian, as Dean, seeing to the spirit; and Herbert Butterfield, a professor of history, later to be Master of the college immediately before Burkill. Between them these four ensured that the college survived, and affirmed its pre-eminence in history, engineering, natural science and mathematics; in the 1940s there were five professors of history who were fellows of the college - now there are three professors of engineering.

In 1968 Burkill was too old according to the statutes of Peterhouse to be elected Master; the college, perhaps improperly but certainly unanimously, altered the statutes to secure his election.

He led the college with the same qualities he had shown as Tutor, with a rejection of unnecessary comment that bordered sometimes on total silence. As a single instance, Greta had for a long time objected to colleges' charging fees to graduate students for which they gave little in return; with Burkill's help, the then Senior Bursar abolished graduate fees in Peterhouse. A year later Greta still had not been told of this - Burkill was waiting for a suitable occasion.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home