The mathematician Henry Briggs was born at Daisy Bank, Sowerby Bridge.
He was educated at Warley Grammar School, and became highly proficient at Greek and Latin.
He went to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1577, obtaining a BA in 1581 and MA in 1585. In 1588, he was elected a fellow of St John's College. In 1592, he became Reader of the Physic Lecture, and also in 1592, he was appointed as an examiner and lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge. He was Professor of Geometry at the new Gresham College, London [15961620].
In 1609, he corresponded with his friend James Ussher – he who determined that the earth was formed in 4004 BC – who was professor at Trinity College, Dublin, and later Archbishop of Armagh. At this time, Briggs was interested in astronomy, in particular he was studying eclipses, a topic which involved considerable calculation. Briggs had been influenced when, in 1614, he read Napier's work on logarithms, and realised the help which logarithms offered to anyone working on astronomical calculations. Briggs had already published tables before he encountered Napier's work: in 1602, he had published A Table to find the Height of the Pole, and in 1610 he had published Tables for the Improvement of Navigation. Briggs suggested to Napier that logarithms should be to base 10, and in the summer of 1615, Briggs travelled from London to Edinburgh to see Napier. He spent a month with Napier, and made a second journey to visit Napier again in 1616, and would have made yet a third visit the following year but Napier died in the spring before the planned summer visit.
Briggs published an article entitled A Description of an Instrument Table to find the Part Proportional, with two further editions in 1616 and 1618.
In 1617, he published – as Logarithmorum Chilias Primas – his first tables of logarithms of numbers up to 1000. In his Arithmetica Logarithmica, published in 1624, he extended this, giving the logarithms of the natural numbers from 1 to 20,000 and 90,000 to 100,000 to 14 decimal places, and tables of natural sine functions to 15 decimal places, and the tangent and secant functions to 10 decimal places. The completed tables were printed at Gouda, in the Netherlands, in 1628 in an edition by Vlacq in which Vlacq added the logarithms of the natural numbers from 20,000 to 90,000. The tables were published in London in 1633, after Briggs's death, under the title of Trigonometria Britannica.
A friend of Sir Henry Savile, he took the post of Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford [1619]. On this appointment, he published an edition of the first six books of Euclid's Elements in 1620.
He was a member of a company trading with Virginia. In 1622, he published – as HB – A Treatise of the Northwest Passage to the South Sea, Through the Continent of Virginia and by Fretum [Hudson's] Bay.
In 1625, he produced a map of North America. His was the first English map to show California as an island. Until then, maps had depicted California as a peninsula off the western continent. This cartographic misconception persisted for almost 150 years and was only corrected by a royal decree from King Ferdinand VI of Spain in 1747 that California is not an island.
He died at Merton College, Oxford.
His brother, Richard Briggs, became headmaster of a school in Norfolk, and was a friend of the writer Ben Jonson.
There is a lunar crater – Briggs – named in his honour.
His work include:
This & associated entries use material contributed by Tanya
Page Ref: X1911


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