People: Ruben Burrow

Name Burrow, Ruben
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
25 Mar 1771– 29 Sep 1773

Posts Assistant

Born 1747, Dec 30


Died 1792, Jun 7


Born in Yorkshire in what is now the outskirts of Leeds, Ruben Burrow, a farmer’s son, had an intermittent education. From around the age of 15, he attended the Leeds mathematical school of John Crookes. In July 1765, he walked to London to work as a clerk for a timber merchant. The following year, he became an usher at Benjamin Webb’s school in Bunhill Row, leaving the following year to set up his own school in Portsmouth.

In March 1771, he became Maskelyne’s assistant, replacing William Bayly whose background had been similar and who in 1772, accompanied Wales as an astronomer on Cook’s second voyage of discovery. In 1772, Burrow married Anne Purvis, the daughter of a poulterer. In the same year, he opened an academy in order to increase his income. This was located in Park Row at the bottom of Greenwich Park. Quite what the arrangement was with Maskelyne is unclear, as he remained in post as his assistant until September 1773. Because the assistant’s accommodation (in what is now the Meridian Building) was not extensive and also lacked a kitchen, it seems likely that Burrow and his wife may have moved out into Park Row. On his resignation, Burrow was replaced by John Hellins.

In January 1774, Burrow agreed to accompany Maskelyne to Scotland in his attempt to weigh the earth by measuring the gravitational attraction of the mountain Schiehallion on a plumbline. He then became mathematical master of the drawing-room in the Tower (of London). Following a foray into publishing, he resigned his post at the Tower in 1782 in order to take up an appointment in India, going on to become chief surveyor of the East India Company. He is remembered as a mathematician and orientalist.


Further Reading

Burrow, Reuben (DNB00) Leslie Stephen, (from Wikisource)

Burrow, Reuben (1747–1792). Leslie Stephen, rev. Ruth Wallis, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004