Charles Watkins Merrifield

A hand written letterCharles Watkins Merrifield (1827 – 1884), mathematician, was born on 20th October 1827 at Nelson Square, Southwark, London.  After a good general education he became an examiner in the education department at Whitehall in 1847 and was called to the bar in January 1851, although he did not practise.
On 12th October 1858 he married Elizabeth Ellen who died 11 years later in 1869 at their home in South Kensington.

Merrifield devoted his leisure time to mathematics and naval architecture, amassing an extensive knowledge of applied mathematics and hydraulics.  He was elected a member of the London Mathematical Society becoming vice-president, president and treasurer until his resignation due to ill health in December 1882.

On the establishment, in 1867, of the Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at South Kensington Merrifield accepted the office of vice-principal succeeding shortly afterwards to the post of principal.  He held this office until 1873 when, on the transference of the school to Greenwich, he returned to the education office.  From 1864 to 1875 Merrifield was a member and secretary of the Institution of Naval Architects from which he received a handsome testimonial on his retirement.
He was also a member of the Association for the Improvement of Geometrical Teaching and he sat on many committees of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  He served on various commissions and frequently acted as assessor in the Wreck Commissioner’s Court.

Merrifield was a frequent contributor to mathematical journals.  His particular skill lay in mathematical arithmetic, methods of interpolation and tabular work in general.  He produced extended mathematical tables to reduce the amount of manual calculation required for particular mathematical appliances.  Thus it was largely to Merrifield that the transition from ‘rule of thumb’ to exact science in naval architecture was attributed by his mathematical peers.

In addition to his scientific attainments Merrifield was well versed in Latin and Greek and was also able to speak French and Italian fluently.

Merrifield died at his home in Hove, Sussex on 1st January 1884 aged 56.