William Hopkins was an English mathematician and a geologist who proposed that the Earth’s interior is solid and not a liquid and used mathematical models to explain a number of geological phenomena.
His early life
William Hopkins was born in February 2, 1793 at Kingston-on-soar in Derbyshire, UK. He was the only son born to William Hopkins, a gentleman farmer. This meant he didn’t so much work the land with his own hands but rather he owned the farms and made money from them.
During his early adult years, William was in Norfolk where he learned the more practical agricultural basics. His father then rented a modest-sized farm for him in Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds. William wasn’t very successful at farming so when his first wife died around the year 1821, he used this tragedy to clear the losses he had incurred, sold the farm and enrolled in Peterhouse, the oldest of the Colleges of the University of Cambridge in 1822.
At the University of Cambridge he studied mathematics and graduated with a degree in 1827 as seventh wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos (First Class Honors, coming in seventh place). Continuing to study, he obtained his Master’s Degree in 1930.
Before graduating, Hopkins married Caroline Frances Boys and this made him ineligible for a fellowship from the school. In order for him to make money he became a private tutor to budding mathematicians who were after prestigious Wrangler titles.
Hopkins became a successful private tutor in mathematics and earned a comfortable living and the nickname “wrangler-maker”. In 1833, Hopkins published his Elements of Trigonometry and was recognized for his prowess as a mathematician.
In 1833, Hopkins was introduced to Adam Sedgwick, a Cambridge professor of geology who sparked his interest in geology and he joined in several expeditions with Sedgwick to Barmouth in north Wales. With growing interested in the origin of rock formations, Hopkins had a desire to put geology on a more mathematical footing.
He began to publish papers in the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Geological Society of London where he discussed physical geology as a discipline. He made mathematical studies on the effects of an “elevatory force”, which he stated was the cause of the localized faults and fissures in the Earth.
Hopkins proposed that the center of the Earth was mainly solid with some cavities. Hot vapors or fluids would enter these cavities and which would then exert “elevatory pressure” in some local regions, so explaining the fissures and faults appearing in parts of the Earth’s surface.
He gave examples of his theory, talking about the denudation and elevation of the Waldean area, the Lake District and Bas Boulonnais.
Hopkins’ model of the Earth was in contrast with scientific theories of his peer, Charles Lyell, who believed that the Earth was in a “steady state”. Charles Lyell believed that the Earth and a solid crust of around 100 miles in thickness, but was liquid at the center.
In fact it was not until 1936 that Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann deduced from earthquakes that Earth has a solid inner core and a molten outer core.
For his part, William Hopkins submitted papers to the Royal Society between the years 1838 and 1842 discussing that the rotation of the Earth (its nutation and precession) were consistent with a solid, but inconsistent with a liquid, interior.
With the help of James Prescott Joule, William Fairbairn and a grant from the Royal Society, he carried out a number of experiments to determine the effects of huge pressures on the melting point of substances and used the results to support this theory of a solid earth.
Hopkins also argued that ice ages were not caused by the cooling of the earth but by conditions on the surface of the earth.
Highly thought of, Hopkins was awarded the Wollaston medal of the Geological Society in 1850 for his geological investigations and mathematical models. He was elected president of the Geological Society in 1851 and 1852.
Hopkins made studies on the movement of glaciers but in doing so, he crossed Scottish physicist and glaciologist J.D. Forbes.
Forbes believed the subject of glaciers was his specialty and believed Hopkins was inexperienced in this field.
He married for a second time, Caroline Frances Boys and they had a son and three daughters- one of who was Ellice Hopkins, the morality campaigner. Hopkins was a smart man who enjoyed landscape painting, music, and poetry. His final years were unfortunately spent inside a lunatic asylum where he died of exhaustion and chronic mania on 13 October 1866, aged 73. Indeed, it was rather a sad end to such an illustrious life.