Famous People from The South Hams

    Charles Babbage

    Charles Babbage was born in London the 26th December 1791.  The son of Benjamin and Betsy Plumleigh Babbge, a wealthy Totnes family.
    His parents were from Totnes, but had moved to London where his father was a banker. He was a banking partner of the Praeds, who owned Bitton Estate in Teignmouth. 
    Charles attended a junior school in Alphington and King Edward VI grammer school in Totnes.  He completed his education at Cambridge University.

    As a boy Charles read tales of witchcraft and was said to have recited the Lord`s Prayer backwards in a vain attempt to summon up the devil.
    His ambition was to become a vicar. Science and mathematics were considered to be a gentleman`s hobby, and not a suitable career.
    Charles married Georgiana Whitmore at St Michaels Church in Teignmouth.  She gave birth to eight children and died at the age of 35.
    He died on the 18th October 1871.

    During his career Babbage made many notable inventions.
    He pioneered stage lighting, lighthouses, speedometers, the ophthalmoscope (used for eye examination)support, the heliograph (used in coded messages, with a mirror deflecting the sun`s rays) and the `cowcatcher` (a device first fitted to the front of American trains to clear obstacles from the track)
    Less successful of his ideas was an attempt to develop paddles to enable people to walk on water. Babbage almost drowned when he tried to cross the River Dart with the contraption strapped to his feet.
    His greatest disappointment was his failure to fully develop a calculating engine capable of carrying out complicated taks.  Drawings and descriptions of his mechnical machines show that they were similar in concept to modern day computers. 

    In 1991 a working model of his Difference Engine was built and displayed at the Science Museum in London to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.  By this time the world now fully appreciated the contribution that Charles Babbage had made to science.He is now recognised as `The Father of the Computer.
    Charles Babbage pioneered the computer when he became interested in mathematical tables used in astronomey, navigation, surveying and life insurance.
    Miscalculations and printing errors could result in serious consequences (many shipwrecks were said to be due to inaccurate navigational tables). Babbage won government support for the developement of his Difference Engine, designed to calculate and print accurate mathematical tables.
    The venture was not completed as funding was withdrawn when Babbage`s search for perfection resulted in soaring costs as he constantly changed the specification to improve the machine`s performance.

    The Analytical Engine was his next project, conceived with the help of his research assistant Lady Lovelace. Her idea was to produce a machine controlled by a system of punched cards to automatically give the machine instructions. This would have made the world`s first computer programmer. A primitive system of punched cards was already in use to control weaving looms which could produce a variety of patterns on textiles, but few people saw the need for developing this technology and without financial backing the Analytical Engine was never built.
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