Francis Guthrie

Botanist, Deceased Person

1831 – 1899


Who was Francis Guthrie?

Francis Guthrie was a South African mathematician and botanist who first posed the Four Colour Problem in 1852. At the time, Guthrie was a student of Augustus De Morgan at University College London. He studied under John Lindley, Professor of Botany at the University of London. Guthrie obtained his B.A. in 1850, and LL.B. in 1852 with first class honors. While coloring a map of the counties of England, he noticed that at least four colors were required so that no two regions sharing a common border were the same color. He postulated that four colors would be sufficient to color any map. This became known as the Four Color Problem, and remained one of the most famous unsolved problems in topology for more than a century, until it was eventually proven in 1976 using a controversial computer-aided proof which was lengthy and inelegant.

Guthrie arrived in South Africa on 10 April 1861 and was met and entertained by Dr. Dale, who was instrumental in the establishing of the University of the Cape of Good Hope in June 1873. Guthrie took up the post of mathematics master at the Graaff-Reinet College. While there he gave a course of acclaimed public lectures on botany in 1862 and thus started a lifelong friendship with local resident Harry Bolus. He advised Bolus to take up the study of botany to ease his grief at the loss of his six year old son. When Bolus left for Cape Town a few years later, he persuaded Guthrie to move there as well in 1875. For a while he practised at the Bar and edited a newspaper before becoming professor of mathematics at the South African College, which later became the University of Cape Town. He remained there from 1876 until he retired in 1898, staying on his farm at Raapenberg.

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Jan 22, 1831
  • University College London
Oct 19, 1899

on July 23, 2013


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