S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Kent, Prof Thomas Parkes (mathematics)

Born: 5 May 1871, Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies.
Died: 4 August 1923, Cape Town, South Africa.

Thomas Parkes Kent, mathematician and author, received his education at Kingswood School in Bath, England, and continued his studies at the University of London and at Christ Church, University of Oxford. He was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) by the University of Oxford in 1890, with first class honours in mathematics, and graduated as Master of Arts in 1895. Thereafter he held the position of assistant master, first at Fettes College in Edinburgh and then at Cranleigh School in Surrey.

Kent came to South Africa in 1902 to take up an appointment as professor of mathematics in the university department of the Diocesan College in Cape Town. That same year, on the basis of his masters degree from the University of Oxford, the University of the Cape of Good Hope admitted him as an MA graduate. In 1908 the mathematical departments of the Diocesan and South African Colleges were amalgamated, with the result that Kent served both institutions. When university courses were discontinued at the Diocesan College early in 1911 he became the full-time additional professor of mathematics at the South African College, where the senior professor was Lawrence Crawford*. Kent remained at the college, and from 1918 its successor, the University of Cape Town, until his death in 1923. He was a captivating lecturer and was known for his good humour, wit, and his capacity for hard work. However, he does not appear to have published any scientific papers.

Kent became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1903 and was still a member in 1918. By 1917 he was a member also of the Royal Society of South Africa.

In addition to mathematics Kent had a strong interest in the English poets and essayists and contributed many writings of his own to various local magazines and newspapers. A selection of his work was published after his death under the title Essays and improvisations (with some verse) (1924). Many years earlier he had also written a novel, The flick of fortune (1900), under the name Thomas Parkes. He was the editor of the Diocesan College Magazine from 1903 to 1910, was one of the seven persons who assisted Professor William Ritchie in writing The history of the South African College, 1829-1918 (Cape Town, 1918), and was a trustee of the South African Library. In 1906 he married Constance Lydia Beard, with whom he had three sons and a daughter.

List of sources:

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS), at http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Thomas Parkes Kent / Thomas Parks Kent / T.P. Kent / Prof Kent.

Phillips, H. The University of Cape Town, 1918-1948: The formative years. University of Cape Town, 1993.

Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1903, 1905/6, 1910, 1918: Lists of members.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1917, Vol. 6, list of members.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1903/4-1910/11, 1917/8.

Compiled by: C. Plug