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Charles Babbage collection

Identifier: CBI 54

Scope and Content Note

CBI's Charles Babbage Collection consists mainly of photocopies of papers located at the Wanganui Museum in New Zealand, as well as addresses consisting of pages torn from volumes.

The manuscript of Passages from the Life of a Philosopherwas written on some hundreds of large sheets, folded once to form four pages. Some were folded, sealed, addressed, stamped and posted (without envelope) to the printers W. Clowes & Sons; these postmarks give dates in 1862 and 1863. The handwriting is legible, but the text is extensively crossed and altered, and many sheets contain amendments or additions for parts already set in type. The photocopies have been reduced slightly to fit on legal sized paper, and the donor has ordered them as closely as possible to correspond with the published version, penciling corresponding page numbers on the blank sides. Scholars may find Babbage's earlier drafts of his diatribes against British government interesting, especially in light of his use of the full names of officials, which were more prudently given as initials in the published work. More notes by Garry Tee on the scope of the manuscript can be found with the preface. These are photocopied pages of the original manuscript of Babbage's book (1864. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green), which were found by Garry J. Tee at the Wanganui Museum, New Zealand. The manuscript was apparently donated to the museum after the death of Babbage's grandson, Charles Whitmore Babbage, in Wanganui.

Materials related to Henry Prevost Babbage were located, with the manuscript of Passages, by Garry J. Tee at the Wanganui Museum, and are also photocopies. Of special interest are an advertisement from The Times (March 3, 1835) advertising Difference Engines for sale at 40 pounds each, maps and notes of places named for Babbage, and Henry Prevost Babbage's correspondence and addresses on his father's invention of occulting lights for lighthouses and for signaling.

Also included in the collection are Charles Babbage Stamps from the Royal Mail Mint, including uncancelled stamps and first day of issue cancellations and commemorative collectors booklet on the Scientific Achievements series of which the Babbage stamp was a part.


  • 1815-1981
  • Majority of material found within ( 1815-1863)


Language of Materials


Access to materials:

Access to the collection is unrestricted.


The Charles Babbage Institute holds the copyright to all materials in the collection, except for items covered by a prior copyright (such as published materials). Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Biographical Note

Charles Babbage is often called the "father of computing", though there is no evidence that modern electronic computers are direct descendants of his work. He acquired this title mainly because his Difference Engine (1821), which printed tables of polynomials, and his Analytical Engine (1856), which was intended as a general symbol manipulator, were inventions far more complex than the work of any of his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, little remains of Babbage’s prototype computing machines. One reason is that critical tolerances required by Babbage’s machines exceeded the level of technology available at the time. Also, though formal recognition of his work was tendered by respected institutions such as the Astronomical Society of London, the British government suspended funding for his Difference Engine in 1832, and after an agonizing waiting period, finally killed the project in 1842. Thus, there remain only fragments of Babbage’s prototype Difference Engine, and though he devoted most of his time and large fortune towards construction of his Analytical Engine after 1856, he never succeeded in completing any of his several designs for it. George Scheutz, a Swedish printer, successfully constructed a machine based on the designs for Babbage’s Difference Engine in 1854. This machine printed mathematical, astronomical and actuarial tables with unprecedented accuracy, and was used by the British and American governments. Though Babbage’s work was continued by his son, Henry Prevost Babbage, after his death in 1871, the Analytical Engine was never successfully completed, and ran only a few “programs” with embarrassingly obvious errors.

Babbage’s contributions to science also include his work as a mathematician and his reform of the teaching of mathematics in British universities. He also attempted to reform the scientific organizations of the period while calling upon government and society to give more money and prestige to scientific endeavor.


2 boxes (0.7 cubic feet)


Collection contains addresses given by Babbage at and printed in the Royal Society journal, Philosophical Transactions, photocopies of the manuscript for Passages from the Life of a Philosopherfrom the Wanganui Museum in New Zealand and notes on the manuscript by Garry J. Tee of the Wanganui Museum. Also included in the collection is a volume of the North British Review containing a favorable review of Babbage's book, the Exposition of 1851; Or, Views of the Industry, the Science, and Government of England, and photocopies of correspondence and addresses by Henry Prevost Babbage on his father's invention of occulting lights for lighthouses and signaling.


The records have a varied provenance. Some are original excerpts from Philosophical Transactions, donated by International Computers, Ltd., in March 1983. Most were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Garry J. Tee of the University of Auckland in March, 1981. Charles Babbage Stamps were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Erwin Tomash in 1991.
Charles Babbage Collection 1815-1981 (bulk 1815-1863). Finding Aid.
Prepared by Sara Strzok and Kevin D. Corbitt, June 1995.
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Collecting Area Details

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