Byron, (Augusta) Ada, Countess of Lovelace 1815-1852, mathematician, was born 10 December 1815 at 13 Piccadilly Terrace, London, the only child of George Gordon Byron, sixth Baron Byron [qv.], poet, and his wife Anne Isabella, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke Noel, baronet. Soon after her birth and the subsequent celebrated break-up of her parents marriage, she became famous through the lines of Byrons poem Childe Harold (canto 3, lines 1-5):Is thy face like thy mothers, my fair child!Ada! sole daughter of my house and of my heart?When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,And then we parted,ónot as now we part,But with a hope.
She had a disjointed upbringing with a series of tutors. She was a fearless horsewoman, and, at a time when it was rare and exceedingly difficult for a woman to do so, became a competent student of mathematics. Probably through Mary Somerville [qv.], the popularizer of science, she met Charles Babbage [qv.], the reformer and computer pioneer. They had many friends in common, including Charles Dickens, Augustus De Morgan, and Sir Charles Wheatstone [qqv.].
In 1843 she translated a paper by General Menabrea, later to be prime minister of Italy, describing Babbages analytical engine, later seen as the forerunner of the modern computer. Under close supervision by Babbage she prepared extensive supplementary notes to Menabreas paper. These notes constitute in many ways the best statement that exists of Babbages views on the general powers of his engines. The programs in them have given rise to the myth that she was the worlds first programmer, but all the mathematical work in the notes was actually carried out by Babbage.
In 1835 she married William King, eighth Baron King and Baron Ockham, lord lieutenant of Surrey. He was created Earl of Lovelace in 1838. They had a daughter, who married Wilfrid Scawen Blunt [qv.], and two sons who succeeded each other as Baron Wentworth and second and third Earl of Lovelace. In 1850 she discovered she had cancer of the uterus. By 1852 she was in serious pain and her death chamber was the scene of a drama presided over by her vulturine mother. There have been many suggestions that she was thousands of pounds in debt from gambling. Certainly she was desperately trying to raise money, and one John Crosse, with whom she may have had an affair, was involved. However, the gambling stories may have been exaggerated to cover up some story of compromising letters and blackmail, and the matter is obscure. She died 27 November 1852 at her house in London.
Anthony Hyman, Charles Babbage, Pioneer of the Computer, 1982, and Science and Reform, 1988
Doris Langley Moore, Ada, Countess of Lovelace, 1977.
Contributor: Anthony Hyman