William Whewell was born in Lancaster on 24 May 1794, son of John Whewell, master carpenter. Whewell's talents were spotted by Joseph Rowley, Master of Lancaster Grammar School who offered to teach him for free. When John Hudson, a Fellow of Trinity prophesied that Whewell would be among the top 6 Wranglers at Cambridge, Whewell moved to Heversham School, which offered an exhibition to Trinity.
Whewell came up to Trinity in 1812 and graduated Second Wrangler in 1817. In the same year he was elected to a Fellowship and the following was appointed Assistant Tutor, becoming Tutor in 1823.
Whewell was famously a polymath. He wrote on subjects as diverse as mechanics and church architecture, English hexameter and the plurality of worlds.. In 1828 he was elected to the Chair of mineralogy, which provoked an immediate essay on Mineralogical classification and experiments in a Cornish mine with G B Airy in an attempt to determine the density of the Earth. However, he resigned the Chair in 1832. In June 1838 he was elected to the Knightbridge Chair of Moral Philosophy, which he held until 1855.
Between 1833 and 1850 he published a number of papers on tides. In 1837 he published his History of the Inductive Sciences and in 1840 the sequelThe Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. In the former year he also published his principles of an English University Education which he was to expand into Of a Liberal Education in General, with particular reference to the leading studies in the University of Cambridge the first volume of three being published in 1845.
Once he had resigned his tutorship in 1839, Whewell began to tire of college life. In 1841 he married Cordelia Marshall and considered taking a parish somewhere. In the same year, however, Peel came to power and Christopher Wordsworth felt safe to resign the Mastership if Trinity in the knowledge that Peel would not propose a Whig to succeed him. Thus it was Whewell and not Adam Sedgwick who took posession of the Lodge.
For much of his tenure as Master, University reform was in the air. In 1844 the College statutes were revised. In 1850 the Royal Commissions on Oxford and Cambridge Universities began their investigations. A reformer in his youth, Whewell was a reactionary as Master and sternly defended the autonomy of the Colleges and the type of liberal education he espoused in his 1845 book.
In 1855-56 he was Vice-chancellor, as he had been in 1842-43. At the beginning of his tenure Cordelia Whewell died. In 1858 he married Frances Everina, widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck. Whewell died in 1866 after a fall from his horse.
Towards the end of his life, Whewell set about endowing his college and the University. Two courts were built opposite the Great Gate of Trinity with monies provided by Whewell, although only one was completed during his lifetime. He also endowed six University scholarships and a chair of International Law, the latter with the express intention of making war less likely.
The Whewell papers contain correspondence 1811-1866, diaries 1817-53, academic notes 1812-58, papers relating to Trinity College and Cambridge University 1822-66, publications 1832-66.
Much of the material was passed to the library after being used by Isaac Todhunter and Mrs Stair-Douglas in their biographical works
Clearly some material that does not belong amongst the Whewell papers, such as the Robert Leslie Ellis material, has been integrated at some time.
Whewell's papers have suffered cruelly over the years in terms of arrangement. The current printed catalogue aims to bring together material from different accessions but the same original provenance, however any sensible original order has been lost.