Ada Lovelace December 10th 1815 - November 27th 1852
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron. However, she never knew the father who left his wife and child when Ada was still a baby, and who died when she was nine.
As a child Ada was sickly following a bout of measles. Meanwhile, her domineering mother kept Ada in isolation while attempting to allay any trace of ‘immorality’ or 'poetic tendencies' she might have inherited from her father. Instead, she insisted Ada was tutored in music and mathematics (Lady Byron was herself a clever mathematician who Byron had once called his 'Princess of Parallelograms') and was no doubt relieved when Ada showed great promise in these areas.
Charles Babbage 1791-1871
Ada’s talents came to fruition at the age of seventeen when she met with Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. In such a role, Babbage had already begun his work on mechanical computers, though his machines were never made, with parliament refusing to sponsor the plans he submitted for the ‘Difference’ and ‘Analytical’ Engines.
Babbage found more interest abroad, and was aided by the Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea. When he then returned to England again, Ada ~ his little Enchantress of Numbers ~ who had since gone on to marry, continued to help him with translating Menabrea’s notes. From these she formed an algorithm: a code to enable the processing of the machines her mentor had in mind. For this work she is now viewed as being the first computer programmer. There is also some evidence that Ada designed or suggested punch cards for use with the machine, even exploring its scope for aiding the composition of music.
Ockham Park, near East Horsley in Surrey
After her marriage to William King-Noel, who became the Earl of Lovelace, Ada was able to part from her domineering mother and resided at Ockham Park in Surrey. There she produced three children before a premature death from uterine cancer at the age of 36 ~ the same age as her father had been when he died in Greece, suffering from a fever and an excess of medicinal blood-letting.
As befitting her final wish, Ada was then buried at Lord Byron's side in the crypt of Hucknall Torkard church, at last to be reunited with the man never known in life.
If you like the idea of ‘steampunk’ Victorian fiction why not try reading The Difference Machine, an alternate historical novel featuring Ada Lovelace by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In their story the Analytical Engine has actually been built, changing the balance of world power. Babbage gains great political influence, while the Prime Minister is the scandalous Lord Byron (still alive and in England, rather than dying in Greece). Byron heads the Industrial Radical Party, in which Ada is a prominent figure. Meanwhile, her computer ‘punch cards’ have been developed to enable a gambling ‘modus’.
The VV would like to end this post by sharing something seen on the Datamancer website ~ a wonderful hybrid laptop encased in a Victorian music box, and perhaps something that Ada Lovelace would have loved to own herself.