John Wishart (1898 – 1956)

Wishart Tree No. 042

Born: 28 November 1898 – Montrose, Angus.
Died: 14 July 1956 – Acapulco, Mexico

John Wishart, FRSE was a Scottish mathematician and agricultural statistician. His Father, John, was a bespoke boot and shoe maker. His family moved from Montrose to Perth in Scotland when John was two years old. He attended Perth Academy and, in 1916, entered the University of Edinburgh where he was taught mathematics by Sir Edmund Whittaker.

World War I meant that John’s university career was disrupted. He spent two years from 1917 to 1919 in the Black Watch regiment and served in France in 1918. He completed his university course in 1922, graduating with a First Class degree in mathematics and physics. He worked successively at University College London with Professor Karl Pearson, at Rothamsted Experimental Station with Sir Ronald Fisher, and then as a leader in statistics in the University of Cambridge, where he was appointed to the Readership in the Faculty of Agriculture and became the first Director of the Statistical Laboratory in 1953.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1931, and edited the journal Biometrika from 1937. He devised the generalised product-moment distribution, which is named the Wishart Distribution after him. Wishart died aged 57 on 14 Jul 1956 in a bathing accident in Acapulco, while representing the Food and Agriculture Organization on a mission to set up a research centre.

He was the brother of Scott Wishart, a retired pharmacist, who inspired Jack Gillespie Wishart (Tree No WIS0001) in 1974 to create the Wishart genealogical database.