John Gough (17 January, 1757 28 July, 1825) was a blind English natural and experimental philosopher who is known for his own investigations as well as the influence he had on both John Dalton and William Whewell.
John Gough was born in Kendal, Westmorland, on 17 January, 1757, the eldest child of Nathan Gough (d. 1800) and his wife, Susannah (1731 1798). Gough's father was a wool dyer and shearman dyer, while his mother was the eldest daughter of John Wilson, a prosperous farmer with an estate on the west bank of Lake Windermere. Nathan and Susannah Gough had three sons and four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. The family belonged to the Society of Friends, whose communities flourished in Cumberland and Westmorland during this period. Before he was three years old, Gough was attacked by smallpox and lost his sight. In his childhood he expended much effort in developing his sense of touch and hearing, and appears to have been especially eager to learn to recognize animals by touch.
In 1778 at the age of eighteen, Gough became a resident pupil of John Slee, a mathematical master at Mungrisedale, Cumberland. Gough stayed at Mungrisedale for eighteen months, following the traditional curriculum up to the elementary principles of calculus. Returning home he took up calculus, with his second sister, Dorothy Gough (b. 1768), acting as his reader. From around 1782 to 1790 he enjoyed the acquaintance of John Dalton, a cousin of George Bewley and also a lakeland Quaker, who had come to Kendal to take up a position in Bewley's school. Dalton assisted Gough by reading, writing, and making calculations and diagrams on his behalf. In return Dalton, who later became one of the most eminent figures in nineteenth-century science, was tutored by Gough in Latin and Greek. Dalton later referred to Gough as a "prodigy in scientific attainments.
In 1800 at the parish church of Kendal, Gough married Mary (d. 1858), daughter of Thomas Harrison of Crosthwaite, Cumberland. On their marriage they moved to Middleshaw in the hamlet of Old Hutton. John and Mary Gough had nine children, one of whom, Thomas Gough (1804 1880) became a surgeon in Kendal.
In 1812 Gough had a house, which he named Fowl Ing, built for himself and his family on the south-west slope of Benson Knot, a hill 2 miles north-east of Kendal. At about the same time he began to act as a private tutor of mathematics to a select group of pupils from northern England, whom he prepared for university. The subsequent fame of his students superseded his own celebrity. A number of them went on to achieve high distinction in the mathematical tripos, and subsequently in the hierarchies of university and church. One of Gough's first students was William Whewell, who was with him in 1812 and later described Gough as "a very extraordinary person.
From 1823, John Gough suffered repeated attacks of epilepsy. He died on 28 July, 1825, leaving his wife and seven of their children. He was buried in the parish churchyard of Kendal.
Gough had wide-ranging scientific interests. He published papers in natural history, mechanics, mathematics, chemistry, and experimental physics. One of his most interesting pieces of work was an investigation into the properties of natural rubber or Caoutchouc. He was the first to describe the heat released when a rubber band is quickly stretched, the heat being detected by the lips to which the band is pressed. When stretched rubber is heated, it contracts, a reversal of the normal behaviour of materials when heated. Gough published these results, and others, in a letter to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1804. King has written that through Dalton, Gough exerted an indirect influence years later on James Joule, who undertook his own investigations into rubber, elasticity, and energy changes, and specifically referred to Gough's earlier studies.
Gough's most substantive enquiry was "An investigation of the method whereby men judge by the ear of the position of sonorous bodies relative to their own persons", which appeared in 1802 during an ongoing controversy with another former Quaker, the noted natural philosopher Thomas Young, over the nature of compound sounds.