George Boole was born on 2 November 1815 in the English cathedral city of Lincoln.
The first child of John and Mary Ann Boole, his family circumstances were very modest. George’s father was a shoemaker and his mother a lady’s maid. After marrying in London in 1806, his parents had moved to Lincoln where John Boole opened a boot and shoe shop in Silver Street.
Following George’s birth, Mary Ann Boole bore three further children - Mary Ann in 1818, William in 1819 and Charles in 1821.
The family was not prosperous, but his father had intellectual aspirations. John Boole had developed a passion for science and mathematics, and for making scientific and optical instruments. It seems that he pursued scientific interests to the detriment of his business.
John was George’s first mathematics teacher and strongly encouraged his son’s academic development. Together they built cameras, kaleidoscopes, microscopes, telescopes and a sundial.
Before the age of two, George Boole attended his first classes at a school in Lincoln for the children of tradesmen. A year later, he went to a commercial school run by a friend of his father.
Aged seven, he moved to a primary school and over the next three years his talent for languages and translation became apparent. His father arranged for additional instruction in Latin from William Brooke, a Lincoln bookseller and printer, who gave George great encouragement.
Soon, the young Boole’s appetite for knowledge was outpacing the ability of his teachers. Having mastered Latin, he went on to teach himself Greek and at the age of 14 translated Ode to the Spring, a poem attributed to Meleager, of which his father was so proud that he had it published.
In 1828, Boole entered Bainbridge’s Commercial Academy in Fish Hill, Lincoln. A commercial school was the most his parents could afford but, rather than accept its limitations, George forged ahead with his Latin, Greek and algebra, and taught himself French, German and later Italian.