Sir John Barrow (1764-1848) was an English geographer, linguist, writer and civil servant. He was the Second Secretary to the Admiralty from 1804 until 1845. Although he left school at thirteen, and at the age of 16, he went on a whaling expedition to Greenland. By his twenties, he was teaching mathematics, in which he had always excelled, at a private school in Greenwich.
He taught mathematics to the son of Sir George Leonard Staunton; through Staunton’s interest, he was attached to the first British embassy to China from 1792 to 1794 as comptroller of the household to Lord Macartney. He soon acquired a good knowledge of the Chinese language, on which he subsequently contributed articles to the Quarterly Review; and the account of the embassy published by Sir George Staunton records many of Barrow’s valuable contributions on China.
Barrow returned to Britain in 1804 and was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty by Viscount Melville, a post which he held for forty years
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