Frederick William Cronhelm (1787–1871)


  • The authors acknowledge a grant from La Trobe University which enabled research to be conducted at Halifax and London.


Frederick William Cronhelm (hereafter FWC) made his mark in accounting by the publication in 1818 of a treatise entitled Double entry by single, a new method of book-keeping, applicable to all kinds of business; and exemplified in five sets of books. It was the seminal English contribution that identified and amplified the algebraical basis of double entry and made clear that a double entry system could be operated without resort to debits and credits. Given the importance of his contribution we present an answer to the question: Who was Frederick William Cronhelm and what were the factors that enabled and prompted him to make his contribution to accounting theory?

In answer to the first part of the research question we provide details of FWC's family, employment, publications, community activities and his involvement in the bribery of voters which culminated in the disputed election at Beverley in 1868 when his employer Sir Henry Edwards was opposed by the well-known author Anthony Trollope. In answer to the second part of the research question three factors are identified: first, his employment by a woollen mill owner and merchant Henry Lees Edwards of Halifax; second, the publication of a translation of the works of Brahmagupta and Bháscara which revealed that Hindu mathematicians associated negative numbers with liabilities; and third, his interest in mathematics together with a creative ability which was stimulated by external events and new ideas.