3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

The life and times of John Ray, 1627-1705

PUBLISHED: 12:24 13 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:24 13 February 2015

John Ray

John Ray

Archant

Recognised internationally for his inspirational work, John Ray is known as the father of English natural history. With the help of the Essex Record Office archives, Essex Life shares an insight into his remarkable life and career

John Ray is known as the father of English natural history. He laid the foundations for the classification of living things and was the first person to develop a biological definition of what a species is. He was born in Black Notley and returned to live there in later life.

John was the third son of the village blacksmith, Roger Ray, and his wife Elizabeth, a herbalist. From the age of ten, John studied at Braintree Grammar School, which met in the parish church. In 1644 he won a scholarship to Cambridge and quickly became proficient in languages, mathematics and natural science. He became a fellow in 1649, a lecturer in 1651 and a junior dean in 1658.

While recovering from illness in 1650, John began to walk through the countryside in Cambridge and his interest in botany was awakened. In 1660 he produced his catalogue of Cambridge plants, the first detailed work of its kind produced anywhere in the world.

John’s career at Cambridge was, however, cut short. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, all Cambridge fellows were required to be members of the Church of England. As a non-conformist, John was deprived of his position in the university in 1662.

John left Cambridge, but his scientific career was saved by his friend and fellow student, Francis Willughby, whose interest was in zoology. In 1663, with their friends Nathaniel Bacon and Philip Skippon, they embarked on a tour of Europe, collecting plant and rock samples in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Malta, Sicily, Austria and Switzerland.

Their plan was to devise a complete catalogue of the natural world, Francis working on the animal kingdom and John on the plant kingdom. John’s work on plants was published in four volumes. From these he developed his analysis of species of plant based on form and function rather than on superficial features as was the accepted practice.

John’s interests were many and varied. He was the first person to show that water is carried upwards through the wood of the tree and to show that rings in tree wood indicated the age of a tree. His exploration of fossils led him to consider that fossils disproved the commonly held view that no species had been lost and no new ones created since the creation.

John thought that the study of the natural world would reveal God’s wisdom and power through exploring the wonders of His creation. This was at odds with previous ideas which held that the natural world was a distraction from salvation and should be avoided.

John’s scientific work was held in high regard and in 1667 he was made a member of the Royal Society.

By 1655, John had built a house, Dewlands in Black Notley, for his widowed mother. John moved to Dewlands himself in 1679 after his mother’s death, remaining there for the rest of his life. He died in 1705 and is buried at Black Notley, where there is also a memorial to him in the church. John’s epitaph on this memorial sums up his brilliant yet modest life:

‘A great descent lent nothing to his fame;

Virtue, not birth distinguished his high name

Titles and wealth he never strove to gain

Those he would rather merit than obtain.’

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for his role as the presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, but he is about to embark on a quite different tour of the UK, calling in at Southend. Kate Everett found out more

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Essex-raised TV personality Andy Day has been a favourite on BBC children’s channel CBeebies for over 12 years. Now he’s branched into music, touring nationwide with his family-friendly band, Andy and the Odd Socks. Here he tells Denise Marshall about his Glastonbury debut, fighting bullying and becoming a father

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We’ve spoken to 6 of Essex’s most inspirational businesspeople to find out their secrets to success, how they achieve a work-life balance and who they are inspired by

Read more
Monday, September 3, 2018

In this second instalment of a postcard mini-series, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office showcases some of the ERO’s picture postcard collection of Southend-on-Sea

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On the 60th anniversary of the passing of one of England’s most inspired and iconic composers, Sylvia Kent shares why a visit to Brentwood changed the course of both the career and composition of Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Trust rangers find themselves out and about in all sorts of weather, and required to do all sorts of tasks. Essex Life spoke to two female rangers happy to show that it’s a job they still love to do

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

There is much to be proud of in Colchester’s extensive history, but one man has been hard at work to ensure we don’t forget some of the darker times too. Petra Hornsby explains more

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Perhaps most noted as the 1980s queen of Page 3, life has taken some unusual turns for Chingford’s Samantha Fox. Tim Saunders catches up on this Essex girl’s career path

Read more
Friday, August 10, 2018

Revd John N Merrill has a love for Essex and a love for walking, and this year marks a special celebration of an achievement that embraced both of these passions

Read more
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In the first of two features celebrating the traditional British seaside holiday, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares picture postcards of the Essex coast | Words: Hannah Salisbury

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory


Job search in your local area




Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search