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

Friday, November 16, 2018

Escape to the Chateau star Angel Adoree is currently reaping the benefits of her incredible vision and drive to build an overseas wedding and lifestyle business from scratch with husband Dick Strawbridge. Here she tells Essex Life about series five of the hit Channel 4 show and how a strong Essex work ethic helped her dream so big | Words: Denise Marshall

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office tells the story of an exciting project that is taking memories on tour around the county

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Whether you know him for his madcap antics, his reality TV appearances or his unique voice, Essex boy Joe Pasquale has earned his place as one of the nation’s favourite entertainers. Kate Everett caught up with Joe to hear what’s next in his 30-year showbiz career

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

With the help of finance expert and writer Philip Beresford, Essex Life reveals the 2018 Essex Life Richest 50

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Epping is so much more than the last stop on the Central Line. Petra Hornsby meets the volunteers helping to preserve one of Epping’s most treasured and enduring treasures – its forest

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The agricultural heritage of the county cannot be underestimated. Here Stephanie Mackentyre visits three farms that have been feeding Essex for generations

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Paycocke’s House and Gardens, now owned by The National Trust, is one of the county’s most precious historic sites and 2018 marks 500 years since the death of the man who gave the house its name. Ruth McKegney tells the tale of this Coggeshall jewel

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Southend has given the great and the good fabulous days of fun beside the seaside for generations, and they keep coming! Petra Hornsby tells the tale of one newcomer who has fallen in love with Southend through a comedy connection with Laurel and Hardy

Read more
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

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



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search