List of parson-naturalists

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Parson-naturalists were priests who also practised as naturalists. The archetypical parson-naturalist was an English parson, a priest in charge of a country parish, who saw the study of science (especially natural history) as an extension of his religious work. The philosophy entailed the belief that God, as the Creator of all things, wanted man to understand his Creations and thus to study them through scientific techniques.[1] They often collected and preserved natural artifacts such as leaves, flowers, birds' eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals to classify and study. Some wrote books or kept nature diaries.


Leading parson-naturalists
Name Dates Description Known for Portrait
Turner, William [2] 1508?–1568 Dean of Wells Cathedral Herbalism
Libellus de Re Herbaria
William Turner Libellus de Re Herbaria 1538 candido lectori SPD page 02.jpg
White, Gilbert[3] 1720–1793 Curate of Selborne, Hampshire
Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne Gilbert White.jpg
not authentic
Ray, John[4] 1627–1705 Father of English natural history;
taxonomy; empiricism
Historia Plantarum John Ray from NPG.jpg
Derham, William[5] 1657–1735 Physico-Theology, (Natural theology) Estimated speed of sound
Astronomy, listed nebulae
William Derham.jpg
Lightfoot, John[6] 1735–1788 Botanist
Flora Scotica (1789) Flora Scotica by The Revd John Lightfoot title page.jpg
Henslow, John Stevens[7] 1796–1861 Botanist, Geologist Mentor and friend of his pupil Charles Darwin John Stevens Henslow.jpg
Jenyns, Leonard[8] 1800–1893 Priest, founder of Bath Natural History
and Antiquarian Field Club
Phenology and meteorology observations Leonard Jenyns.jpg
Tristram, Henry Baker[9] 1822–1906 Biblical scholar, Ornithologist Early acceptance of Darwinism,
tried to reconcile it with creation
Wood, John George[10] 1827–1889 Natural history populariser and lecturer Common Objects of the Country John George Wood - Project Gutenberg eText 13103.jpg
Dallinger, William[11] 1839–1909 Methodist minister, microbiology Research on monads
Opposition to spontaneous generation
William Henry Dallinger by Edgar Herbert Thomas.jpg
Cowper, Spencer[12] 1713–1774 Dean of Durham 1746–1774 Meteorology Spencer Cowper, dean of Durham 1746-1774.jpg
Morris, Francis Orpen 1810–1893 Irascible Irish clergyman
Hated Darwinism, fox-hunting
Campaigned for
bird conservation law
History of British Birds
A Bible Natural History
Records of Animal Sagacity and Character
Dogs and Their Doings
Francis Orpen Morris.jpg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armstrong, 2000.
  2. ^ Raven, Charles E. 1947. English naturalists from Neckam to Ray: a study of the making of the modern world. Cambridge. p38
  3. ^  Newton, Alfred (1900). "White, Gilbert". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 61. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  4. ^ "Biography: John Ray". UCMP Berkeley. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Mabey, Richard (1986). Gilbert White. A biography of the author of The Natural History of Selborne. Century Hutchinson. p. 11. 
  6. ^ Boulger, George Simonds. DNB, 1885-1900, Volume 33: Lightfoot, John
  7. ^ Jenyns, Leonard (1862). Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow. John Van Voorst. 
  8. ^ "The Life of Jenyns". 
  9. ^ Armstrong, 2000. p. 6
  10. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wood, John George". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  11. ^ Haas, J. W., Jr (January 2000). "The Reverend Dr William Henry Dallinger, F.R.S. (1839-1909)". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 54 (1): 53–65. 
  12. ^ Kenworthy, Joan M; McCollum, Margaret S (March 2009). "A Contribution to Meteorology by Spencer Cowper, Dean of Durham 1746-74". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 63 (1): 57–80.