Francis R. Johnson
Journal of the History of Ideas,1 (4)
Oct. 1940, 413-438.
Of paramount interest to all students of the history of ideas is the development, in the seventeenth century, of formally organized scientific societies from the informal gatherings of devotees of science that preceded them. Today we can see clearly that one of the causes for the relative stagnation of science in Western Europe during the Middle Ages is that new findings - and there were many new facts of nature brought to light during this period  - too often perished with their discoverers or were buried in manuscripts which, being available to few other investigators, gave little impetus to further progress. We likewise recognize that the remarkably accelerated advance of science from the seventeenth century onward was due in no small measure to the increased rapidity with which scientific information came to be transmitted not only among the scientists of separate localities and nations, but among investigators dispersed throughout the Western World. The importance of the first permanent scientific societies in this dissemination and interchange of scientific ideas and discoveries is universally conceded, and many valuable histories have been devoted to the careers of those organizations that survived. Insufficiently explored, however, either in the initial chapters of these histories or elsewhere, are the earlier attempts at co-operative endeavor  - the groups
1. For numerous illustrations of important scientific discoveries from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, see Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vols. I & II (New York, 1923), Vols. III & IV (New York, 1934); Science and Thought in the Fifteenth Century (New York, 1929).
2. A third edition has recently appeared of the invaluable
pioneering survey of the contributions of the scientific societies in the
seventeenth century: Martha Ornstein’s The Role of Scientific Societies in
the Seventeenth Century (Chicago, 1938; the first edition was published
posthumously in 1913). A new
edition at this time is a witness to the soundness of Miss Ornstein’s work
within the scope that it set for itself, and a recognition of the intrinsic
importance of the subject. On the
other hand, it proclaims how few works, in the interval of twenty-five years,
have sought to delve more deeply into the subject that she explored. Several of the French groups devoted to
scientific inquiry have been admirably dealt with by Harcourt Brown in
Scientific Organizations in Seventeenth-Century France, 1620-1680
(Baltimore, 1934). Dorothy
Stimson’s article, “Dr. Wilkins and the Royal Society,” Journal of Modern
History, III (1931), 539-63, has analyzed and discussed the accounts of the
[origin of the Royal Society of London. But, for
HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 414 of the original.
which met together without formal organization or royal charter, and thus sowed the seed and nurtured the immature plant of scientific association until it became firmly rooted.
Our concern here is with
The intimate connection between
3. The best accounts of the origin of the Royal Society
are in C. B. Weld, A History of the Royal Society (2 vols.; London,
1848), I, chaps. i-iv, and in The Record of the Royal Society of
The younger of these organizations, the Royal Society, was formally established in 1660. The elder,
The hypothesis that I have just sketched postulates the gradual and uninterrupted evolution of an informal club, if we may so call it, composed of Englishmen interested in science - a club which constantly had as its nucleus one or more Gresham professors and his friends, and which had Gresham College as its usual meeting
place. This hypothesis is contrary to the generally accepted account, which implies that the group which Robert Boyle described as the “
We may begin by examining the evidence upon which the accepted theory is based, to see whether the known facts will bear the new interpretation that is proposed. The first official account of the Royal Society, Thomas Sprat’s The History of the Royal-Society of London (1667), states that the foundation of the Society was laid, not in London in 1645, but in the Warden’s (John Wilkins ‘s) lodgings at Wadham College, Oxford, in 1649. 4 Since Sprat’s History was written under the supervision of Wilkins, then secretary of the Society, this version has his authority and represents his point of view. John Wallis, on the other hand, traces the origin of the Society to meetings at
It is to Wallis’s statements, therefore, that we must turn. In 1678 Wallis, in a pamphlet entitled A Defence of the Royal Society:
4. Op. cit., p. 53.
5. Robert Boyle, Works, ed. T. Birch
6. Anthony Wood, in his enlarged English translation of his Historia et Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis (1674), History and Antiquities of Oxford, ed. J. Gutch (Oxford, 1786), II, Part ii, 632-33, apparently derives his information from Wallis’s Defence (1678). The original Latin edition of 1674 does not contain the reference asserting the prior claims of the 1645 meetings against the version given in Sprat’s History.
7. “Dr. Wilkins and the Royal Society,” .JMH, III, 544-47.
An Answer to the Cavils of Doctor William Holder, gave an account of the circumstances surrounding these early meetings:
I take its [the Royal Society’s] first Ground and Foundation to have been in London about the year 1645 (if not sooner) when the same Dr. Wilkins (then Chaplain to the Prince Elector Palatine, in London), Dr. Jonathan Goddard, Dr. Ent (now Sir George Ent), Dr. Glisson, Dr. Scarbrough (now Sir Charles Scarbrough), Dr. Merrit, with myself and some others, met weekly (sometimes at Dr. Goddard’s Lodgings, sometimes at the Mitre in Wood-street hard by) at a certain day and hour, under a certain Penalty, and a weekly Contribution for the Charge of Experiments, with certain Rules agreed upon amongst us. Where (to avoid diversion to other discourses, and for some other reasons) we barred all Discourses of Divinity, of State-Affairs, and of News (other than what concern’d our business of Philosophy) confining our selves to Philosophical Inquiries, and such as related there-unto; as Physick, Anatomy, Geometry, Astronomy, Navigation, Staticks, Mechanicks, and Natural Experiments.
These meetings we removed, soon after, to the Bull-head in Cheapside and (in Term-time) to Gresham Colledge, where we met weekly at Mr. Foster’s Lecture (the Astronomy-Professor there) and after the Lecture ended, repaired sometimes to Mr. Foster’s Lodgings, sometimes to some other place not far distant, where we continued such Inquiries; and our Numbers encreased. [9
But a more detailed account of these early meetings was given by Wallis in 1697, when, at the age of eighty, in an “account of some passages in his own life,” he set forth in these words his own recollection of the circumstances leading to the Society’s establishment:
About the year 1645, while I lived in London (at a time when, by our Civil Wars, Academical Studies were much interrupted in both our Universities:) beside the Conversation of divers eminent Divines, as to matters Theological; I had the opportunity of being acquainted with divers worthy Persons, inquisitive into Natural Philosophy, and other parts of Humane Learning; And particularly of what hath been called the New Philosophy or Experimental Philosophy.
We did by agreement, divers of us, meet weekly in
8. Dr. Holder had stated that “the first ground and
foundation of the Royal Society” had been laid at
9. Pp. 7-8.
Ent, Dr. Glisson, Dr. Merret, (Drs. in Physick), Mr. Samuel Foster then Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, Mr. Theodore Hank [Haak] (a German of the Palatinate, and then Resident in London, who, I think, gave the first occasion, and first suggested those meetings) and many others.
These meetings were held sometimes at Dr. Goddard’s
lodgings in Woodstreet (or some convenient place near) on occasion of
his keeping an Operator in his house for grinding Glasses for Telescopes and
Microscopes; and sometime at a convenient place in
About the year 1648, 1649, some of our company being
Those meetings in
For the years immediately preceding 1660, Wallis ‘s account needs supplementing from Sprat ‘s narrative, which gives further particulars and adds the names of those who in 1658 were active members of the London group. Sprat says that the meetings at
those [at Oxford] being called away to several parts of the nation, and the greatest number of them coming to London, they usually met at Gresham College at the Wednesday’s and Thursday’s lectures of Dr. Wren and Mr. Rooke; where there joyn ‘d with them several eminent persons of their common acquaintance: The Lord Viscount Brouncker, the now Lord Brereton,
10. From a letter by Wallis addressed to Dr. Thomas Smith, dated January 29, 1697; published by Thomas Hearne in his edition of Peter Langtoft’s Chronicle (2 vols.; Oxford, 1725), “The Publisher’s Appendix to His Preface,” I, clxi-clxiv.
Sir Paul Neil, Mr. John Evelyn, Mr. Henshaw, Mr. Slingsby, Dr. Timothy Clark, Dr. Ent, Mr. Hall, Mr. Hill, Dr. Crone, and diverse other gentlemen, whose inclinations lay the same way. This custom was observed once, if not twice a week, in term-time; till they were scattered by the miserable distractions of that fatal year; till the continuance of their meetings there might have made them run the hazard of the fate of Archimedes: for then the place of their meeting was made a quarter for soldiers. 
To this evidence we must add one more document, the
memorandum of the meeting of this group held on
These persons following, according to the usual custom of most of them, mett together at Gresham Colledge to heare Mr. Wren’s lecture, viz. The Lord Brouncker, Mr. Boyle, Mr. Bruce, Sir Robert Moray, Sir Paul Neile, Dr. Wilkins, Dr. Goddard, Dr. Petty, Mr. Ball, Mr. Rooke, Mr. Wren, Mr. Hill. And after the lecture was ended, they did, according to the usual manner, withdrawe for mutuall converse. Where amongst other matters that were discoursed of, something was offered about a designe of founding a Colledge for the promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning. And because they had these frequent occasions of meeting with one another, it was proposed that some course might be thought of, to improve this meeting to a more regular way of debating things, and according to the manner in other countryes, where there were voluntary associations of men in academies, for the advancement of various parts of learning, so they might doe something answerable here for the promoting of experimentall philosophy.
In order to which, it was agreed that this Company would continue their weekly meeting on Wednesday, at 3 of the clock in the tearme time, at Mr. Rooke’s chamber at Gresham Colledge; in the vacation, at Mr. Ball ‘s chamber in the Temple. 
Upon the accounts that I have just quoted at some length rests the case for the inception of the Royal Society at the informal gatherings of the year 1645, and also for the tracing of the Society’s development from the time of those gatherings until its founding in 1660. Are these accounts inconsistent with the hypothesis that the meetings taking place in 1645 were not a new venture - that the date merely marked the accession of a few new and youthful members to a long-established coterie of scientifically-minded Englishmen? If we analyze Wallis’s statements we observe that in both accounts he is not precise about the date - it was “1645, if not
11. History of the Royal-Society of
12. Quoted from the Journal-book, I, 1, in The Record of the Royal Society of London, pp. 7-8.
sooner.” This is not surprising, since one report was written more than thirty years after the event, and the other more than fifty years afterward, when Wallis was over eighty years old. In 1645 he was a young man of twenty-nine who, after receiving his M.A. in 1640 at
13. The notion that Theodore Haak was the one who had
originally inspired the meetings of this group has, so far as I can discover,
Wallis’s statement in 1697 as its only source, and Wallis there does not assert
it as a fact, but merely throws it out as a supposition of his own. It may have been Haak that first
introduced Wallis to the group, for Wallis at the time (1644-46) was secretary
to the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and Haak was engaged in translating the
Dutch annotations to the Bible for this Assembly. That Haak, for some years, had been
associated with a group of English scientists and served as a link with
scientists on the continent seems certain, but that he was the prime mover in
the meetings at
Foster lived to become fellows of the Royal Society. Of these, all except George Ent (b. 1604) and Francis Glisson (b. 1597) were young men who were under thirty or had just reached their thirty-first year. [14
Wallis had a special reason for including Samuel Foster while omitting all others who failed to live on into the Restoration period. Foster, a generation older than Wallis, was in 1645 professor of astronomy at
Foster died in 1652, but the later accounts prove that the established time and place of meeting of the club, if we may call it so, were not altered. The group continued to gather each Wednesday afternoon in term-time at the astronomy lecture of Foster successor, Lawrence Rooke, and to repair afterwards to Rooke’s lodgings for their meeting. When, in 1657, Rooke transferred from the astronomy professorship to that of geometry, and was succeeded as Gresham Professor of Astronomy by the brilliant young Christopher Wren, then only twenty-five, the group met often twice a week, both after Wren’s lecture, on Wednesday, and Rooke’s Thursday lecture. And it was at a regular Wednesday meeting, following Wren’s lecture, that the resolution was taken to establish an organized society to replace their regular, but hitherto informal gatherings.
Clearly, then, for the fifteen years from 1645 to 1660, the assembling of this group of persons interested in science centered, as if by long tradition, about Gresham College and its Professors of Astronomy, regardless of the incumbent at the moment. Moreover, a careful analysis of these basic accounts of the Royal Society ‘s origin impels one to ask when the real inception of these
14. For biographical discussions concerning the relations
between the men cited by Wallis as members of the group in 1645, see the
excellent articles by Dorothy Stimson: “Dr. Wilkins and the Royal Society,”
cited above; “Puritanism and the New Philosophy in 17th Century England,”
Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, III (1935), 321-34;
“Comenius and the Invisible College,” Isis, XXIII (1935), 373-88. In these articles Miss Stimson shows that
most of the young men mentioned had come from colleges at Oxford and Cambridge
which were strongholds of Puritanism, and that in the religious and political
struggles of the times their sympathies were with the moderates among the
Puritans who supported Parliament against the King but did not succumb to the
violent hatreds of the period of the civil war. Her most recent article, appearing after
this study was written, is “Amateurs [of
Science in 17th Century England,” Isis, XXXI (November, 1939), 32-47. In this article she sums up much of
the material presented in the others cited above, and accepts the thesis here
advanced: that the meetings mentioned by Wallis as the precursor of the Royal
Society may be traced back to a period much earlier than 1645 (see pp. 36 and 40
if.). Miss Stimson, however, does
not attempt to present evidence for earlier gatherings of scientists at
HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 422 of the original.
scientific meetings at
Sir Thomas Gresham, the famous financial, adviser to Queen Elizabeth and the founder of the Royal Exchange, died in 1579. In his will, dated four years earlier, he bequeathed all the revenues from the land and buildings comprising the Royal Exchange, and also his great mansion house in
15 The account of the founding of
The opening of
Since in the Gresham professorships of astronomy and geometry England received the first enduring institution dedicated to the mathematical sciences, and one which served as a rallying point for all who were interested in those subjects, it will not be out of place, before proceeding, to consider and dismiss briefly the other organizations which have been proposed as precursors of the Royal Society. Weld mentions only three English precursors.  The first is the Society of Antiquaries supposedly founded in 1572 by Archbishop Parker and dissolved by James I in 1604. Its interests were antiquarian and philological, and its aims, though allied to the scientific movement, were not identical with it. The second of
16. In 1518 Thomas Linacre founded lectureships in medicine
17. Op. cit., I, 15-23.
Weld’s societies was the abortive scheme of Edmund
Bolton for founding a Royal Academy in England, first broached in 1617 to please
the vanity of James I. As the plan
developed - it was never completed, and was dropped after the death of King
James - membership in the academy was to be limited to the nobility and wealthy
gentry - a group composed entirely of dilettantes rather than of serious
scientific workers. The third
organization mentioned by Weld is worthy of more consideration than
As precursors of the Royal Society none of these, except
perhaps the first, can claim any real significance. The two latter contributed nothing to the
advancement of science, and their real interest lies solely in their being
examples of attempts to secure royal patronage for an educational institution in
which scientific instruction was ostensibly to be given some place. Compared with
Of far greater import, however, was the success of John Dee, in the period beginning with the accession of
18. Another early proposal for an educational institution allotting an important place to science was Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s plan, drawn up in 1572, for an Academy for the education of the Sons of nobles and gentlemen; see MS Lansdowne 98 (1), printed in Early English Text Society, Extra Series, VIII (London, 1869), 1-12. This is not mentioned by Weld.
struction in science.
 Lord Burghley and the Queen herself
visited and consulted him. Thomas
Digges, the first modern astronomer to portray an infinite, heliocentric
universe with the stars scattered at varying distances throughout infinite
space, was successively a ward, pupil, and intimate friend and co-worker of
Dee’s. Among the others who were
As a coterie of scientific workers maintaining active co-operation among themselves, providing instruction for others, and keeping in close touch with scientific activity abroad, the group centering about John Dee must be ranked as the earliest ancestor of the Royal Society to contribute significantly to its patrimony. Less important than Dee’s group, yet of greater moment than the societies, actual and proposed, mentioned by Weld, is the Mathematical Lecture established in London in 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada. Whereas earlier efforts to obtain public endowment for a lecture had been unavailing, the national crisis stirred a slothful government to sudden, energetic action. On the plea that some mathematical instruction was urgently needed for the untrained officers of the militia mustered for the defense of London, the wealthy merchants of the city, inspired by Thomas Smith, later the first governor of the East India Company, were persuaded to contribute to the
19. For a further account of the group centering about John Dee and its importance to science in sixteenth-century England, see Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England (Baltimore, 1937), pp. 134-40 and passim.
sum necessary to support such a lecture for two years.
Thomas Hood, a Londoner and a
These early institutions and informal societies for the advancement of scientific learning have been described at this length because they deserve a place which they have not hitherto received in the accounts of the forerunners of the Royal Society. We now return to the Royal Society’s immediate ancestry, and to the institution which contributed, far more than any other, to its ultimate development -
In his will, Sir Thomas Gresham had provided that the professors of his foundation should be unmarried, should occupy his mansion house and have free use of its gardens and all other appurtenances, and that each professor should receive an annual stipend of fifty pounds, a handsome salary in those days. 21 The Mercers’ Company was, charged with the original selection and the payment of the professors of law, physic, and rhetoric, and the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of
Soon after the death of Lady Gresham brought this benefaction under their control, the City of London and the Mercers’ Company sent out letters to Oxford and Cambridge Universities asking for the. recommendation of suitable candidates for the posts that had been placed in their charge.
In the final choice of the seven original professors, the two universities were equally represented (John Bull, the first music professor, was a graduate of both). The first professor of astronomy was Edward Brerewood, an
20. For a detailed account of Hood’s Mathematical Lectureship, see Johnson, op. cit., pp. 198-205.
21. Ward, op. cit., preface.
To Briggs, more than to anyone else, was due the immediate establishment of
Gilbert acknowledges help from Barlowe in the research on magnetism that was set forth in his De Magnete.  Edward Wright, whose great work was the reform of the theory of navigation and the correction of Mercator’s projection,  contributed an important preface to Gilbert’s work. Blundeville, in a work of his own published in 1602,  included an appendix by Gilbert, describing two magnets he had invented, and Briggs, to this appendix, contributed a table which he had calculated for the use of these magnets. Both Wright and Briggs co-operated in making Napier’s invention of logarithms known to English mathematicians. Wright translated Napier’s book on logarithms into English immediately,  and Briggs added a special preface to the work, together with a short treatise of his own on the methods of interpolation when using the tables. In this preface, Briggs mentions his teaching “the meaning and the use of this booke at
22. See William Barlowe, Magneticall Aduertisements
23. Certaine Errors in Nauigation (
24. The Theoriques of the seuen Planets (
25. A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithmes (
26. A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithmes, sig. A6r. Briggs also prepared tables which were
appended to Edward Wright’s Certaine Errors in the second edition
Another noted member of this group was William Bedwell,
one of the most learned men of his day, the father of Arabic studies in
Still another distinguished member of the
27. Via Regia ad Geometriam (
28. Briggs took his B.A. in 1581 and his M.A. in 1585 at
29. Ward, op. cit., p. 129.
30. Via Regia ad Geometrium, sigs. A3r-A4r.
31. Ibid., author’s preface.
In the Spring 1618 I being at
Oughtred is writing nearly fifteen years after his visit, and gives the erroneous impression that in 1618 Gunter was already Gresham Professor of Astronomy. It is worth noting, therefore, that Oughtred found Gunter, who was not elected professor until the following March, occupying rooms in
From the early years of the seventeenth century there is evidence of a close association, in scientific investigations, of the
In 1619, just before Briggs left
32. The just Apologie of Wil: Oughtred, against the
slaunderous insimulations of Richard Delamain, in a Pamphlet called Grammelogia,
or the Mathematicall Ring (
33. The Autobiography of Phineas Patt, ed. W. G. Perrin, Navy Records Society Publications, Vol. 51 (London, 1918), pp. lxxxii and 59 if.
34. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Charles I,
Vol. CXIX, No. 33 (
Canon Triangulorumwas published early in 1620. After Briggs’s departure for
The key figure uniting the two groups was an able mathematician and scientist, John Wells, who, from 1606 until his death late in the year 1635, held the important office of Keeper of His Majesty’s Naval Stores at Deptford. He was a friend and fellow-worker successively of Briggs, Gunter, and, finally, Henry Gellibrand, who, in 1626, succeeded Gunter as professor of astronomy at
This tract of Dyalling was written for mine owne private delight and exercise, above thirteene yeeres since, as divers of my friends know: wherein I have beene the more curious, to handle every kind of Plane; not with any thought, or purpose, ever to print the same, but to keepe it by me, for satisfaction to my selfe, and friends whensoever there should be cause to use it. Yet shortly after the Worke was finished, occasion to make use of it, drew on occasion for my friends to take notice thereof: amongst the rest, my two late worthy friends, Master Henry Briggs, (iustly stiled by a Reverend Divine our English Archimedes) and Master Edmund Gunter, Astronomie Lecturer of Gresham Colledge, desired to peruse it; and finding that the Arithmeticall part was performed by Logarithmes of both kinds, and therefore might serve instead of uses for the Chiiads and Canon, compiled by them, did earnestly sollicite mee to print the same: but they both dying, this motion of theirs died with them.
Of late it hath beene againe revived, by the request of other Friends; but especially by the encouragement of my much respected, and learned Friend Master Henry Gellibrand, who hath annexed his approbation of that, which in my owne opinion 1 never thought worthy of so much esteeme. I have therefore at length (yeelding to the importunitie of Friends) consented to let it passe to the publike view. If any benefit grow from it, let him have the honour, that is the Authour of all good gifts, and let my Friends share in the thankes, that have in a manner extorted it out of my hands. [35
It was in tracking down John Wells, the friend and
collaborator of three successive Gresham College professors, that most of the
evidence concerning the activities of the Gresham College circle during the
quarter-century preceding 1645 was unearthed. It will therefore be profitable to trace
Wells’s career briefly. Though he
does not appear in the Dictionary of National Biography, and there is no
record of his having attended either university, he was a man of considerable
importance in the seventeenth century.
The information concerning his career that I have been able to collect
comes from the Calendar of State Papers, the histories of the British Navy, the
county histories of
In 1615 a new grant of this office was issued, this time to John Wells alone. 39 As Keeper of His Majesties Stores at the Navy
36. See the registers for St. Nicholas Parish, Deptford, in
Hasted’s History of
37. Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, ed. Philip
Bliss (London, 1813-17), III, 1155, under “Benjamin Wells” (the son of John
Wells), gives an account of Benjamin’s father, “the famous mathematician of
Deptford.” Wood states that John
Wells married Catherine Wallinger, daughter of Thomas Wallinger, Esq., by
Benedicta Gonson, his wife. Benjamin Gonson, Sr.’s mother was named
Benedicta, and one of his daughters, Catherine, married Sir John Hawkins. Catherine Wallinger’s mother may have
been a daughter of Benjamin Gonson, Jr., the brother of Lady Hawkins. Benjamin Gonson, Jr. was twenty-six when
his father died in 1577 (Hasted’s History of
38. State Papers, Domestic, James I, Vol. XXI, No. 21 (
39. Ibid., Vol. LXXX,
No. 5 (
Yard at Deptford, often called East Greenwich, Wells had
the use there of a fine house with a spacious garden second in size and value
only to the adjacent house reserved for his immediate superior, the Treasurer of
the Navy. 40 Here at
Deptford Wells’s associates were the high naval officers, the mariners who
constantly brought back from distant lands data that would be scientifically
valuable to anyone who could elicit and make use of it, and finally the naval
architects from the adjacent shipyards. Among these master shipwrights would be
Phineas Pett, Edward Stevens, Hugh Lydiard, and Henry Goddard, the father of the
Jonathan Goddard who was one of the group mentioned by Wallis as meeting at ]
Most important, however, was the association of Wells
and his naval friends with Briggs, Gunter, and Gellibrand, in turn. The State Papers carry no record of his
association with Briggs, so here we must rely upon Wells’s own statements. But certainly through such a man as
Briggs’s friend, Edward Wright, who was the foremost authority of the day on
In Gunter’s case, however, the State Papers give ample evidence of intimate association and collaboration with Wells and his shipwright friends. Gunter, Wells, Phineas Pett, Hugh Lydiard and Edward Stevens worked out together a more accurate method of calculating the tonnage of ships, and the State Papers for the years 1626 to 1628 are filled with records of their proofs of its
40. There is a plan of Deptford made in 1623, to which additional remarks by John Evelyn have been joined, printed in Hasted’s History of Kent, facing p. 18. It shows the Storekeeper’s house and garden in the lower left (northwest) corner, next to the Treasurer’s house. Sayes Court Manor House, then owned by Evelyn’s father-in-law, and later the residence of Evelyn, was diagonally across the lane from the Storekeeper’s house. After John Wells’s death in 1636 his son, John Wells, Jr., who had taken his B.A. at St. Alban’s Hall, Oxford, in 1632, succeeded him in the office, and apparently retained the post until 1663 (see State Papers, Domestic, Charles II, Vol. LXXXII, No. 100 [Oct., 1663]).
41. State Papers, Domestic, James I, Vol. CXXXI, No. 10 (
42. Edward Wright died in 1615, and Briggs moved to
superiority and of the campaign to secure its adoption. 43
After Gunter’s death in December, 1626, an equal intimacy sprang up between Wells and Gunter’s successor at
Thus hitherto (according to the Tenents of all our Magneticall Philosophers) we have supposed the variation of all particular places to continue one and the same: So that when a Seaman shall happly returne to a place where formerly he found the same variation, he may hence conclude, he is in the same former Longitude. For it is the Assertion of Mr. Dr. Gilberts Variatio vnicuiusq; Loci constans est, that is to say, the same place doth alwayes retaine the same variation. Neither hath this Assertion (for ought I ever heard) been questioned by any man. But most diligent magneticall observations have plainely offred violence to the same, and proved the contrary, namely that the variation is accompanied with a variation. For whereas in the year 1580 Mr. Burrows (a man of unquestionable abilities in the Mathematiques) found the variation at Limhouse neere London to be 11 gr. 15 mm. or neere one point of the Compasse; In the yeare 1622 Mr. Gunter sometimes professor of Astronomic in Gresham Colledge, found the variation in the same place to be but 6 gr. 13 mm. And my selfe this present yeare 1634 with some friends had recourse to Diepford (where Mr. Gunter had heretofore made the same observations with those of Limehouse) and found it not much to exceed 4 degrees. 44
Gunter’s results had been printed in his The Description and Use of the Crosse-Staffe (1623) 46 Gellibrand, after giving in detail
43. State Papers, Domestic, Charles I; see XXVII, 67; XXIX, 7 & 10; XXXVIII, 30; XXXIX, 63; LV, 39; LVII, 42, 43, & 45; LIX, 24 & 26; LXXXVIII, 63. See also M. Oppenheim, A History of the Administration of the Royal Navy, 1509-1660 (London, 1896), pp. 266-67.
44. Pp. 6-7.
45. P. 66.
Gunter ‘s experiment to determine variation in 1622, continued:
I deny not the Artifice to be very nice and subtle, and that an error may unawares easily insinuate it selfe, which together with this great discrepance, moved some of us to be overhasty in casting an aspersion of error on Mr. Burrows observations, (though since upon noe just grounds) till an acquaintance of ours [marginal note: Mr. John Marr], lately applying Mr. Gunter’s owne Needle to the side of the Cubicall Stone of his Majesties Diall in White Hall garden, could not finde the variation so great as 6 gr. 15 mm: formerly found; whereupon resolving with some friends to make an experiment hereof, we went to Diepford the last yeare 1633 the day of the Sunnes entrance into the summer Solstice, to the very same place where Mr. Gunter heretofore had made observation, and found it much lesse then five degrees; And afterwards calling into Question the Insufficiency of our Instruments, that all scruple might be quite taken away, we had recourse this presente yeare 1634 Jun. 12, stilo vet: to the same Garden of our learned and ingenuous friend Mr. John Welles, with a Quadrant of six foote Radius for solar Altitudes, continually rectified with great care, and a Horizontall Quadrant of two foote Radius, for the determining of the Magneticall Azimuthes, exactly set to the Magneticall meridian, and in paralellisme to the Horizon; (otherwise great error might ensue) with two Needles of twelue inches in length, well touch’t with good Magnetts; And for the better satisfaction, took with us also the very same Needle wherewith Mr. Gunter made the foresaid observations, in length ten Inches; all three most accurately respecting the same Magneticall Meridian as we then proved. And least there might arise some diversity in the variation through the touches of severall stones, I caused the one Needle first touch’t by a very good Magnet, to be retouch’t by another as good if not better, and the same wherewith most of our sea compasses are touch’t, and yet found no difference betweene them. [46
Gellibrand then proceeds to record and tabulate his data. In the margin, opposite his table of “Observations made at Diepford An. 1634 Iunij 12 before Noone,” Gellibrand has: “Testibus ab sociis D [omin]is Wells, Harrison, Marr, Butler, Hopton, Hocknell.’’
Who were the other men in this group participating in
this experiment? So far I have been
able to discover very little about them. John Marr was a gentleman of
46. The Variation of the Magneticall Needle, p. 16.
47. Hasted’s History of
ences to his expert knowledge of that subject. Captain Thomas James, in his book recounting his voyage in 1631 in search of the Northwest Passage, mentions, among the instruments taken on the voyage, Gunter’s Crosse-Staffe, tables calculated according to directions given in Gunter’s book The Description and Use of the Crosse-Staffe (1623), a log line divided according to the method of Snellius and approved by Gunter, and “four speciall Needles, (which my good friends Master Allen and Master Marre gave mee) of sixe inches diameter: and toucht curiously, with the best Loadestone in England.” [48
The noted sea-captain and explorer Thomas James, whom we have already mentioned, should be added to this group of Gellibrand’s friends and collaborators. Before James left on his famous voyage seeking the Northwest Passage, Gellibrand arranged with him to take simultaneous observations of the eclipse of the moon on October 29, 1631, Gellibrand at Gresham College and James wherever he might be in the northern regions of the New World. Gellibrand added “An Appendix touching Longitude” to James’s Strange Voyage, in which he compared the two sets of observations and from them calculated by a more exact mathematical method than would have otherwise been possible the precise longitude of James’s position near Hudson’s Bay.
The meetings and scientific investigations of Gellibrand and his associates at
48. Thomas James, The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of
Captaine Thomas James (
49. Athenae Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, II, 622.
ponderantly Puritan sympathies of the members of the
Wells died in 1635,
 and Gellibrand less
than two years later.  The State Papers contain a document dated
Wells was succeeded as Storekeeper of the Navy at
Deptford by his son, John Wells, who was then twenty-four years of age.
 The younger Wells
held this office throughout the Commonwealth period, 56 although for
a time he was forced to share the post with John Davies and had great difficulty
collecting his salary during the troubled years.
50. See the articles by Dorothy Stimson cited above, note 14.
51. Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714
(Oxford, 1891), II, 556, notes that Gellibrand’s father, Henry Gellibrand of
St. Paul’s Cray, Kent, proceeded B.A. from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and
later established himself as a physician in London. An Edward Gellibrand, probably the uncle
of the mathematician, proceeded B.A. at
52. See the petition of his son, dated
53. Gellibrand died
54. State Papers, Domestic, Charles I, Vol. CCXXI, No. 75.
55. The younger John Wells was born
56. See note 40 above.
Gellibrand’s successor as Gresham Professor of Astronomy was Samuel Foster, in whose rooms Wallis first became acquainted with the group which he credits with being the “first begetters” of the Royal Society. One member of this group was young Jonathan Goddard, one year junior to Wallis. Born in 1617 at
Foster, in 1652, was succeeded by Lawrence Rooke, and it was in Rooke’s, or Wren’s rooms that the group was meeting in 1658 to 1660. But Rooke, also, was from Deptford, where he was born in 1622, the year in which Gunter and Wells took observations on the magnetic variation in Wells’s garden. His biographer states that after receiving his M.A. at
With this we bring to a close our narrative of the circle of scientific enthusiasts who gravitated about the successive
58. An eminent mathematician and scientist of the day who may well have met with the group at Gresham College in the 30’s and 40’s, was Edmund Wingate, whom Samuel Foster appointed his literary and scientific executor, and who saw many of Foster’s works through the press after the latter’s death in 1652.
In the 20’s Wingate had been in
59. Ward, op. cit., p. 90.
-the outlines of the story stand out in clear relief. They picture a steady growth, from the very beginning of the seventeenth century, of association and collaboration among English scientists under the sponsorship of the