Parson-naturalists were ministers of religion who also studied natural history. The archetypical parson-naturalist was a priest in the Church of England in charge of a country parish, who saw the study of science 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 artefacts 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
White, Gilbert[3] 1720–1793 Curate of Selborne, Hampshire
Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne
not authentic
Ray, John[4] 1627–1705 Father of English natural history;
taxonomy; empiricism
Historia Plantarum
Derham, William[5] 1657–1735 Physico-Theology, (Natural theology) Estimated speed of sound
Astronomy, listed nebulae
Lightfoot, John[6] 1735–1788 Botanist
Flora Scotica (1789)
Henslow, John Stevens[7] 1796–1861 Botanist, Geologist Mentor and friend of his pupil Charles Darwin
Jenyns, Leonard[8] 1800–1893 Priest, founder of Bath Natural History
and Antiquarian Field Club
Phenology and meteorology observations
Fox, William Darwin[9] 1805–1880 Priest, Entomologist, collector of beetles Tutored his second cousin Charles Darwin in natural history

Tristram, Henry Baker[10] 1822–1906 Biblical scholar, Ornithologist Early acceptance of Darwinism,
tried to reconcile it with creation
Wood, John George[11] 1827–1889 Natural history populariser and lecturer Common Objects of the Country
Dallinger, William[12] 1839–1909 Methodist minister, microbiology Research on monads
Opposition to spontaneous generation
Cowper, Spencer[13] 1713–1774 Dean of Durham 1746–1774 Meteorology
Morris, Francis Orpen[14] 1810–1893 Irascible Irish clergyman
Strongly opposed 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
Bloxam, Andrew[15] 1801–1878 Naturalist on HMS Blonde
Later priest and naturalist
Recorded and collected Hawaiian birds,
some now extinct
Later particularly known for fungi, Rubus and Rosa
Berkeley, Miles Joseph[16] 1803–1889 Vicar of Sibbertoft for much of his life
Known as the founder of British mycology
Account of native British fungi in Sir William Jackson Hooker's British Flora (1836)
Introduction to Cryptogamic Botany (1857)
Outlines of British Fungology (1860)
Linton, William Richardson[17] 1850–1908 Botanist, Vicar of Shirley, Derbyshire Work on brambles of Derbyshire, including Rubus durescens
Flora of Derbyshire: Flowering Plants, Higher Cryptogams, Mosses and Hepatics, Characeae

See also


  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 (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 61. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. ^ "Biography: John Ray". UCMP Berkeley. Archived from the original on 16 March 2018. 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". Archived from the original on 5 February 2006.
  9. ^ Larkum, A.W.D. (2009). A Natural Calling: Life, Letters and Diaries of Charles Darwin and William Darwin Fox. Springer Verlag.
  10. ^ Armstrong, 2000. p. 6
  11. ^  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.
  12. ^ 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. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2000.0096. JSTOR 532058. PMID 11624308. S2CID 145758182.
  13. ^ 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. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2007.0047. JSTOR 40647193. S2CID 145590156.
  14. ^ Armstrong, 2000. pp. 74–78
  15. ^ Berkeley, M.J. (1878). "The Rev. Andrew Bloxam: A Memoir". The Midland Naturalist. 1: 88–90.
  16. ^ Massee, George (1913). "Miles Joseph Berkeley 1803—1889" . In Oliver, Francis Wall (ed.). Makers of British Botany. Cambridge University Press. pp. 225–232.
  17. ^ Edees, Eric Smoothey (1963). "Notes on Derbyshire bramble" (PDF). BSBI Proceedings. 5: 13–19.