John Ray’s Story

John Ray is considered to be the father of natural history. He devoted his life to founding the study of the natural world as a scientific, experiment based and university-worthy subject in Britain. His work has had huge implications right down to the present day.

Ray lived through a period of transition from the ‘medieval’ to the ‘modern’ world which we now call the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. Scholars were starting to establish modern scientific principles of reason and analysis. The Royal Society was founded in 1663 and Ray became a Fellow in 1667. He became a highly respected authority whose opinions about the natural world were sought by other fellows of the Royal Society, and his publications were an important source for Carl Linnaeus.

Ray worked to systematise classification because until then there was no agreed way of describing plants, which made it difficult to work out if the plants described in different catalogues were the same or different plants. Ray called this a ‘multiplication of species’.