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Derham, William

1. Dates
Born: Stoughton (or Stoulton), Worcestershire, 26 Nov. 1657
Died: Upminster, Essex, 5 April 1735
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 78
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
We know only that his name was Thomas Derham.
The records at Oxford record Derham as "pauper puer," and he enrolled as a servitor. I think the father clearly was poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Ox, M.A.
Blockley Grammar School.
Oxford University, Trinity College, 1675-81. B.A., 1679; M.A., 1683. D.D., 1730, but I do not list this as obviously by mandate.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
He was a clergyman in the Anglican Church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy, Meteorology, Natural History
Subordinate: Astronomy, Entomology, Physics
Derham's best known works were Physico-Theology (the Boyle Lectures), 1713, and Astro-Theology, 1714.
He published very extensive meteorological records in the Philosophical Transactions, as well as on natural history (including a much noticed paper on the sexes of wasps as well as other papers on insects) and on astronomy. He had a considerable collection of birds and insects. He also published John Ray's Synopsis methodica avium et piscium, 1713, and new editions of Ray's Pysico-Theological Discourses, and The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation, both in 1713, and in 1718 Ray's Philosophical Letters.
He editted Robert Hooke's Posthumous Works, 1705, and his Philosophical Experiments, 1726.
Derham's measurement of the velocity of sound was the best that had been achieved; Newton accepted and used it in the Principia.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Medicine, Patronage
He was appointed Chaplain to Lady Grey in 1679.
Appointed Vicar of Wargrave in Berkshire, 1681-9.
Appointed Vicar of Upminster in Essex, 1689-1735, a living worth more than L200 per annum.
Medical practice: acted as physician and parson in Upminster, 1689-1735.
Boyle Lecturer, 1711-12. Frankly I do not know how to list this, but think patronage is the best category.
Chaplain to the Prince of Wales, 1715. Canon of Windsor, 1716. I list both of these under patronage.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Gentry, Court Official, Physician
Upon the recommendation of the President of Trinity, when Derham took his B.A. in 1679, Bishop Seth Ward obtain the chaplaincy with Lady Grey for him.
Richard Neville, the lord of the manor, whose wife was the daughter of Lady Grey, made him Vicar of Wargrave in 1681.
A Mrs. Bray apparently presented Derham to Upminster. She was the widow of the previous incumbent, and I find the transaction a mystery.
Chaplain to the Prince of Wales, to whom he dedicated Astro- Theology, 1715, and continued when the Prince became George II. Through the Prince he became Canon of Windsor. He dedicated notes on insects that were published as part of a book by Albin in 1724 to the Princess of Wales. He dedicated Ray's Philosophical Letters, 1718, to Samuel Molyneux, Secretary to the Prince of Wales.
Correspondence (published in Atkinson) seems clearly to indicate that Hans Sloane's intervention with the Archbishop of Canterbury obtained Derham's appointment as Chaplain to the Prince of Wales. Derham's letter to Sloane on 3 Oct. 1715 is one of the best documents on patronage I have seen.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Instruments
See above on medical practice.
Derham's first publication was The Artificial Clockmaker, 1696, a treatise on clocks. He continued to work on clocks and apparently on telescopes. He published an account of an instrument for finding the meridian in the Philosophical Trasnactions.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal connections: Correspondence with John Ray, Dacre Barrett (the correspondence survives in the Sloane MSS at the British Library, in the Royal Society, and elsewhere-- see Atkinson); connection with Newton, Hooke and Halley.
Royal Society, 1702-35.
  1. A.D. Atkinson, "William Derham, F.R.S. (1657-1735)," Annals of Science, 8 (1952), 368-92. Q1.A7 This is an outstanding article.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 5, 842-3. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 5, 116-19.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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