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Gellibrand, Henry

1. Dates
Born: London, 17 Nov. 1597
Died: London, 16 Feb. 1636
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 39
2. Father
Occupation: Physician
Henry Gellibrand was a graduate of Oxford and for a time a fellow of All Souls. After 1602 he was a physician in Maidstone, Kent. The father died in 1615.
I always assume that physicians were affluent at least. In fact the father left a considerable estate; our Henry was his sole heir. However, a reference below to Henry's small patrimony (which could have been in error, to be sure) leads me to list the family circumstances merely as affluent. It is surely relevant that Gellibrand entered Oxford as a commoner.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A.
Oxford University, Trinity College, 1615-23. B.A., 1619. M.A., 1623.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
Gellibrand was in holy orders; he held a curacy in Kent before 1623. In 1631, when he published an almanac with definite Puritan hues, Laud attempted to prosecute him.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Navigation, Magnetism
Subordinate: Mathematics, Astronomy
Gellibrand discovered the secular change in magnetic declination.
He attempted to solve the problem of longitude. His "Appendix concerning Longitude" in Thomas James, Strange and Dangerous Voyage, 1633, attempted to draw on observable celestial events as a means to establish longitude. His Epitome of Navigation appeared in 1698, long after his death.
Gellibrand completed Briggs' Trigonometria britannica, 1633.
Institution Trigonometrical, 1638, a text. In 1652 (posthumous) a longer work of tthe same name in Latin, with applications to navigation and astronomy, a work much used in its English translation.
He composed "Astronomia lunaris," which survived in manuscript.
He is reported to have written a Treatise of Building of Ships.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Academia
Secondary: Church Life
Temporary curacy at Chiddingstone, Kent, 1620s.
It is said that Gellibrand settled in Oxford as a young man (by inference after his M.A.) and became there a friend of Henry Briggs. There is no information on how he supported himself in this period. However, the letter from Trinity College, supporting his nomination to be Gresham Professor, spoke of his being satisfied with his small patrimony (I now have doubt that the patrimony was small) in order that the pursuit of preferment not interefere with his studies.
Professor of astronomy at Gresham College, 1626-36.
8. Patronage
Type: Scientist
Owed the professorship to Henry Briggs.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Navigation
Applied mathematics in navigation.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: A close friend of Henry Briggs; he completed Briggs' unfinished Trigonometria Britannica and published it in 1633.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 7, 996-7. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 2188-91.
  2. John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, facsimile ed. (New York, 1967), pp. 81-5, 336.
  3. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 2, 622-3. John H. Raach, "Five Early 17th-Century English Country Physicians," Journal of Medical History, 20 (1965), 213-25.
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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