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Gray, Stephen

1. Dates
Born: Canterbury, 1666 baptized 26 Dec. 1666
Died: London, 7 Feb. 1736
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
Mathias Gray was a dyer, described (on what evidence I do not know) as a rapidly rising artisan.
No adequate information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
No university education.
Probably studied in London or perhaps in Greenwich under John Flamsteed.
Somewhere he acquired working Latin.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Pensioners of the Charterhouse had to be members of the established church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Electricity, Astronomy
Subordinate: Natural History
From the 90s to 1716 Gray devoted his scientific energies to astronomical observations, quantitative and accurate, of eclipses, sunspots, the satellites of Jupiter, and the like. He was in constant correspondence with Flamsteed. It is clear that Gray was an accomplished observer, to the extent that Trinity College, Cambridge, hired him as an assistant in its planned observatory.
In the latter years of his life he devoted himself to electricity. In 1729 he discovered that electricity could be conducted. Threads are what he used for this.
He was awarded the Copley Medal in 1731 (the first award) and again in 1732 for his research on electricity.
In his early letters to the Royal Society there is a lot of natural history.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Art
Secondary: Miscellaneous, Patronage
Until disabilities made it impossible, he was a dyer like his father.
In 1707-8, Gray was resident in Trinity, as an assistant to Cotes in setting up the observatory there. I list this and the following item under Miscellaneous.
About 1715-19 (the exact dates are impossible to establish) he appears to have been resident with Desaguliers in Westminster, again serving him as an assistant.
Pensioner of the Charterhouse through the patronage of Prince of Wales, 1719 until his death.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Court Official, Gentry, Eccesiastic Official
For the most part his long relationship with Flamsteed does not appear as patronage. It is impossible to imagine his appointment at Trinity without Flamsteed's assistance, however.
The positions with Cotes and Desaguliers occupy that hazy border between patronage and mere employment.
On the nomination of the Prince of Wales, he became pensioner of the Charterhouse in 1719.
In his later years Gray was frequently resident with John Godfrey, Esq., (who had also been, note, a patron of John Harris) of Norton Court, Kent, and with the Rev. Granville Wheler, a properous cleric, both of whom aided his experiments in electricity and gave him financial support.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
Gray's early letters are filled with talk about instruments of various kinds, mostly involving magnification. He is credited with a microscope in which a drop of water was the lens. He ground lenses. He worked hard at improving sand and water glasses as devices better to measure time.
Some small instruments for electrical experiments.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Intimate and lasting friendship (and correspondence) with Flamsteed. Cooperation with Wheler in electrical experiments. Friendship with Henry Hunt. Hunt supplied him with the Philosophical Transactions and transmitted to their editor the communications they called forth from Canterbury.
63 manuscript letters survive, at the British Library, the Greenwich Observatory, and the Royal Society.
Royal Society, 1732-36. First receipient of the Copley medal, 1731, and then again in 1732.
Sources
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 8. W.P. Courtney, "Stephen Gray, F.R.S.," Notes and Queries, 6 (1906), 161-3, 354.
  2. I.B. Cohen, Franklin and Newton, pp. 368-71.
  3. _____, "Neglected Sources for the Life of Stephen Gray," Isis, 45 (1954), 41-50.
  4. J. Frederick Corrigan, "Stephen Gray (1696 [sic] - 1726). An Early Electrical Experimenter," Science Progress, 19 (1924), 102-14.
  5. R.A. Chipman, "An Unpublished Letter of Stephen Gray on Electrical Experiment," Isis, 45 (1954), 33-40.
  6. _____, "The Manuscript Letters of Stephen Gray," Isis, 49 (1958), 414-33.
  7. David H. Clark and Lesley Murdin, "The Enigma of Stephen Gray: Astronomer and Scientist (1666-1736)," Vistas in Astronomy, 23 (1979), 351-404. This is at the moment the definitive work on Gray.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Michael Ben-Chaim, "Social Mobility and Scientific Change: Stephen Gray's Contribution to Electrical Research," British Journal for the History of Science, 23 (1990), 3-24.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
 
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