The Galileo Project
site map

Grew, Nehemiah

1. Dates
Born: Mancetter, Warwickshire, 1641
Died: probably in London, 25 March 1712
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 71
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric, Schoolmaster
Obadiah Grew was a non-conformist clergyman. As the Vicar of St. Michael's, Coventry, he refused to comply with the Act of Uniformity in 1662 and was ejected; later he was imprisoned for preaching inside limits forbidden by the Five Mile Act. He was also the master of Atherstone Grammar School. I don't know the dates, but I suspect that this was a non-conformist school set up after 1662.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge; Leiden, M.D.
Early education at Coventry.
Cambridge University; Pembroke Hall; B.A., 1661.
University of Leiden; M.D., 1671. Grew did not study at Leiden; in keeping with an accepted practice, he came, took an examination, delivered an act, and received a degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
Grew continued to adhere to the religious views of his father throughout his life.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany
Subordinate: Anatomy, Chemistry
Along with Malpighi, Grew is one of the founders of botany as the study of more than taxonomy. The Anatomy of Vegetables Begun, 1671, was followed by several other books that studied parts of plants (e.g, roots and trunks), and all were brought together in The Anatomy of Plants, 1682. Grew established, or helped to establish, the sexuality of plants.
He described and illustrated the intestines and related organs of many different animals, studies collected in "Comparative Anatomy of Stomachs and Guts," in his Musaeum.
He published a series of chemical papers, mostly analyses of vegetable products, collected in Anatomy of Plants.
Musaeum regalis societatis, 1681.
Cosmologia sacra, 1701.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Scientific Society, Schoolmastering, Publishing
There is no information on what Grew did between 1661 and 1671, though there is some indirect evidence that he was practicing medicine in Coventy. He was certainly practicing there in 1672 when the Royal Society induced him to move to London.
Bishop Wilkins took the lead in a project within the Royal Society to raise a salary for Grew by subscription. He was appointed Curator of the Anatomy of Plants at a salary of L50. Ten fellow promised to subscribe, apparently L5 apiece, though several of them never paid up. Wilkins died before the year was out. Grew composed An Idea of a Phytological History Propounded, 1673, almost as a research proposal to the Royal Society (to whom it was dedicated) to encourage them to extend the arrangement. The society failed to obtain enough continuing subscriptions, and Grew returned to Coventry. However, he returned to London almost at once as the deputy to lecture for Jonathan Goddard, Professor of Physic at Gresham College, for L40. (I categorize this under Schoolmaster; as deputy he does not seem to me to have held an academic position.) Goddard died in 1675. Somewhat later Grew deputized for Walter Pope, the Professor of Astronomy at Gresham, and he was also paid for occasional lectures at the Royal Society. He was Secretary of the Royal Society, with a small salary, for three years, 1677-80.
There is no evidence that Grew was also practicing medicine in London at this time. However, his half-brother, Henry Sampson, who played an important role in promoting Grew's scientific career, had set up practice among non-conformists in London in about 1668. Later, in the same year, 1680, both Grew and Sampson were admitted as so-called honorary fellows of the Royal College of Physicians. After about 1679 there is no doubt that Grew devoted himself entirely to his medical practice; it appears likely to me that he practiced medicine from the time he moved to London from Coventry.
In 1681 and 82 Grew published his two books (Musaeum and Anatomy of Plants) by public subscription which he himself organized. They were among the first books financed in this way.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Court Official
He was persuaded by John Wilkins and other fellows of the Royal Society to move to London to take up the study of plant anatomy more seriously after they saw the manuscript of his Anatomy of Vegetables Begun. The Royal Society published the book, which Grew dedicated to Brouncker and the fellows of the society. Likewise he dedicated An Idea of the Phytological History Propounded to them in 1683. He dedicated one part of the Anatomy of Plants to Robertr Boyle. Robert Hooke made the society's microscope availble to Grew, launching his career as a micrscopist. See above for the society's continuing (if uncertain) encouragement of his research.
He dedicated Comparative Anatomy of Trunks, 1675, and Anatomy of Plants, 1682, to Charles II.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
In addition to medical practice, Grew devoted attention to pharmacology. In 1678 he published Experiments of Luctation, which he described as a natural history of materia medica. He was the first to obtain sulfate of magnesia from Epsom waters and to employ it as a medicine. He published a tract on this in 1692 and another one on another salt (to be used as a medicine) in 1689.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College
Informal Connections: His studies were encouraged by Henry Sampson, his half-brother, and through Sampson he made connection with the Royal Society.
Royal Society, 1671-1712; Curator, 1672; secretary, 1677-80.
Royal College of Physicians, 1680-1712.
  1. Julius von Sachs, History of Botany, pp.229-41. QK15.S12
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 8, 609-11. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), pp. 406-9.
  3. Agnes Arber, "The Tercentenary of Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712)," Nature, 147 (1941), 630-2.
  4. _____, "Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) and Marcelloa Malpighi (1628- 1694): An Essay in Comparison," Isis, 34 (1942-3), 7-16. _____, "Nehemiah Grew, 1641-1712," in F.W. Oliver, ed. Makers of British Botany, (Cambridge, 1913), pp. 44-64.
  5. Jeanne Bolam, "The Botanical Works of Nehemiah Grew, F.R.S. (1641- 1712)," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 27 (1972-3), 219-31.
  6. Michael Hunter, "Early Problems in Professionalizing Scientific Research: Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) and the Royal Society, with an Unpublished Letter to Henry Oldenburg," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 36 (1981-2), 189-209. This is a very illuminating article.
  7. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 6, 2402-4.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. W. Carruther, "On the Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew," Journal of the Royal Microscoptical Society, 129 (1902), 129-41.
  2. C.R. Metcalfe, "A Vista in Plant Anatomy," in W.B. Turrill, ed. Vistas in Botany, (London, 1959), pp. 76-98.
  3. Agnes Arber, "Nehemiah Grew and Marcello Malpighi," Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London, 153 (1940-1), 218-38.
  4. Conway Zirkle, introduction to Grew, The Anatomyk of Plants, (New York, 1965).
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
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.