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Johnson, Thomas

1. Dates
Born: probably Selby, Yorkshire, c.1600
Died: Basing, Hampshire, Sept. 1644
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 44
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
No information.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
No university education.
Bachelor of Physic, 1643, Oxford, by royal mandate--not to be listed.
M.D., 1643, Oxford, by royal mandate--not to be listed.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption; he did fight on the King's side in the Civil War.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany, Pharmacology
Subordinate: Medicine
Johnson published four works that were the first local flora in England: Iter plantarum investigationis, 1629, and Descriptio itineris, 1632, both about botanical tours of Kent and of Hampstead Heath; Mercurius botanicus, 1634, describing a botanical tour to Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Southampton, and the Isle of Wight; and Mercurii botanici pars alter, 1641, another botanizing tour, this time of north Wales. The last two embodied an attempt to produce a British flora, and with his friend Goodyer he had plans to produce a more extensive British flora. These plans were cut short by his death. Johnson was an apothecary, and in his botanizing he always paid attention to the medicinal properties of plants. He published a new improved edition of Gerard's Herbal, and he was involved in the publication in London of the Pharmacopoei parisiensis, 1637.
A Thomas Johnson, whom virtually everyone takes to be this Thomas Johnson, published a translation of the works of Paré in 1634, a book that exerted great influence on British surgery in the 17th century.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Apothecary
Secondary: Medicine
Apprenticed to the London Apothecary, William Bell, 1620-8.
In apothecary business in London, 1628-43, established at his own shop on Snow Hill by 1633. In 1643 he left London to fight on the King's side in the Civil War.
Johnson's botanical trip of 1634 was occasioned by his being in Bath in medical attendance on a wealthy woman, Ann Walter. It is well known that apothecaries practised medicine, and all the effort of the College of Physicians to stamp this out constitutes evidence that they did practice. Note Johnson's edition of Paré. Note that the two degrees Charles mandated for Johnson in 1634, presumably at his request, were medical degrees. Note also that John Ray later referred to Johnson's skill in medicine. Except for the episode with Ann Walter, this is very tenuous, but with that episode I am willing to list medical practice.
Lieutenant Colonel to Sir Marmaduke Rawdon, the governor of Basing House, 1642-4. I keep this information, but I am highly dubious that it constituted a means of support.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Physician, Aristrocrat, Gentry
The king granted him two degrees in 1643 for his loyalty.
He dedicated his Descriptio, 1632, and his edition of Gerard in 1634 to the Rector and Wardens of the Company of Apothecaries. For the latter he received a gift from the company. Johnson was a member of the Company; I am not going to list this.
He dedicated Mercurius, 1634, to Sir Theodore Mayerne and several other physicians of the College of Physicians.
He dedicated the English edition of Paré to Lord Herbert of Cherbury.
He dedicated Mercurii pars alter to Thomas Glynn, son and heir of Sir William Glynn; during the Welsh expedition that gave rise to this book Johnson's party twice enjoyed Glynn's hospitality.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacology, Medical Practice
See above for both.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Society of Apoth
Informal Connections: Friendship with Dr. George Bowles from 1630, with John Goodyer from 1631, and with John Parkinson in 1630s--all three of them fellow botanists.
Company of Apothecaries, 1628; Court of assistants, 1640.
  1. H. Wallis Kew and H.E. Powell, Thomas Johnson, Botanist and Royalist, (London, 1932).
  2. C.E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckham to Ray, (London, 1947), pp. 273-97. Sir D'Arcy Power, "Epoch-making Books in British Survery VI.
  3. Johnson's Ambroise Parey," British Journal of Surgery, 16 (1928), 181-7.
  4. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 10, 935-6. Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, (London 1790), 1, 126-37.
  5. J.S.L. Gilmour, "Thomas Johnson, the Iter and the Descriptio," in Thomas Johnson, Botanical Journeys in Kent and Hampstead, ed. J.S.L. Gilmour, (Pittsburgh, 1972), pp. 1-4.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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