The Galileo Project
site map


1. Dates
Born: Bristol, 20 Jan. 1651
Died: London, 1 Aug. 1708
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant, Magistrate
Also Edward Tyson, he was a wealthy merchant and city magistrate in Bristol, who had inherited a considerable estate from his own father. Note that Tyson went to Oxford as a fellow commoner.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., M.D.; Cambridge, M.D.
Oxford University, Magdalen Hall; B.A., 1670; M.A., 1673: M.B. (which I list as M.D.), 1677.
Cambridge University, M.D., 1680. According to the story about this degree, Tyson went up to Cambridge in 1680 intending to perform all the exercises, but the university refused and demanded only the fee. Tyson, offended by the university, nevertheless paid the money and took the degree, which allowed him to practice legally in London. He became a Candidate to the Royal College of Physicians that same year. I list other universities and degrees under similar circumstances, and so I list this one.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
The family had a tradition of Anglicanism which he fully embraced. Late in life he endowed his native church in Bristol with an annual sermon on St. Stephen's day.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Anatomy, Natural History
Subordinate: Medicine
In Oxford Tyson became interested in natural history. His manuscripts contain considerable material on this study, including detailed descriptions of a number of plants and of such species as the sea-anenome.
Tyson published more than two dozen articles in the Philosophical Transactions on anatomy, natural history, morbid anatomy and pathology. He was a pioneer in correlating post mortem dissections with specific diseases. He discovered the "Tyson glands" in the penis.
He was a leader in comparative anatomy: Phocaena, or the Anatomy of a Porpess, 1680, which contains an extensive discussion of his idea of a natural history of animals based on comparative anatomy. Later he added an anatomy of a rattlesnake and of some other animals. He contributed two descriptions of fish to Willoughby's History of Fishes, 1686. In 1698 an anatomy of a female opossum and in 1704 of a male. 1699: Orang-Outang (a chimpanzee)--this was his most important work. His manuscripts contain many more descriptions and dissections than he found time from his medical practice to publish. Incidentally, he used the microscope in many of his dissections.
He also published on medicine in Bartholin's Acta medica.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Medicine
Secondary: Scientific Society
He inherited a fortune from his father, 1667.
Practice in London, 1677-1708. He set up there following his B.M. degree in 1677. There is good evidence that the practice flourished. His will indicates that he died quite wealthy.
Physician to Bethlehem and Bridewell Hospitals, 1684-1708.
Ventera readership in Anatomy at the Surgeons Hall, 1684- 99. He was also the anatomical curator and prosector of the Royal Society (salaried at 20) in 1683.
8. Patronage
Type: Government Official
The Lord Keeper North used his influence at court to arrange Tyson's appointment to Bethlehem and Bridewell Hospitals.
Hooke introduced him to the Royal Society and arranged his dissections in 1679. (I'll leave this information here, but not count it as patronage.)
He dedicated Phocaena, 1680, to Sir Joseph Williamson, President of the Royal Society, and to the Council and Fellows. He dedicated Orang-Outang, 1699, to John Lord Somers, the Lord Chancellor but also at that time President of the Royal Society. (The Royal Society gave its imprimatur to this book.) The Royal Society played a major role in Tyson's life, and with Tyson's personal wealth also in mind, I am not considering these dedications as aspects of patronage.
James Keill dedicated his Anatomy to Tyson.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College
Informal Connections: Strongly influenced by Plot when he was young; he maintained a correspondence on natural history with Plot until Plot's death. Close relationship with Hooke after 1678. Collaboration with Samuel Collins on his System of Anatomy, and later with William Cowper who collaborated with Tyson in some of Tyson's work. Friendship with the Danish physician Holger Jacobeus.
He was part of the Oxford Group and later was elected to the Oxford Philosophical Society in 1686.
Royal Society, 1679; Council in 1681 and many later years.
Royal College of Physicians, 1683; Censor, 1694.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 19, 1375-6. M.F. Ashley Montagu, Edward Tyson, M.D., F.R.S., 1650-1708, and the Rise of Human and Comparative Anatomy in England, (Philadelphia, 1943).
  2. _____, "Tysoniana," Isis, 35 (1946), 105-8.
  3. _____, "Introduction" to Tyson, Orang-Outang, (London, 1966), pp. 1-12.
  4. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 426-8.
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.