Sir William Petty, Scientist, political economist and doctor 1623-1687

By the time William Petty was elected a Fellow of Brasenose in 1650 he had already served as a cabin boy in the Navy, had studied medicine, mathematics and chemistry on the continent, had been appointed Professor of Music at Gresham College and was taking over the teaching of anatomy in Oxford University.

Within five months of his election as Fellow he was granted a leave of absence and became physician to the army in Ireland, subsequently taking over the surveying of the country as well. His leaves of absence continued until 1659, when the College declared his fellowship void because of his absence and his increased private income.

Petty was a founder member of the Royal Society, an inventor, statistician, naval architect, cartographer and political economist, his most famous work in the latter field being his Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662). But his popular fame rests on an event which took place when he was reader in anatomy at Oxford in 1650. The custom was for Oxford medical students to practice human dissection on the bodies of executed criminals, and Petty duly received the body of Anne Green, hanged for the murder of her illegitimate child. However, she was found to be alive, and Petty and his colleague revived her. She went on to marry, bear three children and live for another fifteen years.

The British Library holds a collection of William Petty's correspondence and papers.



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