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Natural history on the move: John Ray's continental travels, 1663–1666

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In April 1663 John Ray left Dover for Calais, accompanied by two friends from Trinity College, Cambridge, Francis Willughby and Philip Skippon, and by Nathaniel Bacon. By the time Ray and Skippon returned to Dover in April 1666 they had travelled east to Vienna, south though Italy to Sicily and Malta and then home via Rome, Geneva and Montpellier, only leaving Montpellier when forced to do so by the expulsion of all Englishmen from France. In this talk I hope to examine the approach adopted by these hard-working travellers, distinguishing it from the more sybaritic behaviour associated with the Grand Tour. I will then discuss how they were able to study natural history (and in particular plants, birds and fish) when on the move. Finally, I will outline the way in which the surviving plant specimens from the tour can be used to examined the claim by C.E. Raven, Ray’s biographer, that Francis Willughby ‘contributed almost nothing to Ray’s botanical work’.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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