Authorised form of namePetty; Sir; William (1623 - 1687); natural philosopher, administrator, and economist
Dates1623 - 1687
Dates and placesBirth:
Romsey, Hampshire, England, Europe (26 May 1623)
Piccadilly, Westminster, London, England, Europe (16 December 1687)
Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, London, England, Europe
Research Field:
economics; demography; geography
School at Romsey; La Fleche; Jesuit College, Caen; Paris; Leyden (matriculated 1644); Utrecht; Amsterdam; Brasenose College, Oxford (DMed 1650)
Went to sea at an early age but was deserted in France with a broken leg; taught English and navigation while studying in Caen; joined the Royal Navy; went abroad at the outbreak of the Civil War; was a member of Mersenne's circle in Paris; returned to England and took up the trade of clothier (1646); Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford; Assistant to Thomas Clayton, Professor of Anatomy at Oxford; Professor of Anatomy (1651); Professor of Music, Gresham College, London (1651); Physician to the Army in Ireland (1652); Physician to Lambert, Fleetwood and Henry Cromwell, Viceroys of Ireland; Clerk of the Council and Surveyor-General of Ireland (1654); Made the 'Down Survey' of Ireland published as 'Hiberniae Delineato' (1685); MP for West Looe, Cornwall (1659), Enniscorthy, Ireland (1661); designed a double-bottomed boat, a model of which he gave to the Royal Society (1663); Judge of the Admiralty in Ireland; Commissioner of the Navy in England
Kt 1661
FRCP (1658); Dublin Philosophical Society
Royal Society activityMembership:
Founder Fellow
Election Date:
Active on Council from 1663 with short breaks until his death in 1687.
VP 1674-
Committee appointments include:
Committee of the members of the Royal Society in Ireland concerning the structure and sailing of Sir William Petty's new Ship
Mechanical Committee
Other RSActivity:
Proposed methods in which members could contribute more to weekly meetings and additionally bring in the arrears through experiments and ensuing debate.
Paymaster (22 October 1673) to secure weekly payments and contributions to the Society.
RelationshipsParents: Anthony Petty and Francesca Petty
Married: Elizabeth Waller (created Baroness Shelburne 1688)
Children: John Petty; Charles Petty; Henry Petty (FRS 1696); Anne Petty
Published worksRCN: 49202
General contextAs a physician, Petty grew to fame as one of the people to resuscitate Anne Greene, a woman who had been hanged for infanticide but was the next day discovered to be breathing prior to the intended dissection. This fame alongside his medical skills secured him a post as physician to the army in Ireland, around the time of Cromwell's victory over the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and subsequent occupation of the country. As part of this, Petty was a surveyor of Irish lands to be taken from their owners and redistributed amongst English soldiers. He even developed a new system in 1654, welcomed by the government for its lower cost: the 'down survey'. Ultimately, however, the system was heavily criticised by the government for 'under-selling' the lands, thus not creating a reward for creditors, and not living up to the expectations of English civilians and soldiers. As a result of Petty's work as a surveyor, 8,400,000 acres were taken from (largely Catholic) owners and given to (largely Protestant) people. He benefited directly from the expropriation of Irish Catholics and made £9,000 from this system. Additionally, Petty had proposed a variety of political and economic schemes to James II after his ascent to the throne, amongst which was the idea of constitutional union of England and Ireland and forced transfer of people from one island to the other.

Petty W, IM006102.jpg

Bulloch's Roll; DNB; DSB; Foster; Irish Innovators; ODNB
Kathleen H Ochs, 'The Royal Society of London's History of Trades Programme: An Early Episode in Applied Science' in NR 1984-85 vol 39 pp 129-158
Robert G Frank, Jr, 'John Aubrey, FRS, John Lydall, and Science at Commonwealth Oxford' in NR 1972-3 vol 27 pp 193-217
P M Rattansi, 'The Intellectual Origins of the Royal Society' in NR 1968 vol 23 pp 129-143
K Theodore Hoppen, 'The Royal Society and Ireland. II' in NR 1965 vol 20 pp 78-99
D V Glass, 'John Graunt and his Natural and Political Observations' in NR 1964 vol 19 pp 63-100
Sir Harold Hartley and Sir Cyril Hinshelwood, 'Gresham College and the Royal Society' in NR 1961 vol 16 pp 125-135
Sir Irvine Masson and A J Youngson, 'Sir William Petty, FRS (1623-1687)' in NR 1960 vol 15 pp 79-90, plate
John F Fulton, 'The Honourable Robert Boyle, FRS (1627-1692)' in NR 1960 vol 15 pp 119-135
Douglas McKie, 'The Origins and Foundation of the Royal Society of London' in NR 1960 vol 15 pp 1-37
W H G Armytage, 'The Royal Society and the Apothecaries' in NR 1954-55 vol 11 pp 22-37
G H Turnbull, 'Samuel Hartlib's Influence on the Early History of the Royal Society' in NR 1953 vol 10 pp 101-130
M Greenwood, 'The First Life Table' in NR 1938 vol 1 pp 70-72
W Hayes, 'Physics as well as poetry. Physicists of Ireland, edited by M McCartney and A Whitaker' in NR 2003 vol 57 pp 245-246
L Jardine, 'The 2003 Wilkins Lecture: Dr Wilkins's boy wonders' in NR 2004 vol 58 pp 107-129
Daniel L Chable 'Sir William Petty (1623-1687): The Man, his Times and his Pioneering Contributions to Political Economy' (Seminar paper, 2005 Tracts X507/14)
J Gribbin, 'The Fellowship', 2005, pp134-136

Deposited Papers:
Bought for £1 million by British Library in 1993 from Lord Shelnuren, his descendant
Virtual International Authority File
Royal Society codeNA8268
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
EL/P1/31Extract of letter from William Petty, dated at Dublin13 January 1677
EL/P1/34bAccount of the maiden voyage of William Petty's double-bottomed ship (catamaran)nd
EL/P1/25Letter from William Petty29 April 1663
IM/002702Petty, Sir WilliamNovember 2003
EL/P1/33Copy of a letter from William Petty3 April 1675
EL/P1/30William Petty, dated at Oxford, to Henry Oldenburg18 March 1665
EL/P1/21Copy of a letter from William Petty to William Brounckernd
EL/O1/1Henry Oldenburg to William Pettynd
EL/P1/27Letter from William Petty, dated at Dublin31 July 1663
EL/P1/11Letter from William Petty, dated at Dublin29 October 1662
EL/P1/18Copy of a letter from William Petty, dated at Dublin, to William Brouncker1662
EL/P1/17Copy of a letter from William Petty, dated at Dublin, to Robert Moray1662
EL/P1/22Extract of a letter from William Petty to Mr Graunt11 March 1662
EL/P1/29Letter from William Petty 26 August 1663
EL/P1/13From William Petty1 November 1662
EL/P1/28Extract of a letter from William Petty to Mr Graunt1663
EL/P1/20Copy of a letter from William Petty to William Brouncker1663
EL/P1/37Account of William Petty's double-bottomed ships (catamaran) by unknown authornd
RBO/2i/30'Report of the Sayling of Sir William Petty's Ship on Twelfe day' by Massareene14 January 1662
RBO/6/17'Experiments to be made Relating to Land-Carriage' Proposed by Sir William Petty14 May 1684
RBO/2i/1'An Apparatus To the History of the comon Practices in Dying brought in by Sir William Petty'1662
EL/P1/36Account of William Petty's double-bottomed ship (catamaran) called 'the Experiment'nd
EL/P1/19William Petty to William BrounckerFebruary 1663
EL/P1/35Details of William Petty's double-bottomed ship (catamaran)nd
EL/P1/16William Petty, dated at Dublin, to Robert Moray29 November 1662
EL/P1/23William Petty, dated at Dublin, to Robert Moray25 February 1663
EL/P1/12Copy of a letter from William Petty to William Brouncker1662
EL/P1/38'Report of the committee of the members of the Royal Society in Ireland concerning the structure and sayling of Sir William Petty's new Shipp' to William Brounckernd
EL/P1/14William Petty to William Brouncker29 October 1662
EL/P1/34William Petty's proposals to the King of England concerning his double-bottomed ship (catamaran)nd
EL/P1/34a'Description and Excellency of the Double-Keel Vessell' by William Pettynd
EL/P1/26Copy of a letter from William Petty to Robert Moray1663
RBC/1/54'An Apparatus to the History of the Common Practices in Dying Brought by Sir William Petty'7 May 1662
RBO/2ii/27'Report of the Saileing of Sir William Pettys shipp on Twelfe day' by Massareene14 January 1662
RBO/1/27'Of Making Cloth with Sheeps wooll Delivered in By Sir William Petty'nd
RBO/2ii/1'An Apparatus To the History of the Common Practises in Dying Brought in by Sir William Petty'7 May 1662
RBC/1/30'Of making Cloth with Sheeps wool Delivered in by Sir William Petty'1661
RBO/2ii/26'The Report of the Comittee of the Members of the Royal Societie in Ireland appointed to examine the Structure and Saileing of Sir William Pettys new Shipp. Addressed to my Lord Brouncker...'28 January 1662
CLP/6/10Paper, 'A discourse about water' by SWP [Sir William Petty?][17th century]
RBO/2i/29'The Report of the Committee of the Member of the Royal Society in Ireland, appointed to examine the structure and sayling of Sir William Petty's new ship'1662
CLP/17/18Considerations relating to the improvement of Ireland, and a note on the revenue from Ireland by William Pettynd
RBO/6/132'Concerning the Number of People in London as also in Paris, Rouen and Rome' by William Petty1686
IM/003547Petty, Sir Williamnd
CLP/17/24Concerning the populations of London, Paris, Rouen and Rome by William Pettynd
MS/366/1/5The political Anatomy of Ireland by William Petty1672
MS/366/1/4Political arithmetick by William Petty1671/1672
IM/005330Petty, Sir William1988
CLP/3i/6Paper; 'An apparatus to the history of common practises in dying' brought in by William Petty1662
NLB/5/1108Copy letter from Herbert Rix, to W K Curtis, Burgate Street, Canterbury5 January 1892
NLB/11/630Copy letter from Theodore E James, to Charles H Hull, 35 Bernand Street, Russell Square, W.C.19 August 1895
MS/390/15Bond of Sir William Petty to the Treasurer of the Royal Society23 November 1674
IM/003548Petty, Sir Williamnd
CLP/3i/5Paper, 'Of making cloth with sheeps wool' by William Petty1661
IM/005329Petty, Sir Williamnd
DM/5/67'Transactions of the Mechanicall Committee'14 November 1664, 12 May 1665
EL/M1/26'Report of the committee of the members of the Royal Society in Ireland appointed to examine the structure and sayling of Sir William Petty's new shipp', dated at Dublin5 January 1662
RBO/4/55'A Discourse to the Royall Society' made by William Petty26 November 1674
NLB/11/884Copy letter from Herbert Rix, to Dr C H Hull, Cornell University, Ithaca, New york, United States of America28 October 1895
CLP/7i/36Paper, headings of what should be contained in a treatise on navigation by William Petty1685
EL/P1/15Copy of a letter from William Petty to William Brouncker1662
DM/5/12ANote on an order of the Council relating to the payment of arrears at Michaelmas 16735 January 1673
DM/5/66Minutes of meetings of the Mechanicall Committee July-October 1664
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