John Woodward (naturalist)

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John Woodward

John Woodward (born May 1, 1665 in Derbyshire / England, † April 25, 1728 in London ) was an English natural historian , geologist and doctor .


Woodward studied medicine at Cambridge University and was awarded a Dr. med. PhD. From 1692 he was a professor of natural science at Gresham College in London, from 1709 he ran his own medical practice.


Woodward researched the geology of the British Isles and formulated his own theory about the formation of the earth. After that, the earth inside should consist of water and have a firm crust. For him it was a ruin left behind by the flood . He describes the deluge as the “… most horrible and portentous catastrophe that Nature ever saw: an elegant, orderly and habitable Earth quite unhinged, shattered all to pieces, and turned into an heap of ruins: Convulsions so exorbitatant and unruly: a change so exceeding great and violent, that the very representation alone is enough to startle and shock a man. " (Natural History, p. 82).

Woodward postulated that God's intervention had reshaped the earth to meet the needs of sinful mankind by making existence on earth so difficult that man no longer had time for sinful activity.

Woodward was a member of the Royal Society and, in addition to his religiously inspired speculations, also carried out solid research as a physiologist : He experimented with plant germs in water culture and refuted van Helmont's nutritional hypothesis when he found out that plants do not thrive in rainwater, but in water that mixed with soil, grew well, so they needed nutrients. He also showed that over a period of three months, plants release forty-six times as much water as they can store in themselves.

Endowed professorship in Cambridge

In 1728 Woodward established the endowed professorship Woodwardian Professor of Geology , whose first professor was the theologian Conyers Middleton from 1731 to 1734. The will provided that the election of the scholarship holder would be by the Archbishop of Canterbury , the Bishop of Ely , the President of the Royal Society, the Presidents of the Royal Society of Physicians , the Cambridge University MPs in the London Parliament and the University Senate.


  • Essay toward a Natural History of the earth. 1692.
  • Brief instructions for making observations in all parts of the world. 1696.
  • Fossils. In: John Harris : Lexicon chemicum. 1704.
  • Naturalis historia teluris. 1714.
  • Fossils of All Kinds Digested Into a Method. 1728.
  • An Attempt Towards a Natural History of the Fossils of England. 1729.


  • VA Eyles: John Woodward, FRS (1665-1728): Physician and Geologist. In: Nature. 206, May 29, 1965, pp. 868-870.

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