p@rsons_world of Martin Lister FRS

This webpage celebrates the life and work of Martin Lister, the Lincolnshire physician and naturalist.

Martin Lister FRS

Born 1639. Died at Epsom on 2nd February 1712

Notes: [April 2012] by John Redshaw - reproduced here with his permission.

Martin Lister FRS. from Monograph of the Land and Freshwater Mollusca of the British Isles.

Martin Lister, FRS, physician and naturalist, and sometime of Burwell near Louth, was baptised on 11th April, 1639 at Radclive near Buckingham. He was the fourth son of Sir Martin Lister, MP for Brackley.

Although it is claimed that Martin Lister moved to Burwell at the age of three, in 1642, when the estate came into the possession of the Lister family (Goulding, 1900) there are other claims that the family did not move there until 1656, (Matthew & Harrison, 2004). About 1646 Martin Lister's family moved to Carlton Hall, Craven, Yorkshire. Lister attended Melton Mowbray School and in 1655 was admitted a Pensioner of St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1660 he was appointed a Fellow of St.John's College by royal mandate and in 1663 travelled to France (Montpellier) to study medicine, anatomy and botany. It was about this time that Lister became friends with the naturalist John Ray. In 1669 he married Hannah Parkinson, by whom he had eight children, and in 1670 he established a medical practice in York. Lister married his second wife, Jane Cullen, in 1698.

Lister was accepted by the Royal College of Physicians in 1684, and attended the post-mortem on Charles II. He had been admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1671, and In 1685 was elected Vice President. Subsequently, in the 1690s, he attended the weekly meetings of the Temple Coffee House Club of naturalists.

Lister's first book, the Historia animalium Angliae tres tractataus (1678-81) was a systematic account dealing with spiders and their habitats, and with terrestrial and marine molluscs. It was in this work that he referred to snails found in the Louth and Burwell area. His two daughters prepared a set of copperplate engravings of all known shells and his Historia sive synopsis methodical conchyliorum with over a thousand plates was completed in 1697. This became the "bible" for conchologists for over a hundred years and it is for this work that he is chiefly remembered. Lister also published in three parts his Excercitato Anatomica (1694-96) which contained descriptions of the internal anatomy of molluscs. His wide-ranging interest in natural history resulted in an account of British Beetles appended to John Ray's Historia insectorum.

Martin Lister was the author of nineteen books, and about seventy-two papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. His papers included work on gossamer spiders, plants galls, and the causes of earthquakes, lightning and thunder. He was the first to propose the construction of geological maps.

A print of a portrait of Lister together with a facsimile signature, reproduced here, appears in Monograph of the Land and Freshwater Mollusca of the British Isles, where his name is associated with Helix aspersa the common garden snail. This illustration was made available by R.W. Goulding of Louth who for some time was archivist at Welbeck Abbey. It was believed that the original portrait was in the Portland Collection at Welbeck. However recent enquiries requesting permission to reproduce this illustration indicate that Welbeck Estate has no knowledge of the portrait.

It is primarily as a conchologist that Lister will be remembered. His descriptions of about twenty species of snails from the Louth/Burwell area constitute the first snail records for Lincolnshire. His name has been commemorated in Lister's viviparous river-snail, Paludestrina listeri, (now known as Viviparus contectus), and in the two twayblade orchids Listera ovata and L. cordata.

Lister died at Epsom on 2nd February 1712 and was buried at Clapham.

Anon, 1909. Transactions of Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union, II, 106.
Goulding, R.W., 1900. Associated Architectural Society Reports, XXV.
Matthew, H.C.G & Harrison, B. (Eds.), 2004. Oxford DNB, XXXIII, 986-7.
Taylor,J.W.,1914. Monograph of the Land & Freshwater Mollusca of the British Isles. Leeds. III, 236.p>

© John Redshaw April 2012

A few related links:

  • Court Medicine

  • Cultures of Knowledge Link down.

  • Conference: Natural History and Seventeenth-Century Science Link down.

  • A speculum of chymical practice

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Go to 'Library card login' window and type in your personal library card access number to get the full transcript of Martin Lister's biography as it appears in DNB.

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