Stephen Hales

In the south transept of Westminster Abbey is a monument to Stephen Hales, eminent botanist and inventor of ventilators. He was descended from Thomas Hales, one of the Barons of the Exchequer in the reign of Henry VIII. The sculptor was Joseph Wilton and the monument shows a pyramid with a portrait profile of Hales. On either side are figures representing Religion and Botany, who is holding a cornucopia. A globe displays winged heads, representing winds, referring to his greatest invention. The Latin inscription can be translated:

The monument to STEPHEN HALES S.T.P. [professor of sacred theology] is raised by Princess Augusta, mother of George III, best of kings: who, during his lifetime chose him as her private chaplain, and, upon his death on the 4th Jan. 1761, in the course of his eighty-fourth year, honoured him with this memorial. At the tomb of Hales, which Augusta decreed should arise in gleaming stone, and display a proper splendour, do Piety, venerable Faith, and mighty Virtue - a sacred company - shed perpetual tears. Above the dead, divine Wisdom proclaims a prophet. Well versed was he in ministering to the ills of mankind, in exploring the works of the Lord: the passing of ages shall not diminish your praise and renown, O Hales. It is England's boast to number you among her distinguised sons, alongside her dear Newton: O proud land of England.

Hales was born on 17th September 1677 at Beaksbourne in Kent, one of many children of Thomas Hales (d.1692) and his wife Mary (Wood). Due to the early deaths of his parents he was put in the care of his brothers Sir Thomas and Robert Hales. He attended Cambridge university and became a fellow of Corpus Christi college. Although very interested in science he became a clergyman and served at Teddington in Middlesex. On 26th March 1720 he married Mary Newce but she died the following year and they had no children. In 1733 he became doctor of divinity and was later chaplain to Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales and he also became a fellow of the Royal Society. His ventilators were used in the House of Commons, in ships, prisons and hospitals. He served on the Georgia Trust for missionary works in that colony in the USA. He died on 4th January 1761 and was buried with his wife at St Mary's church, Teddington. Charles Wesley called him "a truly pious, humble Christian" and his scientific reputation was second only to that of Isaac Newton.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"Stephen Hales" by R.E. Schofield & D.G.C. Allan

Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, London (facsimile edition 1964)


17th September 1677


4th January 1761




South Transept

Memorial Type


Stephen Hales
Stephen Hales by William Ramsay

(The Gases of the Atmosphere) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen Hales
Stephen Hales memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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