A Brief Biography of Robert Boyle

By Tim Lambert

His early life

Robert Boyle was one of the great 17th century scientists. He was an outstanding chemist. Robert Boyle was born on 25 January 1627. Robert was the 7th son of Richard Boyle the first Earl of Cork and his wife Catherine (who died in 1630). In 1635 when he was only 8 years old Boyle was sent to Eton. He studied there until 1638. In 1639 Boyle was sent to Europe. He traveled in France, Switzerland, and Italy. In 1644 Robert Boyle returned to England. At first, he stayed in London but in 1645 he moved to Stalbridge in Dorset.

As a young man, Boyle was studious and enjoyed reading but in 1649 he became interested in science. Boyle began carrying out experiments in a laboratory in his home. About 1650 Robert Boyle became interested in Biblical languages such as Hebrew and Greek. In 1654-1656 Boyle lived in Ireland. Then about 1656, he moved to Oxford where many learned men were interested in science (or natural philosophy as it was called).

Robert Boyle continued with his experiments. In the late 1650s, he experimented with air, and in 1660 he was a founding member of the Royal Society. In 1661 Robert Boyle published his great work The Skeptical Chemist. Boyle rejected Aristotle’s idea that matter is made of 4 elements (water, air, fire, and earth). Instead, he thought that matter was made of particles. However, Boyle did not realize there were different kinds of particles. He thought that different positions, motions, and numbers made particles into different substances.

Robert Boyle was also a devout Christian and he was keen to evangelize the Native Americans. In 1662 he became governor of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England.

In 1668 Robert Boyle moved to London. He lived in a house in Pall Mall with his sister. He continued to do experiments in a laboratory in the house. In 1670 Boyle suffered a stroke but he continued his experiments.

By the late 1680s Boyle was in poor health and in 1691 he wrote his will. Robert Boyle died on 31 December 1691. He was buried in St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London on 7 January 1692. Today Robert Boyle is remembered as a great experimenter and one of the founders of modern chemistry.