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John Graunt
JohnGraunt (cropped).png
Born(1620-04-24)April 24, 1620
DiedApril 18, 1674(1674-04-18) (aged 53)

John Graunt (24 April 1620 – 18 April 1674) has been regarded as the founder of demography.[1] Graunt was one of the first demographers, and perhaps the first epidemiologist, though by profession he was a haberdasher. He was bankrupted later in life by losses suffered during Great Fire of London and the discrimination he faced following his conversion to Catholicism.[2]


Born in London, John Graunt was the eldest of the seven or eight children of Henry and Mary Graunt. Graunt's father was a draper who had moved to London from Hampshire. In February 1641, Graunt married Mary Scott, with whom he had one son (Henry) and three daughters. He became a freeman of the Drapers' Company at age 21.

Graunt worked in his father's shop until his father died in 1662, and Graunt became influential in the City. He was able to secure the post of professor of music for his friend William Petty in 1650. He served in various ward offices in Cornhill ward, becoming a common councilman about 1669–71, warden of the Drapers' Company in 1671 and a major in the trained band.[3]

Graunt, along with Sir William Petty, developed early human statistical and census methods that provided a framework for modern demography. He is credited with producing and widely distributing the first life table, giving probabilities of survival to each age. [4] This was remarkable considering the Bills of Mortality did not include age of death, thus Graunt used his knowledge of mathematics to create such a table. Graunt is also considered as one of the first experts in epidemiology, since his famous book was concerned mostly with public health statistics.

The erudition of Graunt's book, Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality, led Graunt to the Royal Society. On February 5th, 1661, Graunt presented fifty copies of his book to the Royal Society of Philosophers, and where he presented his work and was subsequently elected a fellow in 1662 with the endorsement of King Charles II.[5] King Charles II's recommendation was notable due to Graunt's tradesman profession, as the King suggested to the Royal Society to accept "any more such Tradesman." Graunt was chosen as a member of the council in November 1664 and represented the society at various meetings.

Graunt's house was destroyed in the Great Fire of London at which point he was a manager of the New River Company, his clothing firm. Because of this, Graunt encountered many financial problems that eventually lead him to bankruptcy. One of his daughters daughter became a nun in a Belgian convent and Graunt decided to convert to Catholicism at a time when Catholics and Protestants were struggling for control of England and Europe, leading to prosecutions for recusancy.[6] John Graunt died of jaundice and liver disease at the age of 53. John Aubrey reported that he was "a pleasant facetious companion and very hospitable" and noted that his death was "lamented by all good men that had the happinesse to knowe him."[7]

Tribute to Graunt's pioneering work was paid by Sir Liam Donaldson in 2012 on the tenth anniversary of the Public Health Observatories.[8]

Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality

Graunt's book Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality (published 1662 Old Style or 1663 New Style) compiled and analyzed data from the Bills of Mortality. Graunt, using the Rule of Three (mathematics) and ratios obtained by comparing years in the Bills of Mortality, was able to make estimates about the size of the population of London and England, birth rates and mortality rates of males and females, and the rise and spread of certain diseases.[9]

Bills of Mortality

Bill of Mortality from 1606, one of the earlier times which John Graunt looked at in his work.

John Graunt's analysis in Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality consisted of a compilaiton and an analysis of data from the Bills of Mortality. The Bills of Mortality were documents offering information about the births, deaths, and causes of death in London parishes, printed and distributed weekly on Thursdays (in addition to an annual report released in December). The Bills of Mortality were said by Graunt to begin in 1592, and consistently released starting in 1603.[10] Graunt describes how the data was collected for these Bills in his Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Mortality of Man:

"When anyone dies, then either by tolling, or by ringing of a Bell, or by bespeaking of a Grave of the Sexton, the same is known to the Searchers, corresponding with the said Sexton. The Searchers hereupon...examine by what Disease, or Casualty the corps died. Hereupon they make their Report to the Parish-Clerk, and he, every Tuesday night, carries in an Accompt of all the Burials, and Christnings, hapning that Week, to the Clerk of the Hall. On Wednesday the general Accompt is made up, and Printed, and on Thursdays published and dispersed to the several Families, who will pay for four shillings per Annum for them.”[11]

Graunt's description of the method of data collection for the Bills of Mortality also serves as an example of Graunt's use of scrutiny in appraising the data he was analyzing. Graunt critiqued the collectors ("Searchers") who determined cause of death of the corpses; this critique manifested in Graunt's investigations into the effects on mortality of certain diseases, as Graunt suggested many causes of death were misrepresented.

Table of Casualties in Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality (5th edition, published 1676)


Graunt's work reached rudimentary conclusions about the mortality and morbidity of certain diseases. Graunt was highly skeptical of the number of deaths recorded in the Bills of Mortality as due to the plague. Graunt speculated about the reasons for these misclassifications, one of which includes the reliability of those reporting causes of death in the Bills of Mortality.

Another example of Graunt's work in epidemiology is his investigation of the sudden surge in deaths in 1634 due to Rickets. Graunt looked at two other causes of death--"Liver-grown" and "Spleen"--in addition to "Rickets," combining the three and comparing the frequency of deaths due to each cause between years. Graunt investigated if the sudden increase in deaths due to rickets in the Bills of Mortality was actually the result of misclassifying corpses who were said to have died from "Liver-grown" and "Spleen." Graunt concluded that "Rickets" as a cause of death was at a maximum for the first time.[9]

Editions of the book

Graunt's work ran to five editions. The first edition lists John Graunt as a citizen. The first edition was printed and presented by Graunt to the Royal Society of London, after which Graunt was accepted as a member. All successive editions list John Graunt as a member of the Royal Society. The final edition was printed in 1676, after Graunt's death, likely with the help of Sir William Petty.[9]

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Title page of the first edition of Graunt's' Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1662)
Title page of the first edition of Graunt's' Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1662)
Title page of the fifth edition of Graunt's' Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1676)
Title page of the fifth edition of Graunt's' Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1676)


John Graunt's application of theory to data was one of the first instances of descriptive statistics. Some of Graunts' tables are the only resource for population data for certain periods of time, due to lost records in the Great Fire of London. After the publication of Graunt's work, France began to collect more descriptive and consistent censuses, though it is unknown if there was a direct connection between these two events. Graunt's work is still used today to study population trends and mortality, for example, studies on suicide.[12] Tribute to Graunt's pioneering work was paid by Sir Liam Donaldson in 2012 on the tenth anniversary of the Public Health Observatories.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Glass, D.; Ogborn, M.; Sutherland, I. (1963). "John Graunt and His Natural and Political Observations [and Discussion]". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 159 (974): 2–37. doi:10.1098/rspb.1963.0065. JSTOR cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background-image:url("//");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background-image:url("//");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background-image:url("//");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-image:url("//");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:12px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lewin 2004.
  4. ^ Sutherland, Ian (15 July 2005). "Graunt, John". Encyclopedia of Biostatistics. pp. 1–2. doi:10.1002/0470011815.b2a17055. ISBN 047084907X.
  5. ^ %29%3D%27john%20graunt%27%29 "Fellow details" Check |url= value (help). The Royal Society. Retrieved 2014-07-27.
  6. ^ Lewin, C. G. (2004). "Graunt, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/11306. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Aubrey, John (1696). Brief Lives. Oxford, At the Clarendon Press. pp. 272–4.
  8. ^ "Speech by Chief Medical Officer regarding the ten year anniversary of the Public Health Observatories". Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Sutherland, Ian (1963). "John Graunt: A Tercentury Tribute". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General). 126 (4): 537–556. doi:10.2307/2982578. JSTOR 2982578.
  10. ^ Graunt, John; Wilcox, W (1939). Natural and political observations made upon the bills of mortality. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.
  11. ^ Rothman, Kenneth J. (Jan 6, 1996). "Lessons from John Graunt". The Lancet. 347 (8993): 37–39. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(96)91562-7. PMID 8531550. Retrieved Feb 10, 2020.
  12. ^ Sutherland, Ian (1963). "John Graunt: A Tercentury Tribute". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General). 126 (4): 537–556. doi:10.2307/2982578. JSTOR 2982578.
  13. ^ "Speech by Chief Medical Officer regarding the ten year anniversary of the Public Health Observatories". Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.

External links

15 Annotations

Sjoerd  •  Link

"A contemporary of Evelyn's, the self-made scientist-businessman John Graunt, created the tools that eventually allowed people to understand just how smoke and fires and other components of the world around us affect health. A prosperous merchant and art collector who lost everything in the Great Fire, Graunt was a master of assembling and making sense of ordinary information. He laid the foundation for the ways of categorizing, counting and rendering facts and figures that would later change the way people thought about the connections between health and the surrounding world. In 1662, Graunt published a short book, Natural and Political Observations made upon the Bills of Mortality, that summed up his years of sorting and analyzing who died, where, when and how. In immediate recognition of this work, Charles II personally recommended that Graunt be admitted to the Royal Society that same year. "

Nix  •  Link

From Graunt's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

. . . .

Graunt's place in the history of statistical enquiry is based upon his Natural and Political Observations

Ruben  •  Link

the original for most of what we know about Graunt is "Aubrey's Brief Lives", that everybody is repeating, being the only information we have, discounting Pepys notes and his own book about demography.
The original was posted by the UCLA at:

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

A slightly differing URL: from
Michael Robinson on Fri 21 Apr 2006, 10:31 am | Link
John Graunt/Grant

For a website devoted to Graunt, including John Aubrey’s biography, see:-

Bill  •  Link

GRAUNT, JOHN ( 1620-1674), statistician; was appointed original member of Royal Society, after his publication of 'Natural and Political Observations ... made upon the Bills of Mortality,' 1661; falsely charged with being privy to the great fire of 1666.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

Graunt, John, the celebrated author of "Observations on the Bills of Mortality," was born in Birchinlane, London, 24th April, 1620. He was brought up in the rigid principles of the puritans, and as he was intended for trade, he received no advantages from grammar education, but was barely qualified in writing and arithmetic for the business of a haberdasher. In this employment he gained by his good sense, and strict probity, the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens so that he rose to all the offices of his ward; was a common-council man, and a captain and then a major of the train bands. His "Observations" first appeared in 1661, and with such success, that Louis XIV. of France adopted his plans for the regular register of births and burials, and Charles II. in proof of his general approbation, recommended him to the Royal society to be elected one of their members in 1661-2. In 1665 the third edition of his popular book was printed by the society's printer, and the author flattered, by the honors paid to his literary services, abandoned the business of shopkeeper, and in 1666 became a trustee for the management of the New river for the countess of Clarendon. In this new office, it has been reported by Burnet, that he was guilty of a most diabolical crime, by stopping all the cocks which conveyed water from Islington to London, the night before the great fire began, which consumed the city. The accusation, however, is false as he was admitted among the trustees 23 days after the conflagration happened; and the malevolent report arose only after his death, and probably owed its origin to his change of religious principles, as about 1667 he reconciled himself to the tenets of the church of Rome. He died 18th April 1674, and was buried in St Dunstan's church, Fleet street, attended by many respectable friends; and among them by sir William Petty, to whom he left his papers. A fifth edition of his book appeared in 1676, under the care of his friend; and it may be fairly inferred, that to this work and the perserving powers and inquisitive mind of the author, we are indebted for the science of political arithmetic, so ably treated afterwards by sir William Petty, Daniel King, Dr. Davenant, and other learned men.
---Universal biography. J. Lemprière, 1810.

Bill  •  Link

John Graunt, born in Birchin Lane, London, April 24th, 1620, bound apprentice to a haberdasher. He obtained for his friend Petty the professorship of music at Gresham College. He was captain of train-bands for several years. He was bred a Puritan, but turned a Socinian, and lastly became a Roman Catholic. F.R.S., February, 1661-62. He was recommended by the king, and Dr. Sprat writes, in his "History of the Royal Society": — "In whose election it was so farr from being a prejudice that he was a shopkeeper of London, that his Majesty gave this particular charge to his Society, that if they found any more such tradesmen, they should be sure to admit them all, without any more ado." He published his "Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality" in 1662, and this book, which laid the foundation of the science of statistics, went through several editions during his lifetime. Afterwards it was edited and improved by Sir William Petty, who sometimes spoke of it as his own, which gave rise to Burnet's erroneous statement that he published his 'Observations on the Bills of Mortality' in the name of one Grant, a Papist." Graunt died at his house in Birchin Lane, April 18th, 1674.
---Wheatley, 1899.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

re: August 5, 1663
Terry Foreman on 7 Mar 2015 posted:

"Mr. Grant’s report in favour of Sir W. Petty’s vessel" The report was made at the Royal Society's meeting of 29 July. (L&M footnote)

There is a considerable amount of information concerning Sir William Petty's double-keeled boat in Birch's "History of the Royal Society" (vol. i.), summarized in a long footnote in "The Diary of Samuel Pepys: For the First Time Fully Transcribed", ed. Mynors Bright, Richard Griffin Baron Braybrooke, 1899, pp. 232-3 footnote.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.