Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Penny, Thomas

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PENNY, THOMAS, M.D. (d. 1589), prebendary of St. Paul's, botanist and entomologist, the son of John Penny or Penne of Gressingham, near Lancaster, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated as a sizar in 1550, and graduated as B.A. in 1551–2, proceeding M.A. in 1559. He took holy orders, and in 1560 was appointed to the prebend of Newington in St. Paul's Cathedral, being elected fellow of his college in the same year. Having been appointed in 1565 to preach one of the spital sermons, he was objected to by Archbishop Parker, who believed him to be ill affected to the established church. Soon afterwards he went abroad, visiting Majorca and the south of France, and residing for some time in Switzerland. He assisted Conrad Gesner, and was probably present at his death in December 1565, and assisted Wolf in arranging the plants and other collections left by Gesner. Letters from Penny to Camerarius, dated 1585, show his knowledge of insects to have been extensive, and it is probable that Gesner's drawings of butterflies passed into his hands, and at his death into those of Thomas Moffett [q. v.], whose acquaintance he had made at Cambridge. Moffett's ‘Insectorum Theatrum,’ published in 1634, is stated in its title to have been begun by Edward Wotton, Conrad Gesner, and Thomas Penny. While abroad Penny probably graduated M.D., and in January 1571 he was practising physic in London. At that time he failed to satisfy the College of Physicians of his qualifications; but by 1582 he was a fellow of the college. Meanwhile, in 1577, he had been deprived of his prebend for nonconformity. Penny died in 1589; by his will, dated 4 June 1588, he left a legacy to ‘the poor of Gressingham and Eskrigge, where I was born.’ He married Margaret, daughter of John Lucas of St. John's, near Colchester, master of requests to Edward VI. She died in 1587, and was buried in St. Peter-le-Poer, London.

Cornus suecica, discovered by Penny in the Cheviots, and other rare plants from both the north and the south of England, credited to him in L'Obel's ‘Adversaria’ (1570–1) and in Gerard's ‘Herball,’ show him to have been a diligent botanist. Gerard styles him ‘a second Dioscorides,’ and his friend Clusius, besides other plants, named the plant now known as Hypericum balearicum, Myrtocistus Pennæi in honour of its discoverer. In 1560 he wrote some Latin verses on the restitution of Bucer and Fagius.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 82; Pulteney's Biogr. Sketches of Botany, i. 84–6; Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, December 1890; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 78, and references there given; Will in Somerset House, P.C.C. Leicester 18; L'Obel's Adversaria, pp. 358, 394, 397; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.), i. 47, 203–4; Newcourt's Repertorium, i. 188; Strype's Life of Parker; Brooks's Puritans, ii. 246, iii. 504; see art. Moffett, Thomas.]

G. S. B.