Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Unitarian minister and scientist

There are many reasons for celebrating the life of Reverend Joseph Priestley who died on 6 February 1804.

Arguably his greatest legacy is to science: we can see him as the forerunner of modern ecologists since he discovered that (in a process which we now call photosynthesis) plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air; he could be regarded as the father of anaesthesia since he discovered nitrous oxide which is still used today as an anaesthetic. He discovered oxygen itself.

Priestley was a political theorist and campaigner; in his time only people who took communion in the Church of England were admitted to Oxford or Cambridge Universities; nor could anyone become a member of Parliament unless he was a communicant member of the Established Church; as a Non-conformist Priestley campaigned against these restrictions. He also spoke out against the slave trade.

All Priestley's work was in pursuit of Truth and to arrive at a greater understanding of the works of God.

As a Unitarian, Priestley accepted the teachings of Jesus but not that he was one with God; his rational approach to scripture is widely accepted today.

Suggestion for collective worship at primary-school level

Suggestion for a short talk for secondary school pupils

Hymn: Now praise we great and famous men and women

Prayers based on words by Joseph Priestley

The (lighthearted) song of Joseph Priestley

Some topics for discussion

The Birmingham riots of July 1791

Letter written by Priestley to the people of Birmingham after the riots of 1791

Priestley the scientist

Priestley and ecology

Some facts about Priestley's life and work

Priestley in Suffolk

Priestley's appearance and manner

Quotations from Priestley's writings

More quotations from Priestley's work

Brief extracts from Priestley's sermons

Priestley - a chronology

The monument to Joseph Priestley at New Meeting, Birmingham

The statue of Priestley in City Square, Leeds

The statue of Priestley at Birstall

Find out more about Joseph Priestley

Find out about the Priestley Society

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