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Biography of George Berkeley

Portrait of Bishop George Berkeley

George Berkeley was an eighteenth century bishop and philosopher.

When and Where was he Born?

12th March 1685, Dysart Castle, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Family Background:

George Berkeley was the eldest son of William Berkeley, Commissioned Customs Officer, and gentleman who was an English settler in Ireland, although George always considered himself Irish.


Kilkenny College. Trinity College, Dublin.

Timeline of George Berkeley:

1696: He enrolls at Kilkenny College.

1700Berkeley goes up to Trinity College, Dublin.

1704: He graduates from Trinity as a BA and starts a period of private study.

1705: He forms a society to discuss the “new philosophy.” He becomes interested in the work of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and John Locke.

1707: George Berkeley is elected a fellow at Trinity College after finishing his Masters degree and this means he could continue to live in rooms. He writes two short mathematical works. He bcomes a tutor of Greek.

1709: He is Ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church.

1710: George Berkeley is Ordained as an Anglican Priest.

1712: He visits England.

1713: He is presented to the Queen Anne at the Royal Court by the writer Jonathan Swift and he quickly becomes a favourite. He becomes the Chaplain to Lord Peterborough. He is given a poem by Alexander Pope.

1714: Berkeley is a special ambassador for the coronation of the King of Sicily.

1715-1720: He becomes tutor to the son of Dr. St. George Ashe the Bishop of Clogher and travels widely with him especially on the continent. He climbs Mount Vesuvius while it was erupting, and his notes were published in the Transactions of the Philosophical Society later.

1717: He becomes a Senior Fellow after completing his Doctorate.

1721: He returns to Ireland now as the Chaplain to the Duke of Grafton. He is granted the degree of Doctor of Divinity and lectures in divinity at Trinity College, Dublin and is made the Dean of Dromore.

1722: Berkeley is appointed as the Dean of Dromore.

1724: He is appointed as the Dean of Londonderry. He is promised a grant of 20,000 pounds from the government to found a college in the Bermudas.

1728: He marries Anne Forster, daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas. (The couple later have seven children of whom only three survive into adulthood). He sails to America and stays at a plantation he had bought at Middletown, Rhode Island waiting for the Government grant to come through.

1732: He hears that he will not get the grant and donates his books and other chattels to Yale University and returns to England.

1734: He is appointed as the Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland.

1735: Berkeley studies the reasons for the poor economic conditions in Ireland.

1739: The establishment by Royal Charter and opening of the Foundling Hospital for young abandoned children. Berkeley was one of its founders and first Governors.

1750: Death of his eldest son.

1752: Berkeley resigns his Bishopric and moves to Oxford from Cloyne with his family as his son George is studying there.

When and Where did George Berkeley Die?

14th January 1753, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, whilst listening to his wife reading the bible. (The city of Berkeley in California was named in his honour).

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1707: “An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision”. (pub 1709).
1709: A Discourse on Passive Obedience” (A collection of his sermons from the College Chapel).
1710: “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”. “De Motu” (On Motion).
1712: “Passive Obedience”. 
1713: “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous”.
1721: “De Motu” (On Motion). “An Essay Towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain” (published anonymously).
1724: “A Proposal for the Better Supplying of Churches in our Foreign Plantations and for Converting the Savage Americans to Christianity” (Pamphlet).
1732: “Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher”.
1733: “The Theory of Vision or Visual Language … Vindicated and Explained”.
1734: “The Analyst”, (which attacked higher mathematics as a route to free-thinking).
1735: “The Querist” (Part One).
1736: “The Querist” (Part Two).
1737: “The Querist” (Part Three).
1744: “Siris, or a Chain of Philosophical Reflexions and Enquiries concerning the Virtues of Tar-Water”
1752: “Further Thoughts on Tar-water” (he felt pine tar was a disinfectant and a combatant against disease).


1728 to Anne Forster, daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas.

Site of Grave:

The Nave of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

Places of Interest:


Blue plaque on a building in Holywell Street.