The John Hooke Tragedy

to Isle of Wight History Centre
The Scientist, The Grocer, The Governor and Grace. Full commentary
Hooke's Diary Extracts from Robert Hooke's diary 1672-1680
Newport Corporation Documents relating to the suicide of John Hooke.
Hooke Family Tree
John Hooke Timeline
Hooke Family Home
Freshwater area in the 17th century
Hooke and Geology
Freshwater Parish
Robert Hooke Timeline
Sir Robert Holmes Timeline
Character Glossary


Robert Hooke's Seal.

At the County Record Office on the Isle of Wight, amongst the leases belonging to the former Newport Corporation, there is an assignment of a mortgage between the Town of Newport and Robert Hooke, signed and sealed on 2nd February 1684/85. The deed takes the form of an indenture, written on parchment, and detailing all the past transactions that had preceded the actual assignment. The land in question consisted of a number of small pastures to the north-east of Pan Mill, about where the modern cinema complex and car park are situated today. Robert's brother had taken out a mortgage with Ursula Cheeke of Newport using the pasture fields as security. (Incidentally, John Hooke failed to pay back the money he owed and this document witnesses the repayment of the money by his brother, Robert.)

The Seal on the Newport Borough Document.

At the foot of the document, there is the familiar signature of Robert Hooke, while in between the words 'Robert' and 'Hooke', a thin strip of parchment, about 6 inches long, has been sewn, on the end of which a wax seal has been appended. The seal is oval in shape with the imprint of a head on it. It is 1.5cm [9/16"] wide and 1.7cm [10/16"] high. The wax is the usual red wax. The head shows a prominent forehead, piercing eyes, a down-turned mouth and a short beard. The hair is short and appears to be curly with the front part of the top of the skull shaved. This has been represented by very small dots, resembling stubble.
Click on image for an enlarged picture of the seal.

In August 1672, Hooke bought himself a wig and then two days later cut his hair short. What is unusual and significant about Robert Hooke's style, however, is that he shaved the front part of his head in a distinctive style, a style similar to the head on his signet ring.

Aug. 26 1672
Bought periwig for 28 sh.

Aug. 28 1672
Cut off my hair at 8 ½ and shaved the forepart

For the next year or so, it is clear that he was wearing a wig, although on occasions he tried to go without for periods of time. In fact, Robert Hooke was wearing a wig regularly in the early and mid 1670's.
Aug. 26 1672
Bought periwig for 28 sh.

Aug. 28 1672
Cut off my hair at 8 ½ and shaved the forepart.

March 18th 1672/73
Garways put periwig to be curled.

March 19th 1672/73
Cutt my hair short with scizzors and caught cold in my head.

23 Nov. 1673
left of my periwick all the morn. missed razor.

29 Jan. 1673/4
Began to indure the want of Periwig well and my head grew better. Slept well.

16 feb 1673/4
Paid periwig woman 10 sh

24 April 1674
Shavd and Cut hair at Youngs.

18 May 1674
Paid the periwig woman at Gresham College Gate 2s. 6d. in full.

17 feb 1674/5
At Nells. paid her 5sh. for clothes and 9d. for almonds & 6d. for cutting hair.

17 Aug. 1675
At nells Cut hair 6d.

The Fashion for Periwigs.

The wearing of periwigs became fashionable within several years of the accession of Charles II - a fashion imported from France. Fitting a wig involved having one's hair cut very short or shaved off altogether. Measurements of the head were taken and a wooden model of the person's head was then made. Cotton bands were then sewn around the outer limits of hair growth, and a net was sewn to this band, forming a sort of cap. Strands of hair were then looped through the net and tied with a knot. This continued until the net was fully covered with hair. The wig was then cut and curled to the desired style. Wigs had to be returned periodically to be cleaned. Pepys describes clearly the first time he adopted a wig and the reactions of others to this.

2 Nov. 1663
I heard the Duke say that he was going to wear a perriwig; and they say the King also will. I never till this day observed that the King is mighty gray.

3 Nov. 1663
Comes Chapman, the periwigg-maker, and upon my liking it, without more ado I went up, and there he cut off my haire, which went a little to my heart at present to part with it; but it being over and my periwigg on, I paid him £3 for it, and away went he with my owne haire to make up another of, and I by and by, after I had caused all my mayds to look upon it; and they conclude it do become me, though Jane was mightily troubled for my parting of my owne haire, and so was Besse.

No portraits or pictures of any kind at all are said to exist of Robert Hooke. As a guide to his appearance, only two written descriptions exist to help modern scholars envisage Robert Hooke's face. In fact several reconstructions have been attempted over the years and all seem to focus on the more negative aspects mentioned in the two descriptions.Both these descriptions were written by friends of Hooke and can be taken as objective, given the fact that it does not seem that they embellished or sanitised their words.

John Aubrey, a close friend, wrote:

"He is but of middling stature, something crooked, pale faced, and his face but little below, but his head is large; his eie full and popping, and not quick; a gray eie. He has a delicate head of haire browne, and of an excellent moist curle. He is and ever was temperate and moderate in dyet, ..."
Richard Waller, another of Hooke's friends, who published a life of Hooke in 1705, included this picture of Hooke's appearance:
"As to his person he was but despicable, being very crooked, tho' I have heard from himself, and others, that he was strait till about 16 Years of Age when he first grew awry, by frequent practicing, with a Turn-Lath . . . He was always very pale and lean, and laterly nothing but Skin and Bone, with a meagre aspect, his eyes grey and full, with a sharp ingenious Look whilst younger; his nose but thin, of a moderate height and length; his mouth meanly wise, and upper lip thin; his chin sharp, and Forehead large; his Head of a middle size. He wore his own hair of a dark Brown colour, very long and hanging neglected over his Face uncut and lank, which about three years before his death he cut off and wore a periwig. He went stooping and very fast, having but a light body to carry, and a great deal of spirits and activity, especially in his youth. He was of an active, restless, indefatigable genius, even almost to the last, and always slept little to his death, oftenest continuing his studies all night, and taking a short nap in the day. His temper was melancholy, mistrustful, and jealous, which more increased upon him with his years."
Both these are helpful in constructing an image of Hooke and are important in considering the picture on the seal. Certain details in the descriptions match the image: the hair has "an excellent moist curle"; the nose is "thin, of a moderate height and length"; the mouth is "meanly wise" and the upper lip is "thin"; the chin is "sharp" and the forehead is "large"; and the eyes are "full". And certainly the image shows a head with the "forepart" shaved, as Hooke mentions in his diary.

Both the British Library and the British Museum do not seem to have any seal or matrix bearing such an image and a number of the foremost Hooke scholars do not recall having ever encountered a seal belonging to Robert Hooke. Undoubtedly, this is the seal of Robert Hooke, but is it his face that is embossed in the wax?

Page created: 20th April 2003.
Pictures by Rob Martin with kind permission of the Archivist, Isle of Wight Record Office, Newport.