Gerard Boate (1604–1650) and his elder brother, Arnold (see catalogue no.79) were both physicians who were educated at Leiden. Arnold Boate was also a noted Hebraist, and was patronized by James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (see catalogue nos.80 and 81), arriving in Dublin in 1636. In 1641, the Boates published an attack on Aristotelian philosophy. In 1644, Arnold Boate, who had been appointed physician to the army in Leinster, left Ireland for Paris, where he continued to live until his death. Gerard Boate was appointed physician to the army in Ireland in 1647, but only took up his post, together with that of doctor to the Dublin military hospital, in 1649. The Boates were acquainted with the young Robert Boyle, and with others interested in the improvement of Ireland, such as Benjamin Worsley. By the mid-1640s, they had also come into contact with Hartlib and Dury.
In 1645, Gerard Boate began to compile a natural history of Ireland (which he had yet to visit), prompted by information given to him by his brother and the tales of Irish Protestant refugees then resident in London. His aim was to encourage further Protestant settlement by drawing attention to the potential riches of the country, and to praise the English for their supposedly improving rule, which had been threatened by the Irish rebellion of 1641. The work was avowedly Baconian in character and presented an economic geography of the island which reflected the regional, religious, and political biases of Boate’s Protestant settler informants, especially that of the Parsons family from County Offaly.
Gerard Boate died in January 1650, when his book was far from complete. At this point, Hartlib stepped in to bring the work to publication, with the assistance of Boate’s brother, Arnold, and of other friends. Irelands Natural History was dedicated to Cromwell and to the Lord-Deputy, Fleetwood, to whom Dury addressed a polemical, religious preface, which promised the restoration of all knowledge and the opening of the ‘Intellectuall Cabinets of Nature’ (sig. A4) to those who avoided the sin of excess sensuality. Dury hoped that Cromwell and Fleetwood would encourage the Protestant resettlement of Ireland, and provide land there for the Bohemians and other exiles.
Hartlib continued to promote work on the natural history of Ireland following the publication of Boate’s book, in particular through the material included in the Legacie (catalogue no. 10). However, the deaths of both Arnold Boate and Robert Child frustrated any plans for an enlarged version of Irelands Natural History. Nevertheless, for members of the Hartlib circle, Ireland continued to represent a land of opportunity, in which the legal and customary restrictions on improvement which hampered projectors in England did not apply. It was a place which therefore had great potential to be a new Eden.