image ms_654_66
Image number: RS.17962
Credit: ©The Royal Society

'Sedition and atheism defeated'


March 1790


Joseph Priestley (1733-1804, British), Theologian


S. W. Fores (b.1761, British), Engraver

Object type

Archive reference number





A print in two strips, the top titled ‘The intention’, the bottom titled ‘The fact’, each divided into three segments of unequal width. The print discredits Dissenting ministers and their attempts to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts.

In the upper strip, a group of devils are bragging that the Dissenters are their tools in promoting blasphemy and atheism, while a group of Dissenting ministers are portrayed as advocating violence. The two segments on the left of the lower strip accuse Joseph Priestley of promoting atheism, and suggest that this is the real intention of the repeal motion, and in the lower right segment a group of demons drag him and other Dissenting ministers to hell, defeated after its failure.

This print is Humbly dedicated to the Church of England & to the great Body of worthy Disenters who refused to join a few ambitious, seditious & atheistical Ministers in their attempts to subvert the Constitution and establish Infidelity. By their Humble Servant S. W. Fores […]’

From The Priestley Papers, a volume containing portraits, drawings, letters and other memorials of Joseph Priestley, curated and edited by James Yates.

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) British theologian and natural philosopher, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. Many of Priestley’s political writings supported the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, which restricted the rights of Dissenters.

James Yates (1789-1871) British Unitarian minister and scholar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1839. Though he never met Priestley personally, Yates knew many of his relatives, friends and pupils, and spent much of his career documenting his discoveries and writings.

Object history

During the planning of the new University Museum of Oxford in 1856, it was decided to commission several statues of famous scientists. One of these was to be of Priestley, and James Yates was invited to oversee its conception. In his own words, 'it became necessary to obtain the best portraits, busts and bas-reliefs to assist the sculptor in making a good likeness.' He also acquired reports of personal experiences and anecdotes from people who knew Priestley, and in 1864 assembled all of this material into this volume.

This volume was presented to the Royal Society in 1957 by the Priestley family.

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