Making Munk’s Roll: writing the lives of the RCP fellows
Munk’s Roll, first compiled by physician William Munk (1816–1898) and still maintained today, is a series of obituaries or biographies of fellows of the RCP.
Munk’s Roll, now known as Inspiring Physicians, is a series of obituaries or biographies of fellows from the Royal College of Physicians.
First compiled by physician William Munk, the Roll is still updated and maintained to this day. In March 1855, Munk, a London physician specialising in smallpox, presented a large leather-bound volume to the library of the Royal College of Physicians. This was his Roll, a painstakingly-researched collection of biographies of fellows, licentiates, candidates and extra licentiates. These entries spanned from the foundation of the RCP in 1518 to 1600, written by hand on ruled paper, in his own distinctive script. In December of the same year, he presented a second volume, covering the period from 1601 to 1700 and in June 1856, the series was brought up to 1800 with the gift of a third book.
Although he had only been elected a fellow of the RCP in 1854, Munk was appointed as Harveian Librarian in 1857, a post which had been left vacant since the death of Richard Tyson in 1750. There is nothing in the records at the RCP to indicate why he was chosen, but Munk’s proven interest in the history of the RCP probably made him an obvious choice.
Portrait of Sir Charles Scarburgh (1624-1694) attributed to Jean Demetrius. Scarburgh was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society and was appointed first physician to King Charles II, by whom he was knighted in 1669. Scarburgh remained a life-long friend of William Harvey.
Monsey (1693-1788) was a medical oddity but with considerable mental acuteness. As a physician he despised modern improvements and stuck to the habits he acquired in 60 years' experience. He left his body for dissection, contacting the anatomist a few days before death to warn him to be ready to proceed.
Portrait of Sir Charles Mansfield Clarke (1782-1857) by Samuel Lane. Sir Clarke was elected as a fellow to the RCP in 1836. Clarke specialised in diseases of women and children and was later appointed as physician to Queen Adelaide and soon after received a baronetcy.
Portrait of Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick (1924-2017) by David Poole, 1992. Turner-Warwick was the first female president of the Royal College of Physicians, 1989-92.
Munk researched and complied entries for all fellows (voting members) and licentiates (non-voting members), from the RCP’s foundation in 1518 to 1825. Subsequent Harveian Librarians have continued this work, commonly called Munk’s Roll in honour of its original compiler. Volumes from 1825 onwards only include past fellows due to rising numbers of fellows, licentiates and later, members.
The RCP now has a near-complete collection of obituaries for past fellows, from 1518 to the present (and licentiates from 1518 to 1825), making it an invaluable biographical resource for those interested in medical and social history, and family historians.